By Bryan McCabe
There is no doubt that Harley-Davidson is about as American as a company can be. They are one of those brands that is deeply ingrained in this country’s culture. To recognize that, Harley-Davidson throws a huge celebration in their home city of Milwaukee, WI every 5 years. This year marked the company’s 120th birthday, and what better way to celebrate than to have a huge concert on the lakefront of Lake Michigan in front of 50,000 die hard fans. These are the people that live and breathe Harley-Davidson.
The festivities were spread across 4 days at various spots around the city, but the main draw was the 2 days of concerts at Veterans Park on the lakefront. Both days included tons of local food vendors, thrilling Nitro Circus freestyle motocross shows, death defying motorcycle stunts via the “ball of steel” and “wall of death”, and several legendary, as well as up and coming bands. KennyHoopla was one of those up and comers on the first day of the festival, and he gave the growing crowd everything that he had. He made a special stop from his tour with Blink-182 to show his home state what he has to offer. He played fan favorites “estella” and “how will i rest in peace if i’m buried by a highway?”, as well as brand new songs like “T SHIRT” and “MARRY KILL F*CK”. He capped off his energetic performance with a spectacular backflip from his drummer’s drum set and they closed out the set with “hollywood sucks”.
After walking around the sprawling festival grounds for a bit, it was time to see what kind of crazy tricks the Nitro Circus crew could pull off. The riders were continuously launching themselves to crazy heights as they flawlessly landed all sorts of tricks and flips. Seeing the riders pull off insane backflips with the city skyline in the background was quite the site to see. The massive crowds that kept stopping by for their numerous shows clearly felt the same way judging by their enthusiastic applause and cheers.
Back at the concert stage, the crowd had been steadily growing throughout the day. It was now time for post-punk legends The Cult to take the stage. The Cult’s performance was nothing short of spectacular. The band’s timeless music, combined with their undeniable stage presence, proved that after decades in the music industry, they are still a force to be reckoned with. This concert was not just a trip down memory lane; it was a testament to The Cult’s enduring legacy and their ability to captivate audiences, young and old, with their infectious rock ‘n’ roll spirit. The crowd loved hearing such classics as “She Sells Sanctuary” and “Love Removal Machine”.
To close out the night in front of this packed crowd of Harley lovers, were a personal favorite of mine, the punk rock legends Green Day. Fun fact, my first ever concert was Green Day in this very city, just a few miles away from Veterans Park. That was pretty fun wasn’t it? By this point, the crowd was absolutely packed in front of the stage. Before the band came out, Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” played over the speakers, but was quickly drowned out by the massive crowd, young and old, singing at the top of their lungs. As the stage lit up, revealing frontman Billie Joe Armstrong, bassist Mike Dirnt, and drummer Tré Cool, the excitement in the air was electric. Without wasting a second, they launched into their opening song, “American Idiot,” the politically charged anthem that ignited the crowd and set the tone for the rest of the show. From there, it was a non-stop barrage of hits and high-energy performances. Green Day powered through their extensive discography, treating the audience to classics like “Basket Case,” “Holiday,” and “When I Come Around”. They even played “The Grouch” for the first time since 2009.
Billie Joe Armstrong’s stage presence was nothing short of captivating. With his signature style and boundless charisma, he had the crowd eating out of the palm of his hand. From rallying chants to heartfelt moments, he connected with fans on a personal level, making them feel like they were a part of something bigger than just a concert. The most endearing moment came during the bridge of “Waiting”, when a couple came out on stage for a proposal. Of course she said yes, and then kissed Billie Joe before going back to her new fiance.
As the night came to a close, Green Day closed out with an explosive encore that left the crowd begging for more. The iconic “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)” provided the perfect ending to a night of punk rock euphoria, leaving fans with a sense of nostalgia and gratitude for witnessing one of the greatest punk bands of all time in action.
And that was just day 1.
Day 2 featured much of the same thrills and attractions as day 1. As I got to the festival, alternative rock band White Reaper was getting the early comers primed and ready for the rock filled night that was to come. In addition to the Nitro Circus performances, today also featured “the wall of death”. Riders were racing their motorcycles around a vertical wall to jaw dropped onlookers. At one point, they were even throwing out t-shirts to fans with outreached arms, all while racing around this vertical circle of death.
Just like the day before, the crowd was quickly growing as time passed. They were eagerly waiting for Cody Jinks, the modern-day outlaw of country music. He graced the stage in Milwaukee and delivered a set of soul-stirring melodies and genuine storytelling. From the moment he stepped into the spotlight, it was evident that the audience was in for an authentic country music experience like no other. Accompanied by his talented band, The Tone Deaf Hippies, Cody Jinks kicked off the night with “Hurt You,” a driving anthem that set the tone for the rest of the concert. The crowd was immediately drawn in by Jinks’ powerful and distinctive voice, which carried the weight of raw emotion with every lyric. Originally, Social Distortion was supposed to play the first day of the festival, but they unfortunately had to drop out. As a bit of a consolation, Cody Jinks delivered an incredible rendition of Social Distortion’s “Reach For The Sky”, joined by thousands of fans singing along. He closed out his flawless performance with “Loud and Heavy” as his adoring fans showered him with thunderous applause.
To close out the festival, we were treated to an incredible performance by Foo Fighters. The rock legends, led by the charismatic Dave Grohl, took the stage, and from the very first chord, it was evident that we were in for an electrifying night of rock ‘n’ roll. The band’s high-octane energy and unmatched musicianship set the tone for a concert that would go down in history as one of the most memorable rock experiences. Kicking off the night with “All My Life,” the band wasted no time in unleashing their signature brand of hard-hitting rock, sending shockwaves of energy through the audience.
Dave Grohl, the epitome of rock ‘n’ roll charisma, captivated the crowd with his infectious energy and witty banter. His genuine and down-to-earth nature instantly connected with fans, making them feel like they were in the company of old friends. Throughout the night, Grohl’s dynamic stage presence, flawless vocals, and remarkable guitar skills proved why he is an icon in the world of rock music. As the concert progressed, the Foo Fighters dished out hit after hit, keeping the momentum at an all-time high. “The Pretender,” “My Hero,” and “Best of You” were met with thunderous applause and a sea of raised hands singing along to every word. It was an awe-inspiring sight to witness the unity and passion of the crowd, all united under the Foo Fighters’ rock anthems.
As the Foo Fighters capped off this giant birthday celebration with their classic “Everlong”, both the band and the crowd gave every last bit of energy they had to rock as hard as they could one final time. This festival was such an entertaining mixture of music and motorsports. It was so successful in fact, that the next day Harley-Davidson announced that they would be changing the celebration format from every 5 years, to an annual celebration in the great city of Milwaukee.