Sure, Summerfest is fun. But don't forget about Hot Summer Nights, the UW Memorial Union Terrace's annual lakeside music series. Unlike Milwaukee's big gig, it lasts through August. It's also free, and if you bike or walk down to the Union to catch the local bands and name touring acts on the calendar, you'll barely be adding to your carbon footprint. With everyone from the Jamaica-bred rap pioneer Kool DJ Herc to eco-aware folk-jazzers the Ditty Bops slated to appear sometime during the summer, there's something to please any musical taste.
The series kicks off on an appropriately groovy note with Grace Potter & the Nocturnals (June 14), a Vermont-based rock/R&B band whose organ-pumping female singer is just gutsy enough to make a play for both blues festivals and chick-flick soundtracks. A week later, Kool DJ Herc (June 22) boosts the bass at an all-hip-hop night being held in conjunction with the annual Spoken Word and Hip-Hop Teacher and Community Leader Training Institute. That show is followed by roots-style reggae warriors Natty Nation (June 23), who never have any trouble getting the beer-drinking hordes to skank en masse.
Fourth of July Weekend is certain to be a cheek-to-jowl affair, with jam-band addicts turning out in force to hear Aquarium Rescue Unit co-founder and current Allman Brothers bass player Oteil Burbridge and his jazz-funk-inflected band the Peacemakers (July 5). Local hip-hop hybrid Dumate (July 6) also provide an alternative to the brats-and-bottle-rocket blowouts that will be taking place all over town.
Indie types will be sad to learn that the Hold Steady show has been canceled. But not to worry: Scottish up-and-comers the Twilight Sad (July 13) will be moaning and burning for your delectation just days after an appearance at Chicago's ballyhooed Pitchfork Music Festival. Columbia-educated melody makers Vampire Weekend (July 26) are just as worthy, although the New Yorkers' precise indie-pop could easily be swallowed up by the gabbers who pack the Terrace's iconic metal patio chairs when the weather is fine.
Mining the twangier end of the indie spectrum, Jason Isbell (July 27) arrives at the Terrace trying to prove that it really was a good idea to sever his ties with the rambunctious Drive-By Truckers.
Another wave of jam-band followers will arrive for San Francisco's piano- and guitar-driven Tea Leaf Green (Aug. 23). They're followed by the frothy Ditty Bops (Aug. 24), who are apt to attract everyone from stroller-pushing young professionals to bike geeks to eco hardcores.
Sound like a good season? Well, I haven't even mentioned prog inheritors Cloud Cult (June 28) or death-rock parodists Cealed Kasket (July 12) or burbly electronic jammers the Pnuma Trio (July 19).
One caveat: Union music committee adviser Amy Sawyers notes that technically the Terrace isn't open to the general public. That rule isn't enforced for outdoor events, she says, but it does mean that if you're not a UW student, a member of the faculty or staff, or a dues-paying member of the Student Union (and of legal drinking age), you can't purchase alcoholic beverages at Hot Summer Nights events.
Don't want to join the Union for life? No problem. Sawyers says one-day memberships can always be purchased at the help desk in the lobby.