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88.9 Block Party @ Radio Milwaukee

Jun. 27, 2017
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Photo Credit: Vianca Fuster for Radio Milwaukee

It’s been 10 years since 88.9 Radio Milwaukee carved out its own niche on the already crowded left side of the city’s FM dial, and in that time they’ve rarely strayed away from their core programming strategy, a careful balancing act between being as accessible and unobtrusive as possible while also maintaining enough grit to stay credible as a cutting-edge music source. Playlists feature a variety of genres, and while the results are reliably enjoyable, smoothing out all those rough edges means you’re unlikely to hear anything the least bit experimental or confrontational. It’s no surprise then that the station’s anniversary block party on Saturday was thoroughly stocked with local and national acts that (no judgment here) happen to walk that particular line, albeit with one exhilarating exception.

None of which is to imply that Saturday, June 24th’s headliners weren’t worthwhile. From the soulful, retro sounds of Abby Jeanne, who kicked off the day as people were still straggling onto Pittsburgh Avenue, to Chicago MC Noname, whose funky set closed out the event as the rain the skies had been threatening all day finally began to fall, the performers were uniformly excellent at what they do, even if what they do isn’t all that far outside the box. Don’t get me wrong: It’s entirely pleasant to catch local alt-country balladeers Field Report or D’Amato’s R&B antics on a sunny June afternoon, especially for free, but not so interesting that you feel like you’re missing out by strolling through the nearby Riverview antique market instead.

The one real surprise of the day, announced via an exceedingly awkward on-air interview in the studio’s VIP area, was that hometown hero Juiceboxxx would be doing a “guerilla”-style street set between other bands. It turned out to be a uniquely electrifying moment, as Juiceboxxx’s shows often are, but especially because of the context. It was abundantly clear that many observers crowded around the Merriment Social had never seen the Milwaukee Maniac do his thing before, and the look on their faces was unlike anything else the rest of the lineup managed to inspire. Somewhere between “taken aback” and “blown away,” it was the kind of thing that happens when you let music color outside the lines.

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