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Rock The Green Delivered a Seamless Day of Music and Environmental Awareness

Sep. 11, 2017
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Barns Courtney - Brew City Light Photography

You’d be hard-pressed to find a better-intentioned music festival than Rock The Green. Each year, the event demonstrates a cleaner, more sustainable model for outdoor festivals, starting by eliminating wasteful water bottles (all attendees are instead given a refillable aluminum water bottle at the gate) and ending with a plan for recycling human waste (we won’t get into it). The event’s attention to detail is astounding, and thankfully organizers put as much thought into the fan experience as they do their environmental footprint. 

In its second year at the Reed Street Yards, an unlikely but accommodating venue along the Menomonee River, the event was a well-oiled machine, providing great sightlines and good sound at both music stages, as well as short lines for food and toilets and plenty of room for kids to run around and burn off some energy (kids 10 and under got in free, and many parents took advantage). There was even free coffee. If only all outdoor festivals were so accommodating.

Where Rock The Green sometimes falls short is its lineup. The event has a clear ideological identity, but its musical identity isn’t as fully formed. It’s not quite a hippie festival (although that would work) or a distinctively curated cross-genre grab bag in the Radio Milwaukee mold (though that would work, too). Instead Saturday’s lineup, a mix of local mainstays, touring acts and headliner Ben Harper, felt a little scattershot, though all the performers pulled their weight.

Renya, the beat-heavy reincarnation of the Milwaukee duo Vic + Gab, again proved themselves one of the city’s most polished pop acts, performing jumpy electro-alternative songs with just a hint of Haim. Guitarist Evan Christian, a mainstay at the festival since its first year, did two sets, one solo and one leading a bluesy power trio. Klassik served as his own backing band during his posh 45 minutes of personable soul-rap. And, while Devil Met Contention’s gothic spin on rockabilly might have made them an odd fit for a breezy festival, in their matching suits the quartet delivered a tight, striking set that held the crowd’s attention.

As is often the case at these kinds of festivals, some of the day’s best performances came after dark. Appearing a few weeks ahead of the release of his debut album, The Attractions of Youth, British buzz-rocker Barns Courtney led an hour of stomping, Arctic Monkeys-esque alternative of the sort that might make an excited NME editor run to the pay phone like he’s just witnessed Marty McFly rip through “Johnny B. Goode.” Courtney commits to his rock-star routine. Last time he played Milwaukee, at Summerfest, he broke his foot in three places stage-diving. He told the crowd this was his first show in months where he was back to somewhat normal mobility, though his foot was still in a protective walking boot. 

As Milwaukee soulman D’Amato and his horn-packed, 12-piece band closed out the side stage with an animated, ridiculously fun set of hip-hop, funk and ska (yeah, they went there), much of the crowd parked out at the main stage in anticipation of Ben Harper and the Innocent Criminals. It was hard to imagine a more fitting closer, since Harper’s blend of roots rock and reggae was a good encapsulation of Rock The Green as a whole: pleasant, good-natured and seamless. You’ve got to give the organizers credit; they know how to run a mighty smooth festival.


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