Summerfest 2019: Jason Mraz, Rodrigo y Gabriela, and the best and worst of the side stages on Day 11

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
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On the final night of Summerfest 2019, the side stages offered some of the festival's most chill performances. Most of the time, that was a good thing. 

Jason Mraz 

Jason Mraz performs at the BMO Harris Pavilion Sunday night at Summerfest.

If you look up the word “chill” in Merriam-Webster, it features a picture of Jason Mraz. Or if it doesn’t, it should. 

The singer-songwriter closed out the BMO Harris Pavilion on Summerfest’s last night with a fun singalong of his hits. The lyrics from his “Freedom Song” pretty much lay out Mraz’s career — “And when I feel good, I sing. And the joy it brings makes me feel good.” 

Clad in cutoffs, denim shirt and trucker hat emblazoned with the word “Yay!” while he strummed an acoustic guitar, Mraz rolled out his first hit song “The Remedy (I Won’t Worry)” early in his set and led his fans through “I’m Yours” and Bob Marley’s “Three Little Birds.” 

Cheekily, he pointed offstage and said “Ladies and gentlemen, Colbie Caillat … could not be with us tonight” — so he sang both parts of the smash hit duet “Lucky.”

Before singing “Unlonely,” he asked his audience who was there by themselves and, at the end, he told his fans to find someone to high five. Of course they did. Which is so chill. 

— Meg Jones, 

Samantha Fish 

Samantha Fish performs at the Johnson Controls World Sound Stage at Summerfest Sunday night.

There aren’t many women fronting blues bands, which is a low-down cryin’ shame because females can sing the blues just as well as musicians with XY chromosomes. Samantha Fish sang of heartache, longing and lying/cheating men (and really, are there any other kind in the blues?) Sunday night at the Johnson Controls World Sound Stage.

Dressed in hot pink leather pants and a black short-sleeve top, she captivated the crowd with her stellar guitar playing, which ranged from tender and lyrical to hardcore shredding — sometimes in the same song.

Rollicking through “Little Baby,” which showcased her fabulous six-piece backing band including trumpet and sax, Fish sang of regret for hurting someone who has moved on, leaving her alone. 

She sang several songs from her 2017 album "Chills & Fever," including the cover number and “Somebody’s Always Trying,” as well as “Watch It Die” and “Love Letter,” from a new album “Kill or Be Kind” coming out in September.

— Meg Jones


Dispatch performs at the Briggs & Stratton Big Backyard on July 7, 2019.

Closing out this year’s Big Gig at the Briggs & Stratton Big Backyard, New England band Dispatch offered a farewell meant to recall the dread-shaking equanimity of Jamaica, the y’all-come-back-now shuffle of a hoedown and the altered-state togetherness of the Woodstock era.

For the most part, given the melancholy of any Sunday night, the band got pretty close to those recollections, even if a reggae-ish run at, say, the Phil Collins staple “In the Air Tonight” veered toward the cutesiness of collegiate jam bands.

Dispatch has worked on and off since 1996, though, so it was more professional, and its longstanding earnestness and classic-rock (mainly Beatlesque) drive gave the set the momentum of a drinker who faces down the announcement of closing time with the brave order of a double. 

— Jon M. Gilbertson, Special to the Journal Sentinel 

The Strumbellas 

After their show in Canada was rained out the night before, the Strumbellas were ready to take the stage Sunday to close out Summerfest at the Miller Lite Oasis. 

“We were supposed to play a show in Canada last night, but it got rained out. That’s really frustrating, but we’re bringing two straight days of live show energy for you tonight,” keyboardist David Ritter said. 

The band was greeted by a crowd that was smaller than the two previous acts at the Miller Lite Oasis, Catfight and Moon Taxi. That didn’t stop them, though. 

The Strumbellas released their fourth studio album, “Rattlesnake,” in March. The set included the album’s two singles, “Salvation” and “Running Scared (Desert Song)”.

Alongside Ritter, the band members include singer Simon Ward, lead guitarist Jon Hembrey, bassist Darryl James, drummer Jeremy Drury and violinist Isabel Ritchie. The majority of the members hail from Canada, but Ritchie is a Milwaukee native.

After Ward joked about having a 45-minute break to talk about the NBA playoffs, Ritchie replied, “Too soon.” 

— Jenny Whidden, 

Rodrigo & Gabriela 

Rodrigo y Gabriela bring a kind of hush to Summerfest's Uline Warehouse Sunday night.

A setup of two guitarists — at least one of them usually playing an acoustic six-string — seems awfully basic and muted for Summerfest, but if Rodrigo y Gabriela didn’t offer more than that physically, the duo offered much more than that musically at the Uline Warehouse Sunday night. 

With frequent emphasis on the percussive possibilities of their instruments, Rodrigo Sanchéz and Gabriela Quintero could be exceptionally light of touch, but they also displayed rock and flamenco dexterity that would impress any admirer of Metallica’s Kirk Hammett or jazz virtuoso Stanley Jordan. 

Mixing every track from their latest album, this year’s “Mettavolution,” with older selections, he and she cast the closest thing to a total hush that a festival crowd is capable of … but noise from everyplace else often interfered, and nearly ruined the lambent lucidity of a cover of Pink Floyd’s “Echoes.” Nevertheless, they persisted, and the audience leaned in to listen. 

— Jon M. Gilbertson 

Moon Taxi 

Moon Taxi performs at Summerfest's Miller Lite Oasis Sunday night.

Although less than half of the Miller Lite Oasis bleachers were filled for Moon Taxi, the alternative rock band was met with enthusiastic cheers from the crowd as they came on stage Sunday night. 

The quintet opened its set with “Not Too Late” from the band's most recent album, “Let the Record Play,” and its latest song “Restless.” Lead singer Trevor Terndrup said the performance was the band’s first time playing the song in a large festival setting. 

The singer, grinning throughout the set, kept the crowd moving with upbeat songs such as “Let the Record Play” and “Make Your Mind Up.” The set also included a cover of 4 Non Blondes’ “What’s Up?” and a Queen medley of “Ay-Oh”, “Bohemian Rhapsody” and “We Are the Champions.” 

The concert was Moon Taxi’s third visit to Summerfest. “It’s good to be back. Third time’s the charm,” Terndrup said. 

— Jenny Whidden 

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