Photo by Adam Ryan Morris
Saturday night at Waukesha’s River Fest, July 1995. One of the hottest nights of the year. And Citizen King, Milwaukee’s ska-punk/hip-hop/roof-raising rock band, was causing a bit of a riot.
The band’s twitchy frat-boy funk had stirred the mosh pit to a proper boil, and then singer Matt Sims cranked the crazy by encouraging some good ol’ stage diving and body passing. The cops at the Rotary-sponsored festival were unprepared for such full-body-contact partying (the main-stage acts that weekend had been ’70s holdovers Eddie Money and Cheap Trick), so they abruptly shut down the show and sent in the horses when the angry crowd refused to leave.
At the heart of the scrum was the band’s 23-year-old manager, Jeff Castelaz, a pugnacious presence on the local music scene who found himself fighting for his band’s right to rock, while no doubt reveling in the outlaw cred this naughty behavior had dealt Citizen King as it honed its alternative rock swagger.
“I had 10 cops yelling at me for an hour,” he groused to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, insisting that it was his decision – not the law’s – to pull the plug. “We’re professionals. We drew 8,000 people at the Koss Pavilion at Summerfest. We don’t need the hassle. I said, ‘We’re going home.’”
A year later, Castelaz would be having the same fight over the same behavior at Maritime Days. This time, Sims ended up in jail after he revved up the crowd by diving in and bodysurfing his way back to the stage.
“We were here to entertain,” Castelaz protested again to the Journal Sentinel. “Cab Calloway jumped into the crowd before. Why couldn’t we? Give me a break!”
By this point, local law-breaking was just a minor annoyance for the manager and his band: Castelaz had recently gotten Citizen King signed to MCA Records, an industry powerhouse. He had pulled it off through raw tenacity, and a storehouse of musical knowledge that allowed an uppity 23-year-old to cite ’30s-era jazz cat Cab Calloway as precedent in the area of crowd stoking.
Music was taking Jeff Castelaz to where he needed to be. But first, music was his escape from the place he was forced to be.