June 18 - June 24
This Week in Milwaukee
Thursday, June 18
Sugar Blue @ Jazz in the Park, 6:30 p.m.
Attempting to establish a nickname for himself as memorable as those of Muddy Waters and Blind Lemon, harmonica wiz James Whiting adopted the moniker Sugar Blue after picking up an old 78 titled Sugar Blues out of a pile of records that had just been tossed out a car window. Born the son of an Apollo Theater dancer, the Harlem native has recorded with artists ranging from Stan Getz to Frank Zappa throughout his career, but is most recognized for his studio work with The Rolling Stones on the albums Emotional Rescue, Tattoo You and Some Girls, where he contributed the notorious harp solo at the end of “Miss You.”
Friday, June 19
Juneteenth Day w/ Syleena Johnson @ Martin Luther King Drive, noon to 6 p.m.
If you’d never before heard of Juneteenth Day but happened upon Martin Luther King Drive on June 19, you could easily believe that you’d forgotten it was the Fourth of July. The annual commemoration of emancipation is celebrated with particular enthusiasm in Milwaukee, so these four long blocks between Burleigh and Center fill up with a parade and thousands of people as dancers take to the streets and the smell of barbecue fills the air. Music has always been a part of the 38-year-old local tradition, but recent years have seen the addition of national headliners. This year culminates in a 5:15 p.m. performance from R&B singer Syleena Johnson, a neo-soul-leaning R&B singer who introduced herself with an R. Kelly-penned single, “I Am Your Woman,” in 2001, but attracted greater attention singing the hook on Kanye West’s 2004 single “All Falls Down.”
Polish Fest @ The Summerfest Grounds
Being the least attended of Milwaukee’s ethnic festivals at the Summerfest grounds may be a dubious honor, but it’s also part of what makes Polish Fest such a gem. Without battling incessant crowds or paying inordinate admission fees, patrons can enjoy all the amenities of any other major festival: the food, dancing, live music, fireworks, etc. Of course, Polish-culture-specific activities abound: Scarf down pierogi and dare your friends to eat czarnina (a soup made of duck blood); marvel at traditional Polish costumes; test your palette at numerous vodka and spirit tastings, or buy bolesawiec and bursztyn—or just learn what bolesawiec and bursztyn are—at the Sukiennice Marketplace.
Lakefront Festival of Arts @ Milwaukee Art Museum
The Lakefront Festival of Arts returns for its 47th year at noon this Friday and continues to run through 5 p.m. Sunday evening. The event is set to showcase 172 artists from around the country on the grounds between the Milwaukee Art Museum and the Lake Michigan shoreline. Take the opportunity to check out the college art show, featuring work from 11 area colleges, stroll through the decorative sculpture garden, or enjoy a glass of vino while bidding on items in the silent auction.
Naked Boys Singing! @ The Turner Hall Ballroom, 8 p.m.
True to its name, Naked Boys Singing! plays host to plenty of naked guys singing cheeky vaudeville numbers, many of them about how totally naked they are. It’s a silly, good-natured production, but it has a stormy history with Milwaukee. In 2005, city cops shut down an attempted performance of the show at the Milwaukee Gay Arts Center (MGAC), setting off an expensive legal battle over MGAC’s right to perform it that involved Wisconsin’s chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union. This weekend’s performances of Naked Boys Singing! Friday and Saturday at the Turner Hall Ballroom are fund-raisers to offset some of MGAC’s legal expenses.
Saturday, June 20
Phish @ Alpine Valley, 7 p.m.
It’s fitting that Phish played one of their final performances in 2004 on the rooftop of the Ed Sullivan Theater in a deliberate nod to The Beatles, since over the previous decade the foursome really had become The Beatles of the jam-rock world, inspiring widespread cultish devotion and legions of young jam bands while cementing the “tours first, albums second” business model that now dominates the scene. Phish’s reputation only grew during their five-year hiatus, and by the time they returned this spring for a trio of storied shows in Hampton, Va., Phish they’d grown more popular than ever. The group is touring aggressively this summer around an upcoming studio album scheduled for late July, with the possible title Party Time!, though bassist Mike Gordon has said the band also considered christening it The Best Fucking Phish Album Ever! It’ll reunite them with producer Steve Lillywhite, who helmed their popular 1996 album Billy Breathes. (Also Sunday, June 21.)
Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars @ The Pabst Theater, 8 p.m.
With all due respect to Wyclef Jean and his Refugee All Stars, who have surely experienced their own hardships—especially John Forte, who spent the better part of the decade in federal prison under harsh drug sentencing—Clef and company can only begin to imagine the horrors that Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars survived. Formed in refugee camps after being displaced by a violent civil war, the African reggae band huddled together to forget their sorrows. Some were scarred and missing limbs. One was forced to murder his own son. But when they gathered, they made festive, uplifting music about human resolve, and thanks to a documentary and an appearance on “Oprah,” the All Stars have become a Buena Vista Social Club-styled success, sharing their stark stories and their incongruously sunny harmonies for audiences around the world.
Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars
Summer Soulstice @ North and Farwell Avenues, noon
Situated on a busy little strip of North Avenue that’s usually crowded even when there isn’t a free, well-funded street festival, the East Side’s Summer Soulstice festival once again wins points for imagination this year. Unusual highlights include BMX demonstrations, an extreme volleyball tournament and a Qdoba burrito-eating contest, but the main draw is the same as most other music festivals: the music. And this year there’s no shortage of good stuff. Milwaukee bands including The Buskers (4 p.m.), Juniper Tar (5:30 p.m.), The Lackloves (6 p.m.), Invade Rome (8 p.m.) and Fever Marlene (9:30 p.m.) are joined by Chicago folk-rock fetishists The Ike Reilly Assassination (7:30 p.m.) and Detroit rockers The Von Bondies (9:30 p.m.), whose single “C’mon C’mon” was recently immortalized with an appearance in the game “Rock Band.”
Maxwell w/ Laura Izibor @ The Riverside Theater, 7:30 p.m.
Neo-soul has spent the better part of the decade without two of its greats, as singers Maxwell and D’Angelo retreated from the spotlight at the height of their stardom. D’Angelo’s personal problems may prevent him from making a comeback anytime soon, but there was less holding Maxwell back, and after a performance at last year’s BET Awards covering Al Green’s “Simply Beautiful,” Maxwell decided to return to the spotlight. “Pretty Wings,” the debut single from his upcoming album, Black, his first in eight years, finds him in typically smooth form, and there should be plenty more where that came from. Black is the first album in a planned trilogy.
Sunday, June 21
Paul van Dyk @ The Rave, 8 p.m.
Ranked as the world’s No. 3 DJ on DJ Magazine’s “Top 100 DJs” poll, Paul van Dyk makes for North America this month with a schedule of 17 shows in 17 days. Regarded as a legend of the electronic music scene worldwide, van Dyk never acquired the same superstar status stateside, but his contributions to the genre have been many. Though he was once considered a pioneer of trance music, he has successfully abandoned the genre that launched his career, recently crossing over into more ambient sounds and exploring electro-pop. His recent greatest hits/remix album, Volume, features a 2009 update of “For an Angel,” the song that put him on the map more than a decade ago.
Wednesday, June 24
DJ Z-Trip w/ Kid Cut Up, Glori and DJ Serkus @ The Miramar Theatre, 8:30 p.m.
Mash-ups, those bastard children born of two or more non-consenting songs, are pop art at best, low art at worst, but genre pioneer DJ Z-Trip is one of the few artists to create mash-ups with appeal beyond mere novelty. Years before Danger Mouse or Girl Talk attempted similar blends, Z-Trip was pairing classic rock songs with punchy breakbeats, producing the trendsetting record Uneasy Listening Volume 1 in 2001. His best tracks are simply conceived and boldly uncluttered. A 2007 re-imagining of Nirvana’s “Lounge Act,” for instance, strips the song nearly naked to better emphasize Kurt Cobain’s emotive growl, which sounds particularly vicious against Z-Trip’s sparse, drum-clap beat.