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Summerfest returned for its second of three weekends at Milwaukee's lakefront with the 2022 festival's biggest box-office hit (Machine Gun Kelly), likely its largest box-office bomb (a Disturbed/Lamb of God double bill playing to a largely empty amphitheater, despite free ticket giveaways), and, for the most part, an excellent selection of shows.
Here's the best, and some of the worst, from the second weekend for America's largest music festival.
Halsey gives most powerful performance at Summerfest, addressing abortion
Summerfest performers largely have been tight-lipped about the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade June 24 — but not Halsey.
Near the end of a gripping American Family Insurance Amphitheater show Saturday that included live art, vulnerable poetry about mental health struggles and a remarkable cover of Kate Bush's "Running Up That Hill," Halsey revealed that they had had a life-saving abortion, and transformed the furious "Nightmare" into an urgent protest anthem.
“The overturning of Roe is a catastrophic attack on bodily autonomy (and) will only encourage more dangerous legislation, impacting vulnerable communities the most,” a message on the stage's screen read during the song. “Don’t wait for revolutionaries to change the world. The work is ours and we have to do it now.”
Our reviewers' favorite shows include 2 Chainz, Michael Ray, Jessie James Decker and more
Reviewer Damon Joy gave two big thumbs up to 2 Chainz, who commanded the UScellular Connection Stage Friday with no hype man and no backing vocals, just himself and a DJ — drawing possibly the largest audience that stage has ever seen in the process.
Reviewer Erik Ernst really enjoyed country up-and-comer Michael Ray on that same stage Thursday. It started as a straightforward country-pop show, until Ray excused the band for a solo acoustic set he hasn’t been doing on other tour stops this summer.
“A fan held up a sign requesting his own song, ‘Picture,’” Ernst explained. “Ray said they hadn’t had that in the set list for the night, but he’d give it a try by himself. It was beautiful. When he concluded, he smiled and noted that he’d never played the song by himself for a crowd before. Seems that needs to change.”
Another infectious rising country star, Jessie James Decker, was reviewer Lauren Keene's favorite of Weekend 2, who treated a small crowd like a packed Fiserv Forum.
Reviewer Cal Roach’s doesn’t have a typical favorite, admitting Todd Rundgren's set at Uline Warehouse Thursday was pretty sloppy. But it was also “unpredictable, bizarre, and ultimately very entertaining. … I wouldn’t have missed it for anything.”
Reviewer Catherine Jozwik praised Stone Temple Pilots' performance Friday at the BMO Harris Pavilion, saying the band has found a strong replacement for the late Scott Weiland with frontman Jeff Gutt. And Jozwik loved catching sets with Modern English Friday on her own at the Generac Power Stage and War Saturday at Uline Warehouse.
Summerfest's Best, Worst of Day 2, Weekend 2: 2 Chainz, Jessie James Decker, Stone Temple Pilots and the best and worst
Dean Lewis a surprisingly popular hit at Miller Lite Oasis stage
Combine the instantly memorable folk-pop sound of Ed Sheeran with heart-crushing, instantly unforgettable lyrics more akin to Olivia Rodrigo, and you might come close to capturing what Australian singer-songwriter Dean Lewis has to offer. Performing Friday at the Miller Lite Oasis, he really sold the songs, leading a packed crowd of young female fans, many of them singing along to every one of his words, with a gracious, endearing stage presence. More than any artist I've seen play an afternoon at Summerfest in the last few years, Lewis has real superstar potential.
Milwaukee native Nora Collins continues to shine as a rising star in country singing ranks
Milwaukee native Nora Collins is a rising country artist in Nashville, earning her direct opening slot at the Uline Warehouse Friday for Decker. But the next night she was doing a sweet solo acoustic set at the quaint, unofficial Tiki stage by the lake, a stage she played for years before getting prime Summerfest slots. And Lupe Fiasco was gracious enough to yield his stage briefly to Milwaukee activist Fatima Laster, owner of 5 Points Art Gallery and Studio on the north side.
Gayle, Halsey's openers Abby Roberts and the Marias, Third Eye Blind, Village People among worst performances at Summerfest 2022
Gayle was one of the fest's buzziest bookings, breaking out with smash debut single "abcdefu" this year. But Lauren Keene said a nervous Gayle wasn't quite ready for stage-closing headliner status — which she became after previous Generac Power Stage headliners Thursday, Willow and Nessa Barrett, both dropped out.
Halsey’s openers Abby Roberts and the Marias both created a chill, dream pop vibe with their sets, but it didn’t take long for the laid-back approach to get sleepy.
Reviewer Jon M. Gilbertson suggested that Third Eye Blind, at the UScellular Connection Stage Saturday, "showed its age, badly" with "a regularly decelerating performance."
Ernst said the Village People was dated in the worst possible way at the BMO Harris Pavilion Saturday. “If you saw (lead singer Victor) Willis singing in front of his five costumed compatriots on one song, you had seen everything they had up their sleeves — or, in this case, lack of sleeves,” Ernst wrote.
And while Ernst was impressed with both Anthony Hamilton and Indigo Girls Thursday night (at the BMO Harris Pavilion and Briggs & Stratton Big Backyard, respectively), both sets were briefly marred by sound bleed from other stages, something that still happens too frequently at Summerfest.
Machine Gun Kelly's insecurities almost ruin his show at American Family Insurance Amphitheater
Machine Gun Kelly should have been on top of the world, playing for the single largest crowd at Summerfest 2022 Friday at the American Family Insurance Amphitheater — a crowd that was in the palm of his hand from start to finish. But he let his insecurities and grudges hover over him, literally, in the form of a 30-foot metaphor for the internet that regularly insulted him. It was a self-serving killjoy that nearly sabotaged the electric energy of Kelly’s set — and he has no one to blame but himself.
Blue Oyster Cult has the upsetting instrument omission
How dare Blue Oyster Cult play “Don’t Fear the Reaper” at Uline Warehouse Friday without any cowbell. Don’t they know their fans had a fever — and the only prescription was more cowbell?
Sir Mix-a-Lot's crowd a patient group
Fans waited a full hour on Summerfest's most sweltering afternoon through an often tedious Sir Mix-a-Lot set at the BMO Harris Pavilion Thursday just to hear “Baby Got Back.” Judging by the joyful cries of “I like big butts and I cannot lie,” evidently it was well worth it.
Gayle, Iann Dior have best fan service
Even though Keene says Gayle’s live set needs work, the rising pop artist got props for hanging out and talking with fans near the stage after the set. And Machine Gun Kelly’s opener Iann Dior also made the rounds through the amphitheater between sets to pose for dozens of selfies with fans.
Couple at Disturbed and Lamb of God concert experience biggest fan fail
The couple in front of me on the floor section for Disturbed and Lamb of God at the amphitheater Thursday came to their row only to find one of their chairs was actually missing. Considering they might have paid close to $100 for a ticket, this is unacceptable, but they were good sports about it, laughing it off, sharing their one actual chair and then getting permission from security to relocate to some empty seats.
Avril Lavigne concert provides funniest band fail
One of Avril Lavigne’s guitarists was rocking so hard to “Sk8er Boi” that the moment the song hit its streamer-erupting climax, his strap snapped and the guitar went flying. Fortunately, no one was injured — but the guitar itself suffered a most gruesome fate.
Reviewers Erik Ernst, Jon M. Gilbertson, Damon Joy, Catherine Jozwik, Lauren Keene and Cal Roach contributed to this report.
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This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: From Halsey to Machine Gun Kelly, best, worst of Summerfest Weekend 2