Editor’s note: With 221 acts on the way and 60 venues to explore, Mile of Music can leave even the best schedulers and most dedicated music fans struggling to figure out where to start.
Scott Peeples of Appleton has more mileage than most on his odometer, having taken in 40 full shows and 17 partial shows at last year’s festival alone. Scott does his homework in advance of the festival in effort to get the most from his Mile of Music experience. He shares his research and top picks with friends.
Scott is graciously allowing Valley Review to share his recommendations with all of you heading into a big Mile 7.
Appleton, Wisconsin’s four-day music festival, Mile of Music 7, is less than a month away. Deciding which performers to see August 1-4 is almost as fun as the performances themselves . . . but it’s a bit of a process, too. I make these life-and-death decisions (a little self-deprecation there) by spending a few weeks before the fest listening intently and writing recommendations.
Subsequently, the bands I recommend are typically the ones I’ll be sure to see. This year’s line-up of 220 acts includes 110 that I’ve already seen. Some of those were so good — i.e. Michelle Mandico, Lizzie No — that I will certainly see them again but there is a superabundance of great new stuff out there and only so much time. Sadly (more self-deprecation) from past years, I know exactly how much time there is, about 54 hours if you go start to finish without a break. (Last year, I took in 40 full 50-minute shows and 17 partial ones.)
So, buckle up: If you’re not as whimsically weird as I am and don’t take this Mile of Music rumination as seriously, but truly love original music, just go with my recommendations!
Tristen; Genre: Bender, What Today’s Pop Should Be
Tristen Gaspadarek, who’s pared down to just Tristen, crafts a thick guitar sound with agile vocal deliciousness in the spirit of 1990s’ Steal My Sunshine/There She Goes Again hookiness. She’s honed her song stylings with four albums and a stint touring with Jenny Lewis. On “Glass Jar,” she sings, “You put me in a glass jar and tap, tap, tap to see how I move.” After Mile 7, that glass jar should have lots of company.
Laura Cortese and the Dance Cards; Genre: Post Folk, Joan Baez’s Playbook Expounded
Calling Cortese and her quartet of singing string players empowered women is akin to calling Serena Williams a successful tennis player. The power is in the music, the arrangements and the lyrical messages but they’re changing the world by shining bright lights on the critical nature of our well-being. The “Pace Myself” video spotlights 63 women musicians (only three that I’d heard of) from around the world in a brilliant tribute to unappreciated talent we need to welcome on in. The songs themselves range from dynamic fiddle melodies to jaunty percussion and low-hum harmonies. “I gotta pace myself, gotta rein myself in.” Chutzpah with a cause. Let the Dance Cards begin.
10 String Symphony; Genre: Acoustic-Based Roots Music
Year seven of the Mile of Music marks another milestone: the first banjo/violin duo to play the fest. Rachel Baiman (banjo) and Christian Sedelmyer (violin) create a fascinating mix of stirring instrumental melodies and delicately articulated harmonies on gems like “Oscar’s Verdict” and “I Can’t Have You Anymore.” Individually, they’ve garnered critical acclaim. Collectively — combining those 10 strings — they formulate a sui generis sound that has matured through seven years of collaboration.
Cory Williams; Genre: Acoustic Rock
I count 36 male singer songwriters coming to Mile 7. You can’t see ‘em all but, like another Cory who got this thing started, Cory Williams stands tall. You’ll hear Dave Mathews and Peter Gabriel in his vocal intonation, but when he twists into the chorus of “Lean Against the Moon,” Williams’ song writing genius takes over.
Maudlin; Genre: Post Punk Indie Rock
Trading crunching guitar riffs and faux angry lyrical spurts (“clammy palms sweating, inside shaking fists”) Priscilla and David Priebe’s tunes are the stuff of sweating dance halls, achy legs and you-had-to-be-there reminiscing. After 50 minutes, you’ll walk away with a knowing smirk on your face, feeling anything but maudlin.
Sunny War; Genre: Folk, Glass Half Full Blues
Inspired by blues artists like Robert Johnson but cajoled by life experiences and an obvious love of all music (she has a punk rock side project), this former Los Angeles street busker deserves a wide audience. Her stage name, Sunny War, hints at the multiple facets of her life story and her musical genius. So much to love here: Precision finger picking in a banjo claw hammer style, a crisp but crackly singing voice that’s all her own and song structures equal parts optimistic and rebel with a cause. I’d prefer a long conversation with Sydney Ward but I eagerly await 50 minutes of musical introspection with Sunny War.
Beth Bombara; genre: Americana
On the strength of her new album, “Evergreen,” the St. Louis rocker is equally compelling as solo artist and full band front woman. The simple strength of the songs, the Americana smoothness in her pitch, that Mile of Music je ne sais quoi . . . we’re all glad she’s finding her way back for a 4th straight year.