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Summerfest's Opening Night
We recap the Arctic Monkeys, San Fermin, Ivy Spokes and more.
                                      Homepage photo of Arctic Monkeys by Erin Gosch.

Summerfest began last night in an underwhelming fashion, with the city still hazy and damp from the lingering fog and unusually chilly for a June evening. The collective attitude among attendees seemed to be an arms-folded response, but they begrudgingly soldiered on.

The cool temps didn’t stop the crowds from amassing, however, and amassing early. And the unseasonable weather may have b
Kids these days: Arctic Monkeys fans sit through earlier acts at the Miller Lite Oasis.
een a blessing in disguise. For organizers fearful of another overcrowding situation like last year’s gate-rushing fiasco, a warmer day would have brought even more people.

The younger crowd camped out to catch the Arctic Monkeys' 10 p.m. slot at the Miller Lite Oasis. You have to respect these teenagers' dedication to wait four hours to see a band that recently played the Rave, but their apathetic presence ended up hampering Hamilton Leithauser’s charming performance. “It’s good to be here, ladies and gentlemen of Kansas City,” Leithauser deadpanned early on, trying to garner any reaction from the unresponsive crowd. Still, the Walkmen frontman—his band announced an indefinite hiatus this past November—seemed unfazed and returned to sampling tunes from his debut solo record, Black Hours. The performance would also suffer from poor sound unfortunately, which marred the stage all night. A throbbing, low end hobbled whatever control the crooner had over his material. It was like listening to Frank Sinatra sing over an EDM track.

The KNE New Music Stage presented its own auditory problems—sound bleeding from the adjacent Uline Warehouse stage—but still offered much-needed relief from the suffocating crowds. The Chicago rock group Empires, who went on at least a half an hour before their advertised time-slot, noted that their audience had grown exponentially—from two people—throughout the set. The crowd grew even larger with Ivy Spokes’ inspired and captivating headlining performance.

Back at the Miller Lite Oasis, San Fermin attempted to craft a singular sound but couldn’t help mimicking what a super group comprised of The National and Dirty Projectors would sound like. It’s hard not to make that comparison when lead singer Ellis Ludwig-Leone brings the same brooding baritone and cadence of Matt Berninger and his female counterparts Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig routinely test their vocal range in frenetic bursts.

By the end of the night, the Oasis had become so cramped that a good sightline to the stage was impossible to obtain and the sound remained even spottier. Perhaps Arctic Monkeys put on a punchy, energetic set, but from where I was standing, I couldn’t tell.

And now some random notes:

Biggest Summerfest trend of 2014: Vaping. Cigar smoking has always been prevalent throughout the grounds, but a sea change has definitely occurred. Last night e-cigarettes outnumbered cigars 10 to one, and were being smoked by people who didn’t seem old enough to have a developed a nicotine addiction in the first place.

Bizarre foods: I stopped myself from quickly grabbing my first pizza cone of the year and instead headed to the Trinity Three Irish Pubs stand to check out a new addition to the festival, the Chicken N Waffle Cone ($6). The half meal, half desert consisted of a normal waffle ice cream cone stuffed with chicken, bacon, syrup and cole slaw. It’s not recommended to walk with the item, as the cone remains tough with no ice cream to soften it. Expect your shoes to get a taste, as well.

I followed the cone up with some Bacon Cheddar Frachos ($6) from a new Summerfest stand, Burke’s Lakeside. A portmanteaux between french fries and nachos, the frachos resembled a loaded baked potato. No fork needed for these bad boys, though.

Today’s schedule: It's NBA draft day and the Milwaukee Bucks hold the second overall pick (plus Nos. 31, 36 and 48) in a stacked draft class. From 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. they’ll be celebrating snagging either Kentucky’s Andrew Wiggins or Duke’s Jabari Parker with a party outside JoJo’s Martini Lounge. For those that go to Summerfest for the music—a strange lot, to be sure—the only notable side stage show tomorrow is Best Coast. The sun-drenched, lo-fi pop singer headlines the U.S. Cellular Connection Stage at 10 p.m. Lady Gaga will be at the Marcus Amphitheater. Say what you will about Gaga’s conspicuous art-pop, the brazen singer puts on well-choreographed theatrical performances.

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