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Saturday, October 25, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 50.0° F  Fair
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Blogging the Snake on the Lake and SoCo Music Experience in Madison
Two big music festivals make for difficult choices on a hot Saturday
Wayne Coyne of the Flaming Lips is watched by a herd of Santas on stage at the SoCo Music Festival.
Wayne Coyne of the Flaming Lips is watched by a herd of Santas on stage at the SoCo Music Festival.
Credit:Emily Denaro

The music stars aligned in Madison on Saturday, September 8 in the form of two free music festivals featuring both national artists and some of most notable local bands in action.

The Memorial Union Terrace was the site of the inaugural Snake on the Lake; organized and presented by the UW student radio station WSUM, it was the successor festival to the Party in the Park formerly held in James Madison Park. Willow Island at the Alliant Energy Center, meanwhile, played host to the SoCo Music Experience, notably headlined by the Flaming Lips in their first show in town since 2001.

One festival would be sure to generate attention from music fans in and around Madison. Both, though, made for a live music confluence that inspired plenty of attendees to share their experiences online. Live reports, photos, reviews, and commentary from both festivals follow:

  • Starting at the Snake on the Lake festival, Jason Smathers, a DJ at WSUM and editorial page editor for The Badger Herald, blogged through the day from Memorial Union. He commented on the bands and audience at this much smaller and ground-level festival:
    • "It's about 30 minutes before the German Art Students and it's already getting too hot for comfort," begins Smathers. "The terrace isn't exactly packed for a Saturday afternoon, but it's getting there."
    • More than an hour later, he commented on the first transition of the day. "A nice 45 minute set punctuated by Pixies-pop rock and a spoken word finale," he writes. "Now DLO and Stink Tank are loading up to bring a little hip-hop to the crowd."
    • The festival continued to run smoothly as the afternoon lengthened and the arrival of the first two groups from outside Madison, namely Maps & Atlases and The 1900s. It was still fairly hot, though. "The front of the stage has filled up finally, but the dancing is a bit...bobble-headed," wrote Smathers. "Just going back and forth. I guess that's what indie rock does to people."
    • In his fourth report from the terrace, he comments on the ongoing performances and arrival of the two headliners, Leslie Hall and The Ponys. "In true radio fashion, the WSUM DJ's are walking around with microphones, interviewing patrons, band members and other such involved people," he notes.
    • Smathers concludes with some praise for Leslie & the Lys. "Alright, so it's a bit low budget in comparison to the Lips..." he declares, "but it works."
  • "Despite an uninspiring name, the four bands I saw at the Terrace for Snake on the Lake were excellent," wrote Nick Giffin in his review of the festival on the shores of Lake Mendota. He commented on the performances by the German Art Students, the 1900s, Leslie and the Ly's, and The Ponys. "It seems the Snake on the Lake was a success," Giffin concludes, "and I hope to see it again next year."
  • A series of video clips of the 1900s, Cowboy Mouth, German Art Students, Pale Young Gentlemen, and Leslie and the Lys playing at the Snake on the Lake festival were published on Dane101.
  • Chris Norris published a photo gallery at Dane101 capturing the performances by Pale Young Gentlemen, 1900s, Leslie and the Ly's, and The Ponys at the Snake on the Lake festival.

Many, many more people shared their thoughts about and photos of the SoCo Music Experience held on Willow Island.

