Harley riders and enthusiasts from all over the U.S. and from many other countries took part in the Harley Davidson 110th Anniversary in Milwaukee, WI. An event celebrated every five years, and at various locations in and around the Milwaukee area, music was a huge part of this year’s celebration. Whether you decided to catch one of the free street performances by bands like Sick Puppies and Leogun or one of the performances on the stage near the Harley Museum, there was no shortage of entertainment. In fact, not only were Harley riders the ones in attendance, Rock ‘n Roll fans in general had over 50 bands, from multiple genres, on five stages to choose from over three days once on the Summerfest Grounds.
My first night started with Chevy Metal at the BMO Harris Pavilion. A cover band from CA, with a strangely familiar drummer, played an hour and a half set of mostly 70’s and some 80’s covers. Now, while some may have thought this was some cover band nailing song after song, many in the crowd realized just what they were witnessing. Not only was Taylor Hawkins of Foo Fighters fame playing drums and singing, but one Dave Grohl was also playing guitar and doing some singing. Not his normal gig, but surely a very welcomed one. Talk about the surprise of the night! Along with vocalist/bassist Wiley Hodgden and guitarist Mick Murphy, fans enjoyed covers of Van Halen, Thin Lizzy, Black Sabbath, The Rolling Stones, Steve Miller, The Vapors, The Knack, Tom Petty (which had Dave Grohl on lead vocal and lead guitar for Breakdown) and Queen/David Bowie. Another surprise came during their cover of The Rolling Stones’ Bitch when Joan Jett came out and played guitar along side Dave.
I headed over to the Harley Davidson stage and heard tales from a couple woman about their experiences with riding. One in particular spoke about the Freedom Jacket that had traveled all over the world, including India, over the past year. Read more about the jacket here. She then introduced Chris Sommer Simmons who had ridden her 1915 Harley Davidson from Sturgis to Milwaukee. Chris talked a bit about riding and mentioned how important it was to get out there and ride because of the journey of meeting people along the way.
Joan Jett headlined the Harley Davidson stage opening with new song, TMI, before playing crowd favorites Cherry Bomb, Do You Wanna Touch Me and Bad Reputation. Before playing another new song from Unvarnished (now available) Joan Jett mentioned she wrote Soulmates to Strangers with Against Me’s Laura Jane Grace. Continuing with the first song she ever wrote, the Runaways’ Drive Me Wild, she played a few more new songs including current single, Any Weather. I have to add, Joan Jett has been doing this Rock ‘n Roll thing for a while now, but she is still as much of a bad ass as she ever was. Guitarist Thommy Price and bassist Acey Slade were pretty active on stage as well. When the band launched into I Love Rock & Roll, the crowd that had been sitting, was on their feet singing and dancing along. Between Crimson & Clover and I Hate Myself for Loving You, most thought the night was over. However, te band came back out and closed out the night with another new song, Reality Mentality, and two covers. The Sweet’s A.C.D.C. and Sly and the family Stones’ Everyday People. With that set over, I started walking through the grounds on my way out and caught a familiar tune. I stopped to watch The Doobie Brothers perform China Grove and Listen to the Music. To hear the crowd sing along to the chorus of the last song brought a huge smile to my face. The power of music is a wonderful thing.
On the second day I headed over to the Harley Museum but the place was just mobbed with people both on and off their motorcycles. However, to see them all neatly lined up along the curb was definitely a cool thing to see. While walking around checking out the bikes I noticed a couple I had seen the night before. On Friday night I had spoken to the woman asking if she had really traveled from Norway to Milwaukee. She had. Wow. That really blew me away! Needless to say, from that moment Friday on, I looked at every Harley Owners Group vest I saw. It was amazing to see how many countries were represented in Milwaukee that weekend. On Friday I also saw Mexico City, the Dominican Republic, Guadalajara, and one I really couldn’t believe, Jakarta, Indonesia. I spoke with a couple that flew 22 hours on a plane to New York (w/ an 8 hour layover in Dubai) only to continue another 1,000 miles on Harley’s to Milwaukee. He said it was a once in a lifetime event. On Saturday I spotted Spain, Germany, Guatemala and Taiwan. On Sunday, I saw people from Birmingham, England and Switzerland, (again, I just had to ask and he confirmed he had flown into Chicago and rode a Harley to Milwaukee for this once in a lifetime event.) However, I couldn’t believe it when I saw Arctic Chapter Norway World Northernmost on the back of two vests. These guys had been riding for 3 weeks prior. They had started in Denver, continued to Sturgis, New Mexico, etc, before heading to Milwaukee. Amazing! By the end of the weekend, I saw people from people from Toluca Mexico, Ireland, Copenhagen, Budapest, Rio de Janerio, Tasmania, London, Romania and Ontario, Manitoba and Quebec.
