Dueling stages ruin Summerfest shows

Last updated on July 3rd, 2019 at 07:18 pm

Performer dependent, last night was likely the last time I’ll ever go to a show at the Marcus Amphitheater during Summerfest.

Here’s the problem: sound bleedover between the new BMO Harris Pavilion and the Marcus.

To some, this may be a small, maybe even unnoticeable, phenomena, but to me, it darn near ruins the entire concert experience. There were times last night, it fully ruined it for me.

David Gray performed at the BMO last week and Instagrammed that it was a “cluster****.” (See: http://instagram.com/p/MueMElD_ke/) I saw the Avett Brothers last Thursday at the BMO while Zac Brown was playing the Marcus and didn’t notice anything, but that’s probably because I had good seats, was under the pavilion roof, and the Avetts didn’t play many ballads. I imagine Gray’s set with Iron Maiden must’ve been a joke.

While Neil Diamond certainly isn’t Iron Maiden, nor is he going to be as loud, the bass from the neighboring BMO stage last night (B-52s) was highly distracting. And I had what I hoped were good seats (reserved bleachers, Section 14, just a little off-middle). When Neil moved into a slow number or a song that had slower, quieter elements (e.g. the beginning of “Holly Holy,” “Brother Love’s Traveling Salvation Show,” etc.), the subsonic booming from next door stage trampled the songs. I think at one point, Mr. Diamond himself was distracted by it – he turned his head towards the noise and for a moment paused. I think he even furrowed his significantly bushy brows. There’s no doubt in my mind he could hear it. And his slowest song – “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers” – was pulverized into submission by the B-52s’ heavy bombardment of bass.

At show’s end, I posted this tweet: The location of the BMO Harris Pavilion relative to the Marcus Amphitheater was the biggest Milwaukee mistake since Elton John at Harley. 🙁

A friend responded back with a few things like, “It’s a music festival; the acts should expect it” and “the crossover is worse at other stages,” but I take exception to both of those comments. First, I don’t think a performer on the main stages (call it two main stages now) should have to fight for the right to be heard. He’s Neil-friggin’-Diamond for heaven’s sake, and his fans doled out a heck of a lot of money to see him.

Our crummy tickets were $75 each with fees. Second, the crossover effect is worst at the BMO/Marcus for this reason and this reason only: low-frequency bass.

Since the adjacent stages of the Miller, Harley, Briggs’ Backyard all face east, you can hear other performers too during the quieter moments, but the earthen and concrete berm that separates the BMO and Marcus takes that heavy bass from the BMO and transfers it into the seating area at the Marcus. Once I got accustomed (?) to the thump, I even heard it during Neil’s louder songs (“Cracklin’ Rosie,” “Sweet Caroline,” etc.). You don’t so much hear it as you feel it.

I’m not sure how many others are this distracted by it. I’ve always been highly sensitive to these kinds of things. My wife said it didn’t bother her, but by the end of the show, I think she was starting to understand my complaint.

And I bet this: future performers are going to be very wary of playing these stages without knowing who is playing at the adjacent theater. Guaranteed. You can bet your butt David Gray won’t be back!

That said, Summerfest 2012 had a great lineup, and the BMO Harris Pavilion, by itself, is a remarkably great place to see a show. Maybe the Marcus’s days are numbered? I don’t know, but complaints aside, I’ll probably be standing in the sweltering heat with a $6.50 Miller Lite in my hand next first week of July just like I have for the last 25.

Mike Collins is a resident of Wauwatosa and works as a sales manager.

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