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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Sunday, April 20, 2014

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Farm Aid, as seen from a Miller Park suite.
Farm Aid, as seen from a Miller Park suite.
The baseball diamond sat empty like perfectly preserved homage to all-things American.
The baseball diamond sat empty like perfectly preserved homage to all-things American.

Farm Aid merges "Austin City Limits" vibe with down-home grit

Miller Park has likely never seen as much flannel as it did Saturday night, when it played host to Farm Aid 25. I had the pleasure of witnessing the iconic event from the perch provided by a suite.

When my host and I arrived just after 5 p.m., a fedora-and-flannel clad Jason Mraz was on the stage. He introduced a song he had "written for the farmers," which was essentially an ode to his grandfather -- and to all men of a certain generation who have the skills to be self-sufficient in a world without wi-fi and AAA.

Mraz inserted into his set a plea to everyone in the audience to vote for environmentally conscious legislators in the upcoming, November election.

Just to the left of the stage, the names of "green" event donors scrolled on an LED screen: Goodness Greenness, Organic Valley, Horizon Organic and Natural Events of Manitowoc.

When Norah Jones took the stage around 6 p.m., she opened with her own "Come Away with Me," then went into the Johnny Cash country classic, "Cry, Cry, Cry."

Flanked on the stage by just two guitarists, Jones left her jazz inflection by the wayside for the night and opted for a decidedly steel-string guitar sound -- and red cowgirl boots. Willie Nelson joined Jones for "Lonestar."

During a set break, I took an amble through Miller Park and decided the scene was "Austin City Limits" meets "UW-Stevens Point." Composting collection bags took their place next to trash cans, and food and beverage kiosks displayed signs giving products the official Farm Aid, "Homegrown Approved" designation, where applicable.

Back in the suite, I caught Kenny Chesney onstage, who brought his version of urbanized country to the mix. Admittedly, I'm no Chesney expert, but the audience seemed to embrace his hits and welcomed him warmly, despite the fact that he was wearing a trucker-style Saints baseball hat. (None of his handlers secured a Packers or Brewers hat for him? Asleep at the wheel?)

The view from the suite afforded me the opportunity to reflect …

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The live show was a translation of the weekly TV show replete with "fan favorite" numbers and solos.
The live show was a translation of the weekly TV show replete with "fan favorite" numbers and solos.

Lackluster SYTYCD soft-shoes through B.C.

A reporter I used to work with had a theory: In every story, there's a Wisconsin connection. That wisdom held true Tuesday night during the Milwaukee stop of "So You Think You Can Dance" tour at the Bradley Center.

The show opened with a video montage of the past season's auditions, as well as a recorded message from show executive producer and judge Nigel Lythgoe, who identified his "top five" favorite auditions.

You guessed it; two of them were from Milwaukee. One was the quirky and unpolished Ashley, the other a "mystery contestant" who performed to "It's Raining Men." Milwaukee always makes its mark.

The live show continued as a translation of the weekly TV show -- without the competition element -- replete with "fan favorite" numbers and solos. Live is always better, right? Not in this case. A few things worked against the effort to bring the small screen to a live venue.

First, there's a certain momentum you expect in a live show. Typically, there's a warm-up, a build-up and a climax. "So You Think You Can Dance," with its "variety show" style of featuring dances ranging from the foxtrot to Bollywood ensemble numbers, offers no real beginning, middle or end. It's a series of numbers strung together.

Additionally, the cavernous Bradley Center stole the intimacy a viewer enjoyed from the TV show. Yes, I said intimacy from TV. Watching dance on TV brings the dancers directly in front of the viewers' eyes. You see emotion on faces, details of technique. On a massive stage, the details get lost. There was no better example than the "Adam & Eve" number performed by Jessica and Will. It smoldered on the TV show; it fizzled at the B.C.

Also, some of the dancers seemed to be lacking a "fire in the belly." Perhaps the grueling nature of a national tour is to blame. Perhaps it's the lack of competition and the hunger it fosters; these dancers already duked it out during the previous season, after all.

The missing …

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Vampire Weekend.
Vampire Weekend. (Photo: CJ Foeckler)

Vampire Weekend shows youth, promise at Turner Hall show

Remember, Milwaukee: There's always a Milwaukee connection. The hypothesis held true Saturday night, as Turner Hall welcomed the band whose bassist is related to the man who played "Chachi" on "Happy Days."

Vampire Weekend played to an enthusiastic crowd of fans who sang and bounced along to the quartet's Afropop-inspired indie rock.

Playing a 45ish-minute set proved to be a bit of a challenge for the young band, with just one album and one EP in its discography. Perhaps it explains why frontman Ezra Koenig chatted up the audience after each and every song. Every audience appreciates acknowledgement from a band, but that much "blah, blah, blahing" broke down any momentum Vampire Weekend began to build. (Between Koenig and keyboard player Rostam Batmanglij, we must have heard at least a half-dozen times that it was Vampire Weekend's first Milwaukee show.)

Another jolt to the system came in just the third song when Koenig stopped the band and told the audience he needed another guitar. It was unclear whether the problem was a broken string or Koenig's incorrect guitar choice, but does it matter? Whatever happened to "the show must go on"? Maybe he was just trying to kill time.

The New York band certainly has talent and a unique sound (if you chose to forget The Police cultivated it back in the late ‘70s); the members just need some seasoning and more experience. More material wouldn't hurt either.

The band worked through its eponymous album, it's "Mansard Roof" EP and even treated Milwaukee to at least one song from its second, forthcoming album. The quartet closed out the show with the high-energy "Walcott" as the encore.

Opening act YACHT proved more interesting than the headliner. The creative alter ego of Jona Bechtolt, one-man YACHT served up enough showmanship the fill the stage and then some and enough sound to fill the hall. He explained his other half was stuck in transit somewhere, but with his electronic-music-pr…

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Coal is a gleeful, gregarious fellow. He is also growing into a very handsome kitty.
Coal is a gleeful, gregarious fellow. He is also growing into a very handsome kitty.
Gray skies and cold temperatures may be the forecast, but a furry friend like Coal is sure to warm your heart!
Gray skies and cold temperatures may be the forecast, but a furry friend like Coal is sure to warm your heart!

Wisconsin Humane Society Pet of the Week: Coal

Are you ready for a little fun? Coal is a cool cat looking for a playmate. At 7 months old, he will entertain you with his gravity-defying acrobatics and silly energy.

Coal loves to play with everything and anything. He climbs his cat tower like he's scaling Mount Everest, chases down glitter balls with the zest of an Olympian and zips across the room to tackle his magic wand toy.

Coal is a gleeful, gregarious fellow. He is also growing into a very handsome kitty. His ebony coat shimmers and his bright yellow-green eyes are unusually large and luminous.

After playing, Coal settles down and unleashes a purr loud enough to play The Pabst. His whole body vibrates in your arms as he lifts his head, asking for a chin rub. Everything this cat does, he does without inhibition or reservation. He is truly living life to the fullest.

Gray skies and cold temperatures may be the forecast, but a furry friend like Coal is sure to warm your heart!

Although Coal is yet a kitten, don't forget that the Wisconsin Humane Society waives the adoption fee for cats over a year. All cats are spayed/neutered, microchipped, vaccinated and go home with a certificate for a free veterinary exam. They also come home with a month of pet health insurance.