- Under perfect summers skies all weekend long, we enjoyed or survived – depending on your perspective and tolerance level – our quintennial visit from Harley riders.
- The generous HD company treated the bikers to an incredible performance by Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band (see first 3 songs here) and shared it with anyone else who wanted to take advantage of the cheap ticket ($40 – you didn’t need the $65 HarleyFest pass after all), not to mention free admission for any kid 13 and under, for which Ken and at least two other fine young men are eternally grateful.
- And, finally, Barack Obama put 20,000 in the seats of the Marcus Amphitheater on a day’s notice for a subdued, but very effective rally on Labor Day evening.
If Harley riders were the hell-raisers of their own legend, we in Milwaukee would all be cowering behind locked doors during these things, hiding the women and children while all the boozing, whoring and terror went on all over town. That is hardly the case with the type of investment bankers, corporate lawyers and salespeople who have the tens of thousands of dollars to spend to revel in Harley merchandise and mystique.
The only thing you have to be afraid of with these respectable men and women is the lawsuit they would hit you with if you forgot to check your blind spot and sideswiped them while changing lanes on the freeway, a situation I only got close to once this weekend. Like obedient conventioneers, they dutifully congregated in the various sanctioned parties, drove up and down the lakefront and spent a wonderfully huge amount of money all over our fair city. The only obnoxious behavior was that damn thing where they make their engines sound like a machine gun. But, what’s a little noise between friends?
Speaking of friends, the Harley people spent five or six hours mingling with the loyal subjects of Springsteen Nation on Saturday night on the sprawling space of Veterans Park on Milwaukee’s lakefront. It was weird seeing so many people who were not dedicated Bruce fans at one of his shows – especially the last of a long, successful tour. While us Bruce-heads did our usual jockeying for space – which didn’t do much good, since, if you weren’t in one of the wristband areas, you were at least 100 yards away – the riders in their dusty jeans lounged on plastic sheets and, basically, couldn’t care less about "Sandy" or "Spirits" or "Rosalita" or any of the other special parts of the Springsteen oeuvre that we were treated to this night.
Which made it interesting, because I would say the "Harley-Davidson motorcycle enthusiasts", as Bruce kept calling them, made up more than half of the huge crowd (I still haven’t seen an estimate, but it had to be at least 50,000). Not that it mattered much to Bruce and the E Streeters, who played like they were in the bosom of their loving regular fans the whole night.
You’d think the mixed and sometimes indifferent nature of the crowd would be a bummer for Bruce, who tours a lot in Europe because he gets jazzed by the exuberant way the crowds react there. But he and the band had bigger fish to fry on this night, and they set about from the beginning to create a masterpiece. He started with "Gypsy Biker", his own ode to the biker nation from his latest album and ended with a perfect cover of Steppenwolf’s iconic "Born to Be Wild" (which I predicted, by the way, going 12-for-31), but everything else was up for grabs.
Unleashed from the structure of the Magic tour (although he stuck with the last three songs of the set he’s been playing all year), everything seemed to be an audible as he careened through his epic catalog of passionately poetic stories. He gave his body up to the crowd during "Spirits in the Night" – his trust was rewarded when they passed him right back to the stage. He challenged the crowd with a torrid version of the little-known "Youngstown", but still hammed it up with "Glory Days" and "Dancing in the Dark". He gave love to a fallen brother on "Sandy" and wasn’t afraid to get justifiably political on Bush’s ass during "Livin’ in the Future".
By the time he was done after three-and-a-half hours, if you weren’t a Bruce convert by then, you ain’t gonna be. I thought back when they rocked Miller Park in 2003 near the end of the Rising tour, they should have quit right there – it wasn’t going to get any better, for them or for us. Someone very close to me said before this show that this would be it for him going to Bruce concerts. It’s always possible at the end of a tour that we might have seen the last of the E Street Band – Clarence’s health has not been the greatest at times on this tour, and it can't be E-Street without him. Could it be that Ken and I were at both the last Bruce/E-Street show and the last Favre game in the same year? No, wait, that wasn’t the last Favre game. Never mind.
While my foggy mind was clearing Sunday morning, I found out my weekend was not quite done. It was in the morning paper that Obama was coming to the Marcus Amphitheater for a rally on Labor Day. All it took was a quick trip to the Obama web site to score some press credentials, and I breezed into the scene (after celebrating my boy’s birthday by attending a disappointing game by the playoff-bound Brewers - did I mention it was a busy weekend?) just as the first speakers were getting started. It was a friendly, upbeat, diverse crowd that was ready to roar.
Obama was politically subdued due to hurricane Gustav making landfall and creating still-unknown damage in Louisiana. "Tonight is not a night for political speeches," he said. He even mentioned that Bush and McCain cared just as much as he did about the unfolding events on the Gulf Coast, without a boo or a peep from anyone. It was billed as a "Rally for American Workers", and Obama apologized that he wasn’t going to be getting into what he had planned to say to the largely union crowd. But he segued from expressing his concern for what was happening in the gulf into a stirring, if brief, plea to achieve unity to reach important goals and to take up the challenge to be our brother’s keeper. “What makes us great is that we rise and fall as one nation,” he said. “The spirit that we extend today and in the days to come . . . that’s a spirit we’ve got to carry with us every day.” He spoke for less than 15 minutes and got a rousing reception and response from the large crowd.
Most important, Obama exuded cool on this hot day with unpredictable dangerous weather still churning in the ocean. It wasn't the cool of some jazz cat, but the cool of a calm and measured leader. While John McCain ran impulsively down to the gulf for photo-ops, Obama said yesterday he would go there, when the time was right. He used the shortened rally in Milwaukee to bring home the message of concern and to call his supporters to voluntary action by supporting the efforts of the Red Cross. What we saw on that stage in Milwaukee is the steady hand of someone who was ready.
And, if what we are hearing today about the vetting process for McCain's just-met-her-once stunt-pick for VP is true, McCain, for all his experience and valor, is not ready at all.