Some random observations after we spent Friday at Summerfest in Milwaukee:
—The world is full of beautiful women spoiled by bad tattoos. Some remarkably poor decisions were on display: One woman had a bright blue bird tattooed from her shoulder to her breast, although its bright white head made it looked like some bird had crapped on her shoulder. The number of women with angel wings tattooed on their shoulders was too large to count. (Many are undoubtedly applied ironically by people with a tenuous grasp on the concept of irony.) We didn’t see him this year, but a few years back at Summerfest there was a guy with the entire Second Amendment tattooed across his back, along with an elaborate rendering of a gun. Tattoo tip: if it can’t be read in a one-second glance, you need to make some cuts in the text.
—There seemed to be fewer under-dressed 14-year-old girls than in years past, however. Maybe it was the threat of rainy weather or the time of day, or maybe prostitute chic and/or Britney Spears are out-of-fashion now. One exception: the teenager wearing a Summerfest employee badge and riding the shuttle bus back to the parking lots, whose shorts left absolutely nothing to the imagination. I wondered, as I often do, if her father knew she was out in public like that.
—I would not be a good father of daughters.
—There are places at Summerfest where you can get a salad, but they’re dwarfed by the number of places selling cheese fries with bacon. Our Wisconsin pride makes us want to dispute our reputation as the land of the universally overweight and out-of-shape, but Summerfest makes it hard to deny.
—That said, the pizza cone is clearly one of the great inventions of the 21st century.
—You have to go looking for microbrew at a festival otherwise wholly owned by Miller/Coors, but it’s there. Milwaukee’s Water Street Brewery serves a fabulous Black IPA, although apparently hopheads don’t like it because it’s not bitter enough to taste from across the room. Screw those guys. This is a beer I could propose marriage to.
—Tom Petty has said that Summerfest is one of his favorite places to play. A few years ago, it was the only American gig he played all summer. Friday night, we weren’t disappointed. Highlights included “Learning to Fly,” which Petty didn’t sing as much as he led a singalong; “Here Comes My Girl,” which is the closest thing The Mrs. and I have to “our song”; “Don’t Come Around Here No More,” which never did that much for me on the radio but sounded insanely great live; and the show closer, “American Girl,” which now ranks among the half-dozen performances I’m most glad to have seen. (Full setlist here.)
—Opening act was the Smithereens. Their sound was terrible compared to Petty’s, and their setlist sounded like repeated iterations of the same song. But opening acts are opening acts for a reason, so no harm was done.
—The Mrs. and I are officially too old to stand up through a whole concert. We paid $200 for our seats, and we expected to be able to use them more than we were able to; if we wanted to stand up, we’d have paid $100 and stood on the lawn. And we’d have had to—it started pouring shortly after we got under the Marcus Amphitheater canopy and did so on and off for almost two hours.
—Walking back to the shuttle buses, we passed several stages where acts were still performing. Country singer Phil Vassar was in the middle of a medley of the Outfield’s “Your Love” and Rick Springfield’s “Jessie’s Girl” that twanged not a whit. It’s no wonder country fans are so confused about what country music is. We also passed some rap act belligerently declaiming something or other. It’s my opinion that the purpose of art is to show us, or tell us, something about ourselves that we may not be able to discern on our own. What something so aggressive, ugly, and dull is supposed to be doing, I have no idea.
—You kids get off my lawn.