Dummerfest 2019 - Part 1 - Live in Milwaukee (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick

Dummerfest 2019 - Part 1

Live in Milwaukee (2019)

live show

In 2017, a friend and I made the trek to my childhood home of Wisconsin to see the second Dummerfest. It was a small, one day punk festival featuring Off With Their Heads, Negative Approach, PEARS, Direct Hit, Copyrights, Brokedowns and a bunch more at a cozy dive bar called the Metal Grill in Cudahy. (We missed the first one in 2015, but it was at the same place and had Masked Intruder, PEARS, 88 Fingers Louie, Direct Hit, Tenement and many more.) We had such a good time in 2017 that we bought tickets for this year after a only a single band was announced, the headliner, The Lawrence Arms.

Quite a few things have changed in the two years since the last Dummerfest. Most significantly, a group of partners led by Direct Hit frontman Nick Woods (Dummerfest is also his brainchild) purchased the former Metal Grill. It has been rebranded and reimagined as the X-Ray Arcade. While it’s probably still a dive bar, now it’s more intentional. They are constantly hosting a variety of musical and non musical events. They got rid of the kitchen, but have added quite a few vintage video games and pinball machines.

When the full lineup for Dummerfest 2019 was announced, I must admit I was a little disappointed. There wasn’t a ton of name recognition among the bands. There also weren’t any must see old hardcore or bucket list type bands. Still, I had faith in the curators, and knew we would have a good time. Honestly, if you can’t have a good time in Milwaukee, you probably can’t have a good time anywhere. I did spend some time checking out the bands that were previously unknown to me, and definitely found some more things to look forward to.

For the third installment of Dummerfest, they did some things differently. They decided to better utilize their outdoor space by adding a big tent and second stage. They also added a portable beer cart, so a lot of folks could skip waiting in line at the bar. There was a crew outside working a grill with hamburgers, brats, hotdogs and vegetarian options. There were comedians and circus sideshow acts between bands, so there was never really any down time. Additionally, all the games were set to free mode. It was virtually impossible not to be entertained.

The music started at noon on Saturday, June 21st, but we showed up at closer to 1 pm, and completely missed the first band, Hummin’ Bird. They were the only act that we didn’t see at least part of. Dummerfest was really good at keeping things on schedule. There was no “punk time”! In 2017, Direct Hit played first. This guaranteed a good size crowd early on. This year, Direct Hit and the other bigger bands played toward the end, so the crowd sort of trickled in like a normal show.

The first band we caught was called Slaughter Rule. They were playing inside, in the dark. They are a newer, local hardcore band, and this was their first show. I really liked the aggressive music, but they probably need to work on their stage presence. The singer sang well, but he seemed at a loss for words between songs. When he did speak, it was usually mumbled and rarely into the microphone. I guess he let his screaming/yelling do the talking. Until La Armada much later, Slaughter Rule was the heaviest band of the day. We were off to a good start.

Next up was The American Dead, outside. The outdoor stage had a much different, more relaxed vibe. It was a nice day, which has been a bit of a rarity in the midwest. There were kids and families sitting near the edges of the tent taking in the music. You could smell the BBQ wafting through the air. The American Dead are a Madison, WI based cowpunk quartet. Their inspired half hour set (everybody except for The Lawrence Arms got a half hour) recalled Hank 3, Social Distortion and Mike Ness’ solo material. They were great all around, and their cover of The Replacements’ “Can’t Hardly Wait” was just one of many highlights.

Chicago’s Engines were next up inside. I really enjoyed this band, but I must admit that they didn’t really get my full attention. At some point I started playing House of the Dead, a zombie and shooting video game. I’m not a gamer. As a matter of fact, I’m far from it, but I do like to shoot non living things. Once I passed the first level, I was hooked. I kept going until I had beaten every level of those undead bastards. I bet I would have gone through $50 in quarters. Whenever I looked up at the band, I’d always end up getting killed. Engines play a noisy kind of punk, and singer Emily Jancetic is a standout. They were purely an audio experience for me, but a good audio experience.

We hung around inside a bit longer to watch Dead Man’s Carnival. There was fire juggling, sword swallowing, card tricks and more. At one point, my shoulder even became a human prop for some impressive acrobatic feats of strength. DMC performed throughout the day. They were a nice addition, and added to the festive atmosphere. The kids in attendance seemed to get a kick out of it, and they were quick to volunteer when needed.

Next, Chicago’s Devon Kay and the Solutions played a fun set outside. Kay is, of course, the long running guitar player from Direct Hit. He joked that every member of the Solutions had been in Direct Hit at some point. I have no real ability to fact check this, but given the revolving door nature of DH’s rhythm section, I believe it. Devon Kay and the Solutions play an extremely upbeat (musically but not necessarily lyrically) brand of ska. Kay is the only guitar player, but he’s augmented by a keyboard and a couple of horns. They played a song about Bruce Campbell, which is always a good thing, and people had a great time.

Back inside, Greys presented something much weirder and darker. They bounced back and forth between noisy, Sonic Youth like post punk, and dirty, distorted electronica. The vocalist/guitarist remained stoic even when it sounded like the world was falling apart behind him. Melody and noise combined to define the Toronto quartet. They were strangely engaging, even if they hardly seemed to notice the audience was there. In truth, the room was not all that full, as people really wanted to be outside in the nice weather.

Speaking of being back outside, Minneapolis’ The Punchlines were not only fun, but funny. Well, almost funny at least. Their thing is that they tell a (mostly bad) joke, and then they play a song where the joke provides all the words. It actually took me like three songs to figure it out. They’re one of those bands that is very entertaining live, but probably wouldn’t get many repeat plays on the turntable. I made fun of the guitar player’s cop mustache, but then met him later and he turned out to be a nice guy. We played NBA Jam, but I’ll get more into that later. The highlight was probably the song where the singer poked fun at his own Jewishness, but all the jokes were groaners.

Speaking of groaners, I did manage to catch a handful of the short comedy sets. The comedians ranged from pretty damn funny to slightly amusing, but offered another entertainment option for those bored with good music, free games, tasty food, nice people, etc… One guy, whose name eludes me, actually had me laughing pretty hard. It’s like the sign says: Live, Laugh, High Life.

We were inside again for Blood People from Chicago. I had never even heard of the band, but a wise woman told me they were similar to The Distillers. I think that’s a good starting point. Maybe with a little Bleach era Nirvana thrown in for good measure. Punk and hard rock combined with catchy songs and a dynamic frontwoman make Blood People a band to keep your eye on.

Nato Coles and the Blue Diamond Band played the last set of the day outside. They shut that stage down before dark. There are several houses adjacent to the bar, and I'm sure this was out of courtesy to them. The Minneapolis veterans played an infectious set filled with blue eyed soul and dueling lead guitars. The band plays the same Bruce Springsteen meets punk style that has made bands like The Gaslight Anthem a ton of dough. Nato Coles and the Blue Diamond Band’s catchy, heartfelt songs always deliver in a live setting. The crowd favorites were their own “No Such Thing As Was”, and their excellent cover of Tom Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down”.

I think I’m going to end Part 1 of this review right here. Studies have shown that 90% of you read this on the toilet, and I wouldn’t want your asses to fall asleep. Be sure to join me for the exciting conclusion of Dummerfest 2019 in Part 2.