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Local Love

Summerfest's Cascio Stage spotlights Milwaukee

Jun. 29, 2011
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For much of Summerfest's history, local bands were an afterthought. With so many touring acts dominating the schedule, local bands were left to compete for unglamorous day slots, with preference often given to reliable draws like cover bands over groups with edgier or more esoteric sounds. That began to change five years ago, when the Cascio Interstate Music Groove Stage quietly launched with a modest schedule of local and regional bands. The stage has since grown, and now claims a full lineup that includes many of the city's most respected local acts, including bands that rarely perform outside of 21-and-up club shows.

“It gives these really deserving bands a chance to play for much larger audiences than they usually might,” Cascio CEO Michael Houser says of the stage, which for this year's festival has moved to a larger location behind the U.S. Cellular Connection Stage. “The stage really contributes an important community feel to Summerfest, as well as a lot of diversity to the lineup, since we book a lot of niche and indie music that you can't always find on the other stages.”

Here is a rundown of some of the daily highlights at this year's Cascio Interstate Music Groove Stage:

Thursday, June 30

Milwaukee singer-songwriter Tony Memmel didn't let being born without a left forearm stop him from teaching himself to play guitar, piano and harmonica. Joined in his band by keyboardist wife Lesleigh Memmel and drummer Brian Farvour, Memmel will play a set of inspirational folk-rock at 3 p.m. The stage's 9 p.m. headlining slot goes to The Jeanna Salzer Band. Pianist Salzer performs jazzy piano-pop with nods to Joni Mitchell and Carly Simon.

Friday, July 1

Drawing from the rootsy leanings of The Band, Wilco and The Replacements, Milwaukee songwriter Trapper Schoepp sang about life in transition on Lived and Moved, his 2010 album with Trapper Schoepp & The Shades. The band takes the stage's 3 p.m. slot on a day that also includes performances from the Radiohead and Kings of Leon-inspired alt-rock band Ikarus Down (6 p.m.) and the piano- and cello-driven chamber-pop band I'm Not a Pilot (9 p.m.)

Saturday, July 2

Milwaukee's longest-running ska band, The Invaders, pays homage to all incarnations of the genre, from its Jamaican beginnings to its punchier, third-wave iterations. They'll headline the stage at 9 p.m., following sets from prog-rockers The Danglers (7:30 p.m.) and the great local alt-pop band Testa Rosa (6 p.m.), who married the sounds of '90s modern rock with '60s girl groups on their latest album, II.

Sunday, July 3

Headlining the stage at 9 p.m., The Uptown Savages are regarded as Milwaukee's best rockabilly group, though if you want to get technical about it, they aren't strictly rockabilly—their brassy brand of early R&B and rock 'n' roll is more informed by jump blues than anything. However you classify them, their performances always exude old-fashioned, good-time cheer.

Tuesday, July 5

Indie-rock bands dominate the Groove Stage's lineup on its day back after Summerfest's July 4 hiatus. Sleepcomesdown (4:30 p.m.) plays effusive, abstract rock with electronic overtones; Elusive Parallelograms (6 p.m.) draw deep from '80s- and '90-styled college- and modern-rock; Faux Fir (7:30 p.m.) has perfected a sprightly spin on post-Passion Pit synth-pop; and headliners The Fatty Acids (9 p.m.) blend quirky pop and oddball psychedelia.

Wednesday, July 6

Out-of-towners anchor Wednesday's lineup, which includes Minnesota singer-songwriter Blake Thomas (7:30 p.m.) and the Chicago rock band Brighton MA (9 p.m.).

Thursday, July 7

Milwaukee-born glam-rock pianist Mark Mallman has spent most of his music career working out of the Twin Cities—where he's been quite prolific, recording 10 albums—but he still makes it back to Milwaukee for regular gigs. With his band Ruby Isle, Mallman recently recorded a full cover of the Guns N' Roses album Appetite for Destruction. He headlines the stage at 9 p.m. after a 7:30 performance from the Minnesota pop-rock band The Melismatics.

Friday, July 8

Milwaukee rockers John the Savage make a whole lot of noises using a whole lot of unlikely instruments, including cello, mandolin, accordion, viola and acoustic bass. The resulting clamor hints at the queasy pirate narratives of Tom Waits or the demented rock 'n' roll of Screamin' Jay Hawkins, though neither comparison does justice to the band's singular boisterousness. They'll play at 9 p.m., following a 7:30 set from the instrumental post-rock orchestra Group of the Altos.

Saturday, July 9

Headlining the stage at 9 p.m., Milwaukee's Into Arcadia conjure Joy Division and, particularly, The Cure in their moody, dusk-chilled alternative-rock dirges. They'll play after a 7:30 performance from Canyons of Static, a post-rock group that finds a middle ground between Brian Eno and shoegaze.

Sunday, July 10

After making a name for themselves around the city last year with an aggressive schedule that sometimes saw them performing two or three times a week, Surgeons in Heat this spring released a self-titled EP that stretched their agreeable power-pop in some unexpected directions—namely toward the cool swagger of 1970s AM rock. They close out the Groove Stage's 2011 lineup with a 9 p.m. performance.


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