Natural beauty created a perfectly picturesque stage for the third installment of the Rock the Green Sustainability Festival at Reed Street Yards. The sun shining brightly, cascading against meandering white clouds, rolling over a clear and peaceful blue sky. Milwaukee music virtuoso Evan Christian, who opened Rock the Green’s third sustainability festival, closed his opening set from the main stage with words that would ring true throughout the day, “Come on down to the river banks one day, come on down to the river banks and play.” The gentle flow of the adjacent Menomonee River seemed to echo its agreement. It was the beginning of a remarkable day of music and sustainability awareness.
Following Evan Christian’s warm opening set, main stage action kicked off with the Milwaukee indie folk/rock buzz band, Trapper Schoepp. Trapper Schoepp’s welcoming nature and interactive stage presence greeted the early fans to a forty-five minute performance of roots rock ‘n roll tales. The son of a park ranger, sustainability is an issue that is near and dear to Trapper Schoepp’s heart. Schoepp spun narrative tales about his family and friends throughout his songs. A highlight was “Tracks,” the first song on Schoepp’s debut record Run Engine Run from 2012.. In it, Schoepp describes a highschool classmate, Sam, who took off for Wyoming and who was never heard from again. A prolific storyteller, Schoepp weaved personal family tales into his songs, sharing a tale about a relative’s epic journey across the midwest in “The Ballad of Olaf Johnson,” found on his highly-acclaimed latest release,Rangers and Valentines.
Frantically fuzzy guitars, staccato percussion and keyboard riffs, frenzied mandolin and guitar jams punctuated the warm mid-day set from San Francisco’s Thao and the Get Down Stay Down. An always intense performer, Thao juxtaposed her introspective, socially conscious and often sensual lyrics over a constant jam of experimental folk. Whether she had a guitar or mandolin in hand, Thao jammed each number into a frenzy. An environmentally conscientious artist, Thao acknowledged the sustainability mission of Rock the Green, stating, “It is so wonderful to be at a festival that is so aware and supportive of the environment.” Touring in support of her most recent release, A Man Alive, Thao included her infectiously ruckus single, “Nobody Dies,” which the crowd belted out in unison with Thao. Thao and the Get Down Stay Down’s experimental folk musings got the crowd fired up and ready for more.
Late afternoon brought the heat to the festival (both literally and figuratively) as The Heavy took the stage. Hailing from London, England, the Heavy have been pounding out their unique blend of garage rock, soul and funk for over a decade. The Heavy had been in Milwaukee just once before, at the Pabst Theater about six years ago, opening for the power soul ensemble Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings. While Rock the Green chatted with lead vocalist, Kelvin Swaby, before The Heavy’s set, Swaby clearly recalled his last experience in Milwaukee fondly-- taking a selfie with the iconic Bronze Fonz statue and enjoying the scenic urban riverwalk of the Milwaukee River downtown. Swaby credits Sharon Jones as being an “eye opener for him” about how to perform. Jones’s influence was evident watching Swaby bring his A-game to Rock the Green. Looking dapper in a retro-styled derby hat and crisply pressed white polo shirt all while wielding a vintage mic, Swaby got the crowd movin’ and groovin’ and quite literally howling like wolves (during their number “Big Bad Wolf’ off of 2012’s The Glorious Dead record). Their set was packed with hits from across their career, including “Short Change Hero” off of 2009’s release, The House that Dirt Built, and “What Makes A Good Man,” from 2012’she The Glorious Dead, as well as recent material off of The Hurt and the Merciless released this past April. The Heavy had the crowd in the palm of their hands as they closed their set with their uproaring anthem, “How You Like Me Know,” off of 2009’s The House that Dirt Built. If Milwaukee fans hadn’t heard of The Heavy before Rock the Green, needless to say the band made a lasting impression.
