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(Live Review) MILWAUKEE SUMMERFEST - 6/30/23

By The Beard & Little Johnny

Welcome Beard & Little Johnny fans to a different kind of metal/rock review. This weekend, your roving reviewer enjoyed a weekend on the lake as we took in the gigantic Milwaukee Summerfest. Three days (Thu-Sat), for three Weekends, with 12 stages and well over one hundred bands of every genre imaginable descend on this Lake Michigan adjacent festival grounds. It is a lot of Midwest food, beer, and music and The Beard and Little Johnny were there for three days and nights of it.

This review will gloss over the non-rock acts and pay more attention/detail to the heavier side of things, but nevertheless it will be a rollicking read.

This edition we review day/night two - Friday June 30th

Event 33 Bands: 168-172

School of Rock

Hell on Heels

Five Card Stud

John Waite

Leilani Kilgore



School of Rock really isn’t a band per-se, it’s most of the Summerfest stages allowing young kids the opportunity to perform in front of “crowds” (mostly friends and family), but also some folks like me. For about 90 minutes I watched a lot of likely never-will-be’s. But they have the courage to try and maybe some of them “will” be in real bands eventually. For now, they can all say, “I played Summerfest.”


Hell on Heels was a cover band with a female lead that had a voice good for some songs, think Bonnie Raitt type stuff. Unfortunately, she attempted covering stuff like Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple. In my mind, if you blow the lyrics to "Smoke on the Water", maybe you shouldn’t be covering that song. I did not stay for the entire set. No grade, cover band.


Likewise, the 1970’s soul act Five Card Studs would have been excellent for my parents, and for fans of that genre these guys were fine. Decent singer. Decent band. Professional act. For me though, about six songs and Johnny and I were on our way. No grade not metal & cover band


The third act of the day was John Waite. When the Beard asked Little Johnny if we should stop and see this, he asked who John Waite was. After The Beard broke into off-key versions of “When I see you Smile and Missing You”, Johnny helpfully offered to assist me with getting my voice higher through a solid kick to my sensitive region. An offer I declined.

Now, John Waite still looks good and has a very decent voice for a guy around 70. That said, he suffered from the Debbie Gibson curse of “A little goes a long way”. We slipped away for some dinner and then came back for act four of the evening. No grade, not metal.


Nashville Tennessee rock/blues guitarist Leilani Kilgore was THE act of the weekend.

One: Good clear voice.

Two: Solid bandmates.

Three: Best guitarist (from a fun to watch standpoint) so far at Summerfest. I loved their whole set. From original numbers to a cover of "Jolene" that started as a sweet pleading croon and developed into a barbed, metal-laced exhalation of venom through flaming guitar licks.

I’m telling you Leilani Kilgore was the super surprise of the fest. Amazing from top to bottom. Grade 94/100. Not metal. but most definitely rock.

Headlining night two were longtime southern rock stalwarts ...


Now I initially thought this might be lamer than Night Ranger. To my surprise, I knew over half the set. No way did The Beard think he knew eight 38-Special songs. Apparently, they have had more of a career than I ever thought.

Right out of the gate they hit with:

"Rocking Into the Night"

"Wild Eyed Southern Boys"

"Back Where You Belong"

(Ed: Er, never heard any of 'em!)

The set bogged down for me in the middle with only "Teacher Teacher", and "Second Chance" being numbers I knew, but it picked up again down the homestretch with:

"If I’d Been the One"

"Fantasy Girl"

"Caught Up in You"

(Ed: Okay, now I think that you're just making up track names!)

Three song Encore included an effects laden "Chain Lightning" before the obligatory "Hold on Loosely" and a quick raucous "Traveling Band" Creedence cover. (Ed: I think I've come across the latter!)

38-Special play a pretty choreographed set while trying to look spontaneous. The Beard is willing to bet it’s the same moves every night. That style is pulled right from the Def Leppard playbook to putting on a live set. A smile on your face and everything in its place.

Personally, judging by the drop of stage energy for it, at this point I think the guys probably hate having to play “Hold on Loosely” as the closer EVERY single night for almost 40 years. They just didn’t give it the same “ummph” that other hits got. Overall though, unlike last night’s Night Ranger nostalgia, 38-Special reminded me there’s more good music in The Beard's past than even he remembered. As a first-time viewer, Johnny liked them even though he declared “Not Metal, but still sort of Rock.”


That wraps it for night two at Summerfest weekend. One more to go.

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