Once back on the Summerfest grounds, I watched Shooter Jennings’ backing band, Uncle Lucius before another surprise of the weekend. Jonathan Tyler and the Northern Lights were supposed to perform at the BMO Harris Pavilion, but when drummer Jordan Cain and guitarist Brandon Pinckard were the only two members to come out on stage, I knew exactly what was about to happen. See, these two have a side project called Rise and Shine. For me personally, I never thought I’d get the chance to see them perform. But the day had come. Their 45-minute set consisted mostly of songs from their new release This Is Your Captain Speaking. Some of these bluesy rock, catchy tempo songs included Riverbottom, Aint No Grave, Leaving Oklahoma and Shine My Light. While Brandon mostly sang lead while playing guitar, there were a few songs where Jordan sang lead including on the cover of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Mr. Banker.
Once their set ended, Jonathan Tyler and the rest of the Northern Lights took the stage and continued to keep the Rock ‘n Roll flowing. They opened with super catchy Hot Sake from their album Pardon Me. For those unfamiliar with JTNL, they are a 5-piece band from Texas. With Jonathan on vocals and guitar, he and Brandon trade off lead. With Jordan on drums and backing vocals, Chase McGillis on bass and the one and only Emotion Brown on backing vocals, tambourine, etc, their style of Rock ‘n Roll is all parts rock, some part blues, and a whole lot of good vibes for your soul. Jonathan expresses his emotions with his vocals, his lyrics, his facial expressions and body movements. If you let yourself, you can’t help but become wrapped up in the melodies and wonderful songs they’ve created. During their set, they also covered Bob Dylan’s Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat. The crowd was treated to two new songs, Going Down to the City and Walk On By along with one of my fave songs, Devil’s Basement which showcases Jonathan on harmonica. After 30 minutes, I had to sprint to the U.S. Cellular stage to catch the next band and where I would spend the rest of the night.
The North Mississippi Allstars, with brothers Luther and Cody Dickinson, are a Southern Rock/Blues band from Mississippi. Playing songs from their new album World Boogie Is Coming, like Shimmy and Rollin ‘N Tumblin along with hits from previous releases like Shake ‘Em on Down and Shake (Yo Mama), the vibe was quite apparent. Funky, low down and dirty. Cody, who mostly played drums, also played keyboard during a couple songs, along with little guitar and an electrified washboard. Yes, something you need to see to appreciate. Luther traded off between quite a few guitars including one that looked like a guitar made from an old oil can and of course one made from a cigar box. These created some very distinctive sounds which added to the many layers of their songs, not to mention his bassist was playing a 7-string bass. This kept things low and groovy. Every once in a while, Luther would bang play guitar and beat on a big bass drum that was sitting center stage. This very talented 3-piece had the crowd dancing and grooving all during their set.
Next up were Foxy Shazam from Cincinnati, OH. They were quite a different style of music than the previous band, but still very entertaining. With unique vocals from lead singer Eric Nally, they held nothing back in their hour long performance. Playing songs from their 2012 release, The Church of Rock and Roll, like Holy Touch, Welcome to the Church of Rock and Roll and I Like It, there were times when I noticed the audience were in some sort of shock either from certain lyrics or what was happening on stage. Regardless, they were witnessing a truly high energy performance. Between Eric jumping around and doing somersaults on stage, to bassist Daisy Caplan balancing his bass on his chin to Sky White standing on his keyboard, anything was clearly possible. Horn player/backing vocalist Alex Nauth, guitarist Loren Turner and drummer Aaron McVeigh rounded out the rest of the band. At one point Alex and Daisy assisted Eric in doing a flip on stage. All in all, I’d say everyone in attendance will never forget their set.
