With 221 acts on the way and 60 venues to explore, Mile of Music can leave even the 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 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 heading into a big Mile 7. We’ll be running them on Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays leading into the festival. His previous recommendations can be found here.
And now … here’s Scott:
Auralai; Genre: Chamber Pop
There’s a point in every Auralai show when the music envelops you so completely that you forget where you are. “Wait For Me” sears the poignant lyric into your soul, holds it there through a perfect cello sweep and then creeps back out with lightly jangly electric guitar and a cooing scream. With her winsome smile and precision songwriting, Stephanie Tschech (pronounced Check) has taken Auralai on lovely musical escapades these last five years. Nathan Lehner completes each painted landscape with light harmonies, harmonic guitar parts and double bass. Every song takes a route of its own with Tschech creating and Lehner never just mimicking her cello parts. With two releases and a third on the way – which should include “Wait For Me” — Auralai’s local gigs have been limited since Tschech moved to Marquette, Michigan last year. But they’re back with a vengeance for the Mile of Music and several additional Fox Valley shows. Don’t deprive yourself of the intimately ethereal Auralai experience.
Ben de la Cour; Genre: Americanoir
Cowboy Jack Clement is an unlikely musical hero but Nashville’s (via Brooklyn) Ben de la Cour isn’t your typical song and dance man either. That de la Cour holds up an obscure, old-time country singer as an influence is a small sample of his intrigue. While the former boxer and death metal guitarist seems like a guy you’d encounter in a remote corner of a dive coffee shop, the tunes themselves — “Face Down Penny,” “Uncle Boudreaux Went to Texas,” “The High Cost of Living Strange,” “Midnight In Havanna,” et al – are story-songs with an undercurrent of mystery. On electric and acoustic songs alike, De la Cour’s baratone washes through you like an old movie drenched in moral ambiguity. “Guy Clark’s Fiddle” could be at home in a spaghetti Western or the final scene of a Quintin Tarantino film. De la Cour is full of lyrical expression, vivid but not preachy; pensive but not overtly self-reverential and just as mirthful as he is noir. Ben de la Cour has reimagined a timeless genre of music for our viewing pleasure.
The Ragbirds; Genre: Fast-track Folk Rock
The Ragbirds are the only Mile of Music act that can boast a #1 song in Japan. That was early in the Ragbirds flight plan. They’ve logged a lot of musical – and literal – miles since then but always at the center of the flock is multi-instrumentalist, singer and songwriter Erin Zindle. The vivacious leader flutters from violin to accordion and piano on the band’s slower ballads, global soundscapes and, occasional four part harmonies. Over the course of almost 15 years, several players have left the nest, but Zindle’s zest for cawing choruses has kept the Ragbirds flying high.
Girl Blue; Genre: Phrase-turning Indie Pop
Making an encore Mile appearance, Arielle O’Keefe (plucky Girl Blue) brings her lovely lyrical bag of tricks from Long Island ready to silence a room with just voice and guitar. The closer you are, the more you’ll catch the phrases that showcase her wit in every song. A few examples:
• Serendipity’s in the details.
• Feel the soft projector of life, I’ve got home movies playing in my mind.
• I held a pair of dice and they landed on paradise.
• Reminiscing is what we left behind to get where we are now.
• You’ll never say the things you’ve never said.
Classically trained in piano and choral music, her influences (Alanis Morissette, Ani Difranco) shed light on her crisp guitar playing and tight arrangements. Her vocals bounce off her guitar lines like rocks skipping across a deep blue sea. Arrive early to get a seat at the edge of the pier.
Birds of Chicago; Genre: Sanguine Roots Pop
Lightly thumping rhythms sliding through complimentary vocals (and curly locks) create an eclectic roots music mix, sending the Birds of Chicago to the top of can’t miss. Canadian born Allison Russell and Midwesterner JT Nero (aka Jeremy Lindsay) share a lyrical lust for making America loving again. It takes them through the nooks and crannies of our cultural landscape, right there there in the album titles — American Flowers, Real Midnight and Love in Wartime. When the couple sings, “I’ve seen American flowers, they will bloom again,” the message is that everything isn’t broken. Trust me, these are happy songs.
Pip the Pansy; Genre: Rainbow Pop
While the musical landscape is crowded with singers who put the party in the pop song, few combine quirkiness, attention to craft and inimitable charm as sweetly as Pip the Pansy. While she asserts “All My Friends Are Animals,” the way she shares the stage with humans is magical. With a McCartney-like ear for melody, The Atlanta-based artist has some pretty great tunes. You won’t have to come dressed like the star – as some fans are wont to do – but you’ll walk away feeling Pip-tastic about your musical choice.
Them Coulee Boys; Genre: Americana Bluegrass
If you’re losing steam at your midday Mile, these gents from Eau Claire (aka Coulee) are the quintessential pick me up. With hypnotic vocals and inventive song writing, Soren Staff sets the stage for the crackerjack interplay of Beau, Jens, Neil and Patrick. A nicely-conceived mandolin line, jangly banjo and a hard luck story with an unlikely ending: Rub your hands together and find your muse with Them Coulee Boys at Mile 7.
Heather Maloney; Genre: Folk Writer Song Singer
While you’ll be drawn to her arresting voice, the core of Northhampton, Massachusetts’ Heather Maloney’s greatness is the song itself. On her latest album, “Soil in the Sky,” attention to song structure likely spurred her collaboration with gifted Dawes writer Taylor Goldsmith (“We Were Together”) On “What I Don’t Know, Too,” she laments trying to squeeze the sea and the sky into one song. “There’s no way that I’ll ever know everything about you but, oh, how I love what I do. And, honey I love . . .what I don’t know, too.” These are the shows where a mere whisper from the crowd could mean missing a lyric. Don’t do it.
Volk; Genre: Countrified Rock ‘n Roll
Remember the White Stripes, that two-person band (drums and guitar) widely credited with reviving Garage Rock in the first decade of the century? Or perhaps you experienced the ferocity of the Ghost Wolves from Miles 3, 4 and 5. With a passion for song writing, Volk is more stripe than wolf but might top ‘em both for sheer entertainment value. Eleot (pronounced Elliot) Reich, drums and vocals, and Chris Lowe, electric guitar and occasional screams, describe themselves as cow punk, countrified rock and roll; simple songwriters at heart. Fringe vests, bolo ties, cowboy hats and maniacal smiles add character to the voluminous Volk show. And while songs like “Honey Bee” and “Trailer Trash Betty” probably don’t hold up to “Seven Nation Army,” you’ll admire their intensity. An about face from the old-soul singer songwriters the Fest features, this is the ultimate brain scramble. Wear your bolo.
The Artisanals; Genre: Heartland Rock
Layered guitars, brash yet dulcifying vocals and enough on-stage energy to warrant pegging them as “must see” Mile after Mile, The Artisanals put out their first full length album last fall but have been making music as a band since 2015. The Artisanals gives out a bigger purpose vibe — music for the heartland — with influences that include Southern rock, Tom Petty, Richard Ashcroft, Ryan Adams and George Harrison, the later to whom lead singer Johnny Delaware bears a passing resemblance. As an aside, every trip to Appleton, guitarist Clay Houie has a different droll trick up his sleeve. Last fall it was making scurrilous comments about his bandmates between songs. At Mile 6, he lost his sleeves completely, hamming it up half naked for the Red Lion courtyard crowd for most of the show. Check out The Artisanals song, “Angel 42.”