Thursday, July 30, 2015

The Summer Project: Don't mess with my girlfriend (1995)

As I write this post on Lori's birthday, this is one of my favorite stories about her, from the summer on 1995. We were living on Prospect Avenue down by Lake Michigan in Milwaukee, in an apartment we just absolutely loved. Summer in Milwaukee is an experience in itself, almost enough to make up for the other nine months of the year. I'll admit September and October are actually nice as well, but not even close to the three-month party summer is.

We would go to Summerfest almost every day the two summers we lived near the festival grounds. They had this deal where if you were wearing a $1 Summerfest pin, you got in for free at lunch time. We'd walk in, then get our hand stamped and come back later. (They don't do this anymore.) And the walk to the grounds and back to our apartment wasn't bad that summer -- about 1.5 miles, which beat driving and paying for parking.

In 1995, we saw Pearl Jam and Hootie and the Blowfish on the Summefest main stage, and I think we saw the BoDeans as well (and Lori may have seen Bonnie Raitt without me). I'm looking through the list of acts from the side stages that year, and who we didn't see is unreal: Urge Overkill, Fleetwood Mac (before Stevie Nicks came back), Ringo Starr, Cheap Trick, the Staple Singers, Trisha Yearwood, Collective Soul, Kansas and Tom Jones. But the one band we did make it to was REO Speedwagon -- the only time I've ever seen them live despite how big they were in Chicago.

I'm almost positive we saw the second show of the two nights REO was playing (and I'll explain why later). The Marcus Amphitheater had Luther Vandross that night, meaning average white Milwaukeean wasn't at the main stage, leaving more to surround the classic rock acts on the side stages. REO was on at the Old Style Showcase near the far end of the festival grounds. We got there early enough to get a decent place to stand and watch the show, sort of near the front and off to the right. Easily, 10,000 Milwaukeeans were also in attendance on this one stage.

The concert was good. REO played all their hits, and although Kevin Cronin couldn't hit the high notes on "Don't Let Him Go" like he once could, he still was solid. The crowd was moderately drunk, as most Summerfest crowds. We were having fun, but then, the 10,000 people started being too much for Lori, who began feeling claustrophobic during the encore and wanted to leave. I was a little surprised, considering there wasn't much show left, but I think it had been building, especially during the wait after the main set. So, during "Ridin' the Storm Out" (it would have been ironic if it had been "Time for Me to Fly"), we started weaving our way through the throng to get leave.

It wasn't easy. At 11:30 p.m., barely anyone had left, and we needed to basically cross the whole crowd to get out across what couldn't have been more than 50 yards. About two-thirds of the way through, Lori says "excuse me" to a guy, probably our age, 4-5 inches shorter than Lori, and definitely the white trash Wisconsin is famous for, so she can get by. He says no. At this point, I'm thinking to myself, "Oh crap, I'm about to get into a fight." I hadn't drank enough beers to relish that idea, especially in a crowd of 10,000 people.

Before I could react in any way, Lori shot the little man a look that must have been so deadly that he said "Oh sorry" and stepped out of the way. It was a look I had seen in the two years we'd been going out (at that time) and learned to defend against. This guy had no defense, especially with my 6-foot tall girlfriend looking down at him. He let us pass and looked almost apologetic as I thanked him. We escaped the crowd, then went out the back gate.

There is a road and sidewalk alongside the festival grounds, and you can hear every stage as you pass. We heard REO possibly finish with "Golden Country" (for all I know, they might have played another song after), and Lori witnessed me sing "In My Dreams" by Dokken as we neared the rock stage (which is why I pegged this as the second REO show -- the dates on the list I found match up). In retrospect, I kind of wished we saw Ringo Starr that night instead -- mellower crowd, and probably more of a unique show than REO, which is still touring 20 years later.

One of my favorite Kenny Loggins songs is "Angry Eyes" from his Loggins and Messina days, but I didn't like it really until after I met Lori. I hear that and think of that night when she made a man cower with her gaze -- eyes that are so beautiful but can turn dangerous. He had it coming. And he was probably more frightened of that look than he would have been of my fist coming at his face (I would like to think I would have gotten one good punch off). A black eye would have healed. I hope that two decades later, that killer look still haunts his nightmares.

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