JoJo, Charli XCX, Black Crowes and the best and worst of Day 2 of Summerfest 2022’s Weekend 3

On Friday night at Summerfest, JoJo showed off her splendid voice, Charli XCX turned her show into a rave, and The Black Crowes displayed a musical form of brotherly love. 

Skillet     

There was a cold breeze blowing in off Lake Michigan, but Skillet warmed the night with musical bombast at the Uline Warehouse Friday night.

A Christian-focused hard rock band that found their way into the mainstream, the originally Tennessee-formed band are now essentially a local act, with the home of band founders John and Korey Cooper in Kenosha, making this a near-perfect Summerfest Friday night booking.

A large crowd roared almost as loudly as the electric introduction, deep droning bass, thumping drums and thrashing guitars on the opening “Whispers in the Dark.” John Cooper banged his head in front of a wall of brightly colored video screens as blinding lights flashed across the crowd. “Tonight we say no to depression,” the frontman screamed as he introduced the grinding punk wail of “Rise.” “We say no to hate! Tonight we rise!”

Skillet rarely wanders from the singular hard rock sound that has woven through their biggest hits. A new song like “Surviving the Game” could just as easily come from an earlier album. But this crowd didn’t mind. They pumped their fists to the modern rock melody as John Cooper blasted streams of smoke over the stage to the defiant chorus of “I can be unstoppable, gonna be indestructible.”

On “Legendary,” the enthusiastic audience was beating the singer to the bounding lyrics, singing in unison as the band pounded out the rock melody. Pretty good homecoming for a local band.

— Erik Ernst 

Charli XCX 

Unseasonably cool temperatures and considerable winds didn’t deter an overflowing crowd from watching Charli XCX perform at the BMO Harris Pavilion Friday night. 

Now 29 with five studio albums under her belt, the sultry-voiced English electropop artist has been making music since she was a teenager.

Charli XCX and her two muscled backup dancers got her Generation Z audience jumping up and down right away with clubby opener “Lightning,” followed by the soulful “Gone.” She looked every bit the pop goddess in a black leather bra top, matching miniskirt and knee-high boots, dancing her booty off. 

When Charli XCX announced “Where are my (expletive) girls at?” before launching into “Constant Repeat,” she was met by deafening screams – which continued throughout the show. 

It was during the anthemic “I Love It” that the BMO Harris Pavilion was transformed into an all-out rave, which didn’t lose momentum for a second. Clubby visuals only helped enhance the experience. 

— Catherine Jozwik, Special to the Journal Sentinel 

JoJo   

Summerfest should use JoJo’s singing voice to welcome visitors every year.

It doesn’t matter if she’s actually playing; just crank a recording of a live performance between sets. Because the sound of JoJo’s voice floating into the parking lots from the BMO Harris Pavilion Friday afternoon, on arguably Summerfest’s finest day weather-wise, was like hearing an angel singing from behind the Pearly Gates.

Hearing her voice up close was significantly more splendid. Now 31, JoJo was just 13 when she had her chart-topping breakout hit “Leave (Get Out)” in 2004, but label issues unjustly stalled her career a couple of years later. She hasn’t been able to return to the same commercial peaks, but she’s continued to find fans (including a large Summerfest gathering) with polished new pop and R&B material, a standout run on “The Masked Singer” in 2019 (where her “Black Swan” inexplicably lost to Nick Lachey’s “Piglet”), and of course that voice.

It was fitting that someone in the crowd wore a Whitney Houston shirt, because JoJo hovers around that rare air, her versatile belting (and a soulful six-piece band) transforming “Say Love” into a unifying anthem in the face of divisive hate, and illustrating her star potential remains strong for her biggest mid-aughts hit “Too Little, Too Late.”

It’s not too late to jump on the JoJo bandwagon, people.

— Piet Levy, plevy@journalsentinel.com 

The Black Crowes headline Summerfest's Generac Power Stage on Saturday, July 8, 2022

The Black Crowes 

Sure, The Black Crowes have been together for nearly 40 years, but with brothers Chris and Rich Robinson at the core of the group, a lifelong bond going back even longer flowed through the band’s tight set Friday night at the Generac Stage.

Wearing a white T-shirt under a glittery black blazer and writhing with the mic stand in his hands, Chris Robinson was an engaging front man, leading his brother and their four band mates and two backing vocalists through a rousing rock ‘n’ roll rhythm and blues revue.

The brotherly interplay fueled the magic at the front of the stage.

On “My Morning Song,” a rolling roadhouse stomper, Rich Robinson pulled the impassioned melody out of a slide running up and down the neck of his electric guitar before Isaiah Mitchell ripped into a wailing guitar solo. Soon, though, the song slowed to a gospel-style interlude before swelling again to a joyous crescendo. It was a single-song microcosm of the set, bounding across rhythms and tempos to the enjoyment of a large crowd that stretched back toward the lake.

“By Your Side” found Rich Robinson teasing out a delicate melody that underscored his brother’s bursts of firm, staccato vocals that quickly blended back into the guitarist’s swelling finger work. Chris Robinson clapped and strutted as the band jammed behind him and the audience grooved. “Thank y’all!” Robinson said, before slowing the set down with the bluesy moan of “Seeing Things for the First Time.” His voice rose beautifully as he leaned into the microphone and he looked across at his brother who was laying down a rhythmic guitar bed for the song to build sweetly upon into a growing harmony of the pair’s voices over Joel Robinow’s organ histrionics.

— Erik Ernst, Special to the Journal Sentinel 

Cordae 

After a dizzying performance by Milwaukee’s DJ Mando and crew, Maryland rapper Cordae’s DJ proceeded to do the exact same type trap set for a good 15 minutes past show time. The overflowing audience of the Miller Lite Oasis seemed more than excited to do it all over again.

When Cordae eventually made it to the stage the Gen Z’ers lost their collective minds. Opening with hit “Super” Cordae bounced back and forth across the stage as if he were weightless, all while rapping every word of the track. While he did rap over his own vocals from time to time it was not a crutch, it was clearly a case of not having the instrumentalists. Either way the audience rapped every word with him so technically, he could have just been quiet. With a full live band and Auto-Tune used sparingly, Cordae gave the fans what they had waited so diligently for.

Damon Joy, Special to the Journal Sentinel 

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A Flock of Seagulls performs at Summerfest's UScellular Connection Stage on Saturday, July 8, 2022.

A Flock of Seagulls 

The last time A Flock of Seagulls played Summerfest in 2018, the band played “Rainfall” in an actual torrential downpour.

But the weather gods were kind to the Flock for their UScellular Connection Stage set Friday, with a packed crowd on a blissful, breezy afternoon.

If only frontman Mike Score — the lone original member, with other current Seagulls joining in the 21st century — could match the mood with his vocals. “Space Age Love Song