Dummerfest 2019 - Part 2 - Live in Milwaukee (Cover Artwork)
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Dummerfest 2019 - Part 2

Live in Milwaukee (2019)

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My friend and I enjoyed the last Dummerfest in 2017 so much, that returning this year was a no brainer. I bought the tickets well before the full lineup was even announced. It’s about a five hour drive (in good traffic) from our suburban Grand Rapids homes to suburban Milwaukee. We left late Friday morning so we wouldn’t be rushed. We stopped in Chicago at Kuma’s Corner for lunch on the way. The spicy burger I ordered was named after a metalcore band that I don’t like, but it was delicious. My first beer of the weekend was a pint of Salmon Pants Lager from Warpigs Brewing. It was one of only a handful of good brews in a weekend largely defined by cheap domestic swill. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that!)

The first two Dummerfests in 2015 and 2017 had pre shows on Friday night featuring bands like Teenage Bottlerocket, PEARS and Galactic Cannibal. This year the official pre show was a wrestling event at the same venue as the main event, the X-Ray Arcade. While I’m sure it was fun, I haven’t paid much attention to wrestling since the ‘80s. Instead, we opted to go see my favorite boyhood baseball team. Brewers pitching was not very good on this night, and they lost a long, offense heavy game to the Cincinnati Reds. We then went to a different neighborhood and enjoyed Milwaukee’s most famous export until the wee morning hours.

This is Part 2, so maybe I should offer a brief recap. It is now Saturday, June 21st. We are at Dummerfest at the X-Ray Arcade in Cudahy, Wisconsin. We have missed Hummin’ Bird, but have seen Slaughter Rule, The American Dead, Engines, Devon Kay and the Solutions, Greys, The Punchlines, Blood People and Nato Coles and the Blue Diamond Band. The outside stage is done for the day. We are approximately 9 Miller High Lifes into our afternoon. We were shooting for one beer per band, and were able to stick with that until a bit of an acceleration toward the end of the night. Two years ago, we drank one 16 ounce tallboy per band. This year it was only a 12 ounce bottle per band. I guess this is growing up.

Once the performances on the outside stage were finished, Dummerfest started to feel more like a regular club show. La Armada, from Chicago by way of the Dominican Republic, was the heaviest band of the night. Their politically charged metallic hardcore was a nice change of pace. Not surprisingly, lots of folks seemed interested in their anti-capitalist and anti-globalist message. Politics aside, these friendly guys turned in a passionate, energetic performance.

Kali Masi was the other band that I really didn’t watch. I got sucked into playing NBA Jam, and their half hour got away from me. Unlike House of the Dead, I couldn’t seem to win at NBA Jam. I kept playing and playing, but always lost. I really formed no opinion of Kali Masi at all. Sorry guys. If you must blame someone, blame the Bad Boys era Detroit Pistons and the special place they still hold in my heart. On this night Isaiah Thomas and Joe Dumars let me down.

Next up were my pals, and fellow Grand Rapidians, The Lippies. A few years ago, when they were a hot up and coming band, I sat down with them for an interview. We’ve kept in touch, and remained friends. They broke up for a couple of years, and I’m really glad to see them getting this second chance. There were about ten people there from GR in total, and it was nice to catch up and hang out. Aside from The Lippies, some of Grand Rapids’ most promising young bands were represented. Their bands, Boob Sweat, Kiwi Army and Ugly Flannel, have injected a real energy into the local (GR) punk scene, even if it’s not necessarily my scene.

The Lippies opened with singer Tonia doing an unamplified solo ukulele version of “Basic Boy”, maybe before their official time had started. They closed with an unamplified solo ukulele rendition of “Thelma & Louise”. The half hour in between was filled with their signature feminist pop punk anthems. They played a bunch of songs from their 2016 self titled debut LP on Red Scare. They also played a handful of new songs, and it would seem that a new record is in the works. I’ve seen them play many times, and this set was a great one.

Speaking of Red Scare Industries, I finally got to meet Red Scare main man Toby Jeg. Our previous relationship had been the occasional email, and it was nice to put a face with the name. I’m not sure if he was what I expected, and I’m pretty sure he felt the same way about me. That’s actually one of the greatest things about Dummerfest, meeting new people and renewing old acquaintances. I enjoyed meeting many of you. (You know who you are.) Midwesterners are nothing if not friendly.

Finally the time had come for local heroes Direct Hit. (It just occurred to me that that last three bands all have strong ties to Red Scare.) They banged out their set with their typical reckless abandon. The sing alongs were starting to reach a fever pitch. Their combination of pop punk melody and hardcore propulsiveness is undeniably compelling. Direct Hit is a band that always delivers a fun and energetic performance. The fact that frontman Nick Woods was pulling double duty as organizer and musician only made it that much more impressive.

Despite the fact that it’s only a two hour drive from Chicago, The Lawrence Arms were making their first Milwaukee appearance in 15 year. The crowd was amped up, and probably a little (or maybe a lot) drunk. Everybody in the room seemed to have a personal connection to or story about TLA bassist/vocalist Brendan Kelly. For his part, Kelly worked the room like the mayor of Dummerfest, passing out hugs and handshakes to anyone who asked. He seemed to be having at least as much fun as the audience.

I must admit to not being very familiar with The Lawrence Arms. They rose to punk prominence during my lost decade, the 2000s. (When I was knee deep in raising my young kids.) Even without recognizing any of their songs, I enjoyed their 70 or so minute set. I seemed to be one of the few people there who didn’t know almost all the words. They’re funny guys, and they put on a good show. They left no doubt that they deserved their headlining spot, even if they’re not really my thing.

What can I say to properly sum up this wonderful little festival of music, camaraderie, drinking and fun? It was a nearly perfect day. I’m not sure what they could have done to make it a better experience. (Other than have all of my favorite bands.) They took everything that was great about the first couple Dummerfests, and added more to it. They increased the musical variety, but still kept a punk focus. Now that the organizers own the bar, I hope it becomes an annual event. If tickets for Dummerfest 2020 went on sale tomorrow, I would buy a couple. No questions asked.

Confessions of a merch whore: In 2017, I regretted that I didn’t bring more money for swag. This year, I made sure I had plenty of cash. Unfortunately, something in the Dairy State caused my credit card to be flagged, so I still had to be a little cautious. Still, I was there early enough to get a nice, free Dummerfest 2K19 koozie. I bought (by donation) a couple of CDs from The American Dead, and enjoyed them on the ride home. I picked up Engines brand new, yellow, single sided 12” EP Every Cell, as well as their Obsolete LP. (It was on colored vinyl too, but I can’t remember what color.) Toby had some Red Scare stuff, so I grabbed a black copy of The Lillingtons undisputed classic, Death By Television. (I’ve had the CD for years.) Last but not least, I got a bottle of Direct Hit inspired Domesplitter hot sauce from Chicago’s favorite hot sauce company, Soothsayer.