During the set up for the headliner that night, more and more people continued to pile in for Buckcherry. By the time the band took the stage, the main seating area was pretty packed. They held nothing back and started the night with crowd fave Lit Up before going into Rescue Me and All Night Long. Their hour and a half set was full of a variety of songs from their previous releases and a fair amount of new songs from their newest album Confessions, the first of the night being Wrath. With a great response from the crowd Josh prefaced the song Everything by saying, “You have to have a little blind faith along the way.” Continuing with the popular Sorry, before heading into Lawless and Lulu from their first album, the crowd continued to enjoy the Rock ‘n Roll trip down memory lane. When you have as many releases and as many hits, I can’t imagine it’s easy to pick the songs to play. Dead, from the album All Night Long, showcased both guitarists Keith Nelson and Stevie D center stage. These two really play well together and create an amazing electrified cohesive bond throughout the night. Buckcherry took a step back once again to their first album with Borderline, a song I don’t recall being in heavy rotation in the past, before playing three more new songs. Gluttony, Nothing Left But Tears and The Truth had the crowd in more of a watch and listen vibe than a sing along and get crazy mode, but that’s to be expected when any band are playing newer songs. Regardless, the attention was still there but the crowd really became alive when Buckcherry went into what is probably their most recognized song, Crazy Bitch. During the middle of the song, Josh took the time to introduce everyone, including bassist Jimmy Ashhurst and drummer Xavier Muriel. After that, the band briefly left the stage but returned for a three song encore. One more new song, Greed, first album track For the Movies and Onset from the album 15. Needless to say, this crowd had a great night. After the show I spotted a younger fan, from Virginia no less, who had a drumstick and a set list. I asked if she had a great time. As she replied a resounding, “YES!” the smile on her face was hard to mistake. I believe Buckcherry has another fan for life.
Once Sunday rolled around, the Summerfest Grounds were still rockin’ in rollin’. Whether people were walking around eating various food, checking out vendors, drinking beer with friends or watching bands, the vibe of the day was the same as the previous two. Everyone was here to celebrate their love of Harley Davidson, their love of riding, and to be a part of the celebration of 110 Years of Freedom. I don’t know if I can convey the true vibe of the weekend, but I bet if you were there, you know exactly what Im talking about. Time and time again, as I would see all of these people from various parts of the U.S. and from many, many countries outside the U.S., many were engaging with each other. I watched as a couple from Mexico asked complete strangers, who appeared to be from WI, to take their photo. After that, instead of walking away, they began to talk with each other. I’m not sure what their conversation was about, but I imagine motorcycles were at the top of the list. If I had to sum it up, I’d say the folks that ride Harley Davidson’s are some real chill people. While checking out some merchandise, I heard some very familiar tunes playing not too far away on the Miller Stage. Once I realized exactly what I was hearing, I walked over to catch a few songs by Chicago based band The Last Vegas including what Chad Cherry called a new song, Invincible.
After that I headed to the Harley Davidson stage for JD McPherson. JD and his band from Oklahoma, have a very retro sound that is part rock, part blues, part rockabilly, and all parts awesome. They played songs from their 2012 release Signs & Signifiers, like Dimes for Nickels and Country Boy. They also played some pretty awesome covers. JD sang on Chuck Berry’s Beautiful Delilah and The Bellfuries’ Your Love (All That I’m Missin’) while bassist Jimmy Sutton sang lead vocals while playing his upright bass on Bo Diddley’s You Don’t Love Me (You Don’t Care). They played more of their own songs and during Firebug, the crowd went crazy when Jimmy went to town on his bass. I don’t know what it is about an upright, but people go crazy for it, myself included! They played Scandalous, a cover more covers and North Side Gal before ending their set with my fave JD song, Wolf Teeth, and it was amazing. The crowd was also really into it. With its quick upbeat tempo, many were dancing along.
While waiting for the next band on the Harley stage I wandered over near the Miller Light stage and thought I’d check out part of Kyng’s set. However, when the band started, it didn’t sound like Kyng and the band on stage definitely didn’t look like Kyng. I was confused as to who this band was although I was diggin’ the covers of the heavy metal song snippets they were playing. As I took a closer look, I realized they were really quite interesting and that the group of fans upfront were clearly there for them. I stayed and watched their cover of Sweet’s Ballroom Blitz. I also found out that Kyng actually played earlier in the day so this band, Moderatto from Mexico City, could play.
Back at the Harley Davidson stage, Blackberry Smoke played in front of a packed crowd. Lead singer Charlie Starr, with his big smile and bell bottoms walked on stage and immediately got down to business. Their set was full of songs from their 2012 release, The Whippoorwill, which are sure to be classics some day. This Atlanta, GA based band is both Southern Rock and Country. I read a saying once that was something like “too Rock for Country, too Country for Rock.” It’s hard to exactly pinpoint their style, but it doesn’t matter because Blackberry Smoke are one of the best bands out there. I’m not sure if it’s a combination of Charlie’s slightly raspy vocals and guitar playing along with second guitarist Paul Jackson, the added flavor of a keyboard player Brandon Still, or just damn good song writing, but whatever the combination, it works and works well. Charlie dedicated Ain’t Much Left of Me to everyone that was divorced and also stopped a moment to wish Harley Davidson a Happy Birthday. I thought it was interesting when he mentioned that this Harley crowd was the most laid back audience they’d ever played for. I guess I wasn’t the only one that noticed how relaxed everyone was. But not that it’s a bad thing as people enjoy music in very different ways. Their set ended with One HorseTown, Deep Elem Blues and Leave a Scar.
