I’ve so been looking forward to the second running of the Mid West Music Fest, which is now just a week away. After last year’s debut, I just had the feeling I had done it wrong, and have been waiting for the chance to redeem myself.
I thought I had a pretty good plan for last year’s fest, which offered dozens of bands in six venues over the course of about 12 hours. I wanted to see bands in every venue, and I wanted to show support for local bands and artists, some of whom were just getting started.
I did get to all the venues and I saw nine local bands, and I felt good about hearing some great music. But afterward I realized that it wouldn’t have been that hard for me to see these local bands play at least a few times a year around here. Meanwhile, with my less than adventurous scheme, I had missed seeing a lot of bands I’d never heard or seen before.
For example, I missed out on Midnight Reruns, a Milwaukee-based rock quartet, playing at the Cavalier Theater. I saw an incendiary set from this band recently at the Root Note, and for me they are a must-see this year, especially after hearing the band’s great new album, “Spectator Sports.” For Midnight Reruns, I will make an exception to my hear-new-artists strategy for this year’s MWMF. Because … GUITARS!
I also can’t miss Trapper Schoepp’s return for the second year of MWMF in La Crosse, another departure from my strategy. I was already a fan of Trapper Schoepp when he came to La Crosse for last year’s festival, thanks to two great albums he and his band put out: “Run, Engine, Run” and “Rangers & Valentines.” But I had never had the chance to see him perform before, so he was a big priority.
Schoepp was what I would consider the headliner at The Warehouse last year, and I was thinking, based on my own appreciation of his recordings, that he’d draw a big crowd, especially following Anima, Matt Lawrence and Nick Maas’s Cabin Essence band. These local acts turned in impressive performances, undaunted by the small crowd at The Warehouse.
As Schoepp and his band set up, I kept thinking people were going to suddenly come streaming in and pack the place. Didn’t happen. As they cranked out all these songs I knew well enough to join in on the choruses, only a couple dozen people were rattling around in the spacious Warehouse performance space.
You couldn’t tell that from the intensity with which the band played, though, and Schoepp finished with a big bang, playing a rockin’ two-chord romp called “Freight Train.” Schoepp cajoled the crowd into coming up close to the stage for this number and shouting along with the call-and-response chorus.
All of a sudden, the place felt packed, and the joint was jumpin’. Then Schoepp grabbed the microphone off the stand and jumped down off the stage into the knot of people (good thing he had a long guitar cord). He went through another couple choruses, holding the microphone up to people to highlight their vocal contributions as the band laid back a bit.
Then he said, “Who wants my guitar?”
Of course, I knew he wasn’t trying to give it away; he was looking for a guest guitar player, and on the inside, I was saying “pick me, pick ME,” every bit as forcefully as Arnold Horshack did on “Welcome Back, Kotter.” On the outside, not so much.
He handed the guitar over to Matt Lawrence, who not surprisingly performed admirably as the band roared back full force and Schoepp masterfully brought the festivities to a crescendo.
That show scratched my itch so well, I went home early, with at least two hours of music still to go in other venues. Sad.
Schoepp is back for the opening night of MWMF at the Root Note. It’s just going to be Schoepp and his brother, Tanner, so it’ll be interesting to see if they close out with “Freight Train” as a duo. Maybe not, but with any luck they’ll give people a taste of the band’s new project, a concept album about a beloved Wisconsin amusement park.
Schoepp is rolling out the official announcement about the album next Friday, the same day he plays MWMF, but he gave me the chance to preview the album and it’s a fun ride, full of catchy, rootsy rock ‘n’ roll, which is his specialty.
The nice thing about Mid West Music Fest is it brings in artists with all kinds of different specialties. They’ve got the schedule already posted on the festival website, so you have a good solid week to come up with a unique strategy that will scratch your itches.
Rock on …
Randy Erickson covers arts and entertainment and county government for the La Crosse Tribune. Contact him at 608-791-8219 or firstname.lastname@example.org.