The temperatures are edging towards 100, and the lobby is beyond bustling: it’s Summerfest! The typical business suits and blazers have given way to shorts, sandals and concert t-shirts. Festival fun is on everyone’s agenda and those who aren’t on the way to the Big Gig seem to be coming from the festival grounds.
In the throngs of revelers, I met Mary Rodgers, a Nashville based musician in town to entertain the Summerfest crowds with the local performance group Dead Man’s Circus. Rodgers is an award-winning saxophonist who also plays the accordion, piano, and flute. She does all this, as well as singing and composing original pieces. With a passion for Roots Music, she incorporates Americana, Blues and Hot Jazz into her performances.
She cites the singular Tom Waits, with his distinct style and instantly recognizable voice, as a key musical influence, in addition to the more obscure Norwegian alternative band, Kaizers Orchestra. Both acts create music that is uncommon in its originality. We chatted about our shared love of music in the lobby, both knowing we’d soon leave the cool, comfortable confines to pursue this love on the festival grounds, her as a performer and I as an attendee.
Later that day, I joined the sweaty swarm on the lakefront and managed to catch a bit of Rodgers’ show. Supported by a bevy of other brass players, the musicians had the crowd moving to their rockabilly sound. The band was joined by revelers of all stripes, literally. Among the crowd following the band were a collection of costumed honey bee enthusiasts, legions of leaping gymnasts and two comely young women masquerading as tigers in full body paint. Things were just heating up when I was pulled away, but from what I saw, the crowd was in no hurry for the party to end.
Around the globe, Summerfest is known as the world’s largest outdoor music festival. To Milwaukeeans, it is our annual lakefront party where all gather to collectively let our hair down and have some fun. People come from near and far to join the crowds and savvy attendees know there is no better place take a break from the festivities then here at The Pfister.