Over on the BMO Harris Pavilion stage, Tyler Bryant and the Shakedown were tearing things up! Playing songs from their 2013 release Wild Child, these young guys were playing well beyond their years. Lead singer and guitarist Tyler Bryant, with his retro look and round-rimmed shades, poured out his heart and soul with each lyric he sang and each note he strummed. Guitarist Graham Whitford, yes, the son of Aerosmith’s Brad Whitford, was one with his instrument. With his hair constantly in his face or flying from side to side, he honed in on the key sound of The Shakedown. Drummer Caleb Crosby, with his hair flying, crazy facial expressions and overall intense playing was key to keeping this band in time. Bassist Noah Denny on the other hand was more low key in presence however, his contribution to the band was heard loud and clear. Songs like Downtown Tonight, with its slow, gritty sound lead into one of my fave tracks. Tyler switched out his electric guitar for a Resonator guitar and started Lipstick Wonder Woman. Within the song, one by one he introduced the band and they each played a little solo spot. Once he introduced Caleb though, he picked up a large bass drum and walked out from behind his kit to center stage. After beating on that for a bit he jumped off stage, jumped the security rail and then used his sticks to play on chairs, the ground and even on the top of the security rail. For the next song, Caleb started off up front with the bass drum and a tambourine. He mentioned the next song, Shackles, was for the people that stole their guitars. I knew exactly what he was referring to since I had seen the band earlier that year in Chicago. It was at that show Tyler mentioned the night before someone had stolen their guitars. Needless to say, they had to buy new ones so that they could play that night. Not ones to let anything get them down, they played an outstanding memorable performance which was very much like their performance in Milwaukee that night.
During some downtime, I heard the majority of the set from The White Buffalo on the Briggs and Stratton Big Backyard stage. Not normally something I would listen to, it was a nice relaxing part of the night that I ended up thoroughly enjoying. Before the last performance of the night, I walked over to the signing wall to check out the many signatures people had been leaving all weekend. The massive Harley Davidson sign was nothing but a mixture of color, drawings, names and words. I asked an employee what would happen to the sign and she thought it would end up at the Harley Davidson museum. Pretty cool piece for that moment in time.
As the night was coming to and end, many, many, many people were gathered for the final performance at the Harley Davidson stage and probably the biggest crowd I had seen all weekend. As the lights dimmed, the video screens on stage showed a sort of movie trailer for La Futura that was rated ZZ, of course. Eventually all members of ZZ Top took to the stage and immediately started with Got Me Under Pressure before going into the two song combo of Waitin’ for the Bus / Jesus Just Left Chicago. Frank Beard, sitting behind his massive dual bass drum kit with its metallic skull heads was pretty low key all night. Billy Gibbons and Dusty Hill on the other hand, played with the swagger expected from this legendary band. Both were dressed in black, sporting ornately decorated jackets, sun glasses and of course, hats. Billy’s trademark raspy vocals along with his smooth guitar playing continued on new songs I Gotsta Get Paid, Chartreuse and Heartache in Blue. To my surprise, they played a song from 1971’s ZZ Top’s First Album, Certified Blues, which lead into their cover of Jimi Hendrix’s Foxy Lady. During My Head’s in Mississippi, at one point they changed out the state for Milwaukee instead. Always cool when bands do that. Of course, the crowd went crazy over classics Gimme All Your Lovin’, Sharped Dressed Man (which was dedicated to all the Duck Dynasty fans) and Legs (complete with fuzzy guitars). They left the stage for what would become the first of two encores. The first encore included Tube Snake Boogie, La Grange, which included a nice jammed out section, and Tush. The crowd could be heard loud and clear as they sang, “I said, Lord, take me downtown, Im’ just lookin’ for some tush.” The band came back out for the second encore and treated everyone to their version of Elvis’ Jailhouse Rock. As the band left the stage, La Futura movie credits rolled on the video screens.
As I headed out, I caught the last couple songs by Katey Sagal and the Forest Rangers at the Briggs and Stratton stage. The final song was a cover of The Band’s The Weight and included The White Buffalo Band. Such a great song and such a great way to end my three days that were full of great bands, tons of bikes and a lot of cool people. I would have to imagine that everyone that attended the Harley Davidson 110th Anniversary celebration had just as much fun.
Keep up with the bands below:
Joan Jett and the Blackhearts
Rise and Shine
Jonathan Tyler and the Northern Lights
North Mississippi Allstars
Tyler Bryant and the Shakedown