The sun was making its gentle descent into the western sky casting a glistening orange hue off of the Menomonee River when the chill-wave act, Best Coast took the stage to kick off the twilight set of the evening. This scenic backdrop fit the bouncy surfy vibes of Best Coast well. Best Coast, is fronted by the equal parts chill and intensity. The band is a duo which includes vocalist and guitarist, Bethany Cosentino and drummer, bassist, and lead guitarist, Bobb Bruno. On tour, they
are joined by a full line-up with Brady Miller on drums, Brett Mielke on bass and vocals, and Joe Bautista on guitars and keyboards, creating a lushly serene sound. This act oozes a laid-back California vibe from its band name to its throw-back surf licks to citing everyone from The Beach Boys to Gwen Stefani as influences. The bop of “Feeling Ok,” from 2015’s California Nights, and the catchy pop melodies on “Boyfriend,” from 2010’s Crazy For You, sprinkled a bit of California beach love over the Reed Street Yards - just as the sun descended on a perfect late summer night in Milwaukee.
With fireflies starting to buzz in the sky, Robert DeLong’s gaggle of female helpers weaved through the crowd applying neon face paint on the cheeks of eager and willing festival attendees in anticipation for the electronic-dance guru’s one-man-band set. DeLong took the stage yelling “How’s it going Rock the Green?” to an eager audience and wasted no time getting the crowd pumped up with the beat driven numbers “In the Cards,” and “Jealousy” off of his 2015 In the Cards release. The lanky thirty year old, now residing in Denver, is about as unique a performer as you can find - playing a myriad of instruments and literally running, skipping and jumping from one
part of the stage to another. While DeLong is known for his samples, keyboards, loops and synthesizers, he also dabbles in guitar and is a highly accomplished percussionist, playing not one but two drum kits and a plethora of other percussion instruments. DeLong was seen frequently flipping drum sticks into the air and catching them with a juggler’s ease throughout his set. His dizzying sonic fray is nothing short of infectious and engaging. To say that he hooked the crowd into dancing along with his groves was an understatement! The track that truly epitomized DeLong’s performance is “Don’t Wait Up For Me,” where the artist confesses to his listeners, “I’ve got a restless mind.” From busting out quirky gadgets like old-school video game joy sticks and even Wii remote controls to help create sounds and control images on the video board, DeLong is a one of a kind performer. When Rock the Green chatted with DeLong before his set, the artist mentioned, “I love to have fun and see people out there enjoying themselves. We’re going to have a blast.” By the time DeLong concluded his set with his two most recognizable numbers, “Long Way Down” off In the Cards and “Global Concepts” off 2013’s Just Movement, it was clear that DeLong accomplished his mission. To quote one festival goer, “OMG, Robert has changed my life. I am going out and getting a disco ball and lights for my workout room.”
The day’s headliner, Lord Huron, took the stage with a visual show of lights and smoke that created a blanket of virtual fog across the stage. In many ways, this image was perfect for a headliner who got its name from the Great Lake Huron, where singer-songwriter Ben Schneider grew up. “It’s so good to be back in Milwaukee- the good and beautiful land, as Alice Cooper once told me. We got to spend a lot of time by the beautiful lake you have right here,” Schneider exclaimed. Much of Lord Huron’s music is derived from nature with frequent themes of yearning perpetrating their songs. The band spins together a unique blend of folk, pop and soaring harmonies to create eloquent soundscapes which crashed over the crowd like a wave. Lord Huron drew heavily on 2015’s Strange Trails record and 2012’s debut Lonesome Dreams release. “Time To Run,” a standout track from Lonesome Dreams came early in the show to the delight of the festival audience. The set saw the often introverted Schneider jamming hard on guitar and sucking the audience into the stories of the characters in his songs. Exuding energy and emotion, Lord Huron roped the Rock the Green crowd into the heartache and longing of the characters in their songs, leaving the crowd hankering for more when the last chords were strummed.
Rock the Green made a triumphant return in 2016 treating music lovers, families and eco enthusiasts to a wonderful day of thought and play, bringing yet another wonderful festival to the city of Milwaukee.