  • The Madison-based rock band Sunspot blogged from the Alliant Energy Center in advance of their evening set at the SoCo Music Experience. The trio shared several images from the festival:
    • A photo of the set-up at Willow Island
    • A photo of the roots group del mar, a local jam band originally founded at UW-Whitewater in the late '90s.
    • A photo of the rock trio Sick Puppies, who hail from L.A. by way of Sydney, Austrailia.
    • Finally, the band published a photo gallery of their own performance on the SoCo stage.
  • Madison concert videographer Aaron Veenstra shared a series of video clips from the festival.
    • "So Madison is now party central for these free liquor marketing shows, and this was the biggest one yet," he writes. After critiquing the afternoon set by Cowboy Mouth, notes the excitement of the audience for the Flaming Lips to introduce the first video, featuring the Oklahoma group playing "Race for the Prize" from their 1999 album The Soft Bulletin. "The enthusiasm from the audience upon recognizing it was something I haven't seen in Madison since... well, the last time was probably when I first saw Nine Inch Nails about seven and a half years ago, and that was before I even lived here," noted Veenstra. "It's the ferociously blissful energy of a Big Show, and I don't know anything else like it."
    • His second video captures the Lips' performance of "Mountainside" from their early album In a Priest Driven Ambulance. "It felt like a bit like an unearthed fossil, an epic batch of fuzz and streamers as Wayne Coyne tried valiantly to fire his confetti blaster through a cymbal, and then closed the song out with a series of massive gong strikes," concluded Veenstra. "That they could construct a stage show so intertwined with, in particular, their last two albums' worth of music, but also seamlessly drop in a 17-year-old album cut, was really impressive."
    • The third clip of the Lips finds the band playing "Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, Pt. 1" from their similarly-titled album. Describing a touching tribute to the American servicepersons being killed abroad, Veenstra notes the sentiment permeating the show. "The shows other best moments were in many ways symbolic as well. This version of 'Yoshimi Pt. 1' came courtesy of a synthesized toy piano sound and the voices of thousands of people acting as one," he wrote. "That they have made bringing this from town to town into a successful commercial enterprise is testament to the occasional awesomeness of us all."
    • Veenstra also shot a pair of video clips of the Cold War Kids' time on stage. The first video features the group playing "God, Make Up Your Mind" from their debut album Robbers & Cowards.
    • "Compared with the Jack Daniels show we saw in March, the pitch put on by Southern Comfort was almost non-existent. There were logos everywhere, of course, and there were no other liquors available, but there was also no free swag for those of us who didn't get into the VIP sections," writes Veenstra in the introduction to the second video of the Cold War Kids, which features "Rubidoux" by the band. "The one band who seemed a little irked by the corporate setting was Cold War Kids, but even that only showed in a couple of off-hand comments," he concluded. "Their set was as driven as the set we saw at the Annex last year, and their reputation as a terrific live band was certainly validated."
  • Photographer Phil Ejercito acquired backstage media and artists' passes, shooting hundreds of photos of the bands and fans at the SoCo festival. The first gallery features backstage scenes and The Sharp & Harkins Band, the second gallery features Cowboy Mouth and Sunspot, the third gallery features more Cowboy Mouth, Cold War Kids, and Shoeless Revolution, the fourth gallery features backstage and onstage views of the Flaming Lips' performance, and the final gallery features backstage scenes of Wayne Coyne hanging out with his fans after the show. Ejercito also published a selection of these photos on Dane101 (available for viewing here, here, here, and here).
  • Bridget Maniaci was originally planning to photograph the Flaming Lips set there from the press area, but ultimately ended up backstage. She explained:
    When my 11th hour attempts at getting press credentials failed, fate stepped in... Needless to say, a total and random run in with a stranger proceeded to land me smack dab on stage with the Flaming Lips as one of the dancing aliens, and I got some amazing shots of the show. Here's one photo. There are definitely times when being a female photographer works to my advantage. I hope the multitude of gentlemen photographers on the ground got nice shots as well. If it took dancing in a shiny purple alien costume to get stage access… so be it...
    Maniaci also published a photo gallery from the Lips' set as seen from an up-close perspective on stage right.
  • "This past week I drove out to Madison to see the band play a free show at Southern Comfort Music Experience. The group nailed everything musically but philosophically missed the mark completely," wrote Matthew McLoughlin in his review of the show. "During the performance the band stood in front of a giant semi-circle screen which played psychedelic images of various things. Sadly most of these images were of naked girls."
  • "This was my first major rock concert -- and I realized, it's not about the music," wrote Zaid Alawi in his review of the Lips' performance. "The experiences of listening to a CD and seeing a band like this play live aren't just completely different -- they serve different purposes, as well," he continued. "Aesthetically, the whole thing was beautiful, colorful, and exciting. But the audience participation and the energy that was there elevated it to a whole new level." Alawi also commented on the pervasive scene of cannabis that lingered amidst the crowd at Willow Island that night.
  • Ryan Matteson published a pair of photos capturing Wayne Coyne and the Lips inspiring the crowd to dance like madmen.
  • "All the hype was there with Southern Comfort wristbands, banners, booths, DJs, laptops, and VIP areas to brand, promote and drive sales for the alcohol industry giant," begins a report published on The Madison Music Review. "This was the only price an attendee had to pay to see some great music by artists Cold War Kids and The Flaming Lips... It was a great deal!" The crew at the Review also published pair of photo galleries (here and here) capturing the band on stage.
  • Rob Thomas of The Capital Times shared some post-show notes about the scene and bands at the free festival. "For a corporate-sponsored festival in a box, the SoCo Experience has done a pretty decent job ingratiating itself with Madison, such as the local stage," he concludes.
  • "If you weren't there, it's nearly impossible for me to feel anything but pity for you," wrote Adam Powell for Capital Newspapers in his post-show commentary. "Everyone I knew showed up, obtaining babysitters, calling in favors, making deals to clear the schedule and make the scene. If you didn't go and you don't have a great excuse -- like two broken legs -- you are just really fucking lame. Sorry. The truth hurts."
  • Writing for The Marquette Tribune in Milwaukee, Carey shared her photos and thoughts on the closing performances by the Cold War Kids and the Flaming Lips.
  • "I'd been waiting years to see the Flaming Lips in concert, so when I heard they were coming to Madison, I was thrilled," wrote one fan, who also published a handful of photos of their performance. "I'd always heard that their shows were something not to be missed, and when learned that the show was free, that was the icing on the cake."
  • One music blogger from Milwaukee published a series of photos and video clips of the Cold War Kids and Flaming Lips. He describes the latter's headlining set:
    The show was an absolute blast. As expected they touched on all the hits like "Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots" and "She Don't Use Jelly." Highlights of the night were "Do You Realize" and the "Yeah Yeah Yeah Song." Other than a semi-contrived anti-war rant prefacing "Yeah, yeah, yeah", everyone enjoyed yet another bizarre and crazy Flaming Lips show. How can these guys do this day in and day out I wonder?
  • After similarly complaining about Wayne Coyne's political banter, another fan of the Lips show concludes: "Oh well, it was free and there were giant balloons, alien ladies and Santa boys, and lots of streamers."
  • "It was great that SoCo could put on a free event like that," declares one more Flaming Lips fan, who goes on to discuss their performance of "The Yeah Yeah Yeah Song."
  • "Weird going to the flaming lips concert for the last half hour of free SoCo-ness on my lonesome..." writes one attendee, "found myself mostly people watching [and] technology watching."
  • Another attendee commented briefly on the concert, offering criticism for Cowboy Mouth and praise for the Cold War Kids and the Flaming Lips.
  • Another fan from Milwaukee noted their enjoyment of the show, publishing a photo gallery featuring nearly 60 images of the Lips.
  • "We saw a little of the wizard behind the curtain as they were setting up the a/v stuff and bringing out the props," noted an attendee who had good things to say about Cowboy Mouth and the Cold War Kids.
  • "Has any other band you've seen live introduced their set by having the singer/frontman/important guy walk across the crowd in a giant inflatable sphere?" That's the question asked by another fan. "The Flaming Lips manage to turn a simple concert into an experience that you get to share with 10,000+ hipsters and 5 or 6 non-hipsters on a beautiful Wisconsin summer night."
  • Finally, there's Dave Reisman, who published a photo gallery featuring eleventy-one images of Cowboy Mouth, Cold War Kids, and the Flaming Lips performing at Willow Island.

Some folks attended both free festivals last Saturday.

  • Madison music writer Kyle Pfister caught sets at Willow Island and Memorial Union Terrace, traveling between each through the day. In his review of both, he began:
    The SoCo Music "Experience" felt more like taping a commercial about a music experience. It was immediately obvious that a disproportionate percentage of funds were invested on creating the superficial festival infrastructure and atmosphere instead of creating a solid lineup. For most of the early afternoon, small groups of Madisonians were strewn about the huge field on blow-up SoCo-branded furniture, waiting around and looking bored. The crowd huddling around the shade at the back of the event was larger than the crowd huddling at the front of the stage. The characteristic Madison kool-aide died hair and ripped army pants looked like costumes against the backgroup of sleek corporate advertising. A laughably excessive "DJ" tent shaped like a lime sprayed machine-fabricated smoke and pounding bass at people checking their emails and writing blog posts like this.
    Pfister also remarked upon the sparse crowd at the SoCo festival earlier in the day, and the visually robust performance of the Flaming Lips despite the ubiquitous liquor branding. The Snake on the Lake festival, both in terms of music and beverages, was more to his liking. "Leslie Hall stole the show as usual, but the Pale Young Gentlemen also offered an extremely strong set that had the young crowd wondering how they hadn't heard them before," he concluded.
  • "Too bad the two couldn't have happened on successive nights, instead of all at once," declared S.J. Barlament for Capital Newspapers, reserving particular praise for the Flaming Lips and Wayne Coyne. "Between the confetti cannons, the inflatable projectiles, the great music, and Coyne's infectious onstage attitude, the Lips put on every bit the fantastic show they were expected to. That the whole thing was free -- sure, I'll go ahead here and make like Coyne, thanking Southern Comfort for making it all possible -- just made it that much more worth attending," he wrote. He also praiseed The Ponys' headlining set at the Snake on the Lake. "There wasn't any confetti flying -- as far as I could see, anyway -- but the music (and the band itself, for that matter) didn't disappoint at all."
  • Mark Sadowski similarly attended both festivals, catching Cold War Kids and the Flaming Lips at Willow Island before finishing up the evening with The Ponys at the Memorial Union Terrace. In addition to publishing some 50 photos from the performances, he had high praise for the Lips. He wrote:
    The show was nothing less than spectacular. Huge balloons flying out at a near endless rate, confetti being shot out of guns and huge cannons, lights and smoke, there was never a dull moment throughout their entire set. The only somewhat sobering moment was when Coyne explained that the coronet he was using actually had a microphone in it and was part of the military war machine in that not enough military band members were available to play "Taps" for fallen soldiers, so that awful contraption was created, taking away all humanity from the death and destruction caused by war much like Donald Rumsfeld's famous automatic pen used to inform families of their deceased loved ones.

    The crowd was pleased to hear that the SoCo Music Experience will return next year, and in my opinion, the Flaming Lips should grace our wonderful city once again.
It will likely be quite some time again before there will be so much free music at once on a single weekend in Madison.

More blogging about these two festivals can be found in Madison Miscellany along with reviews, commentary, and media from many other concerts held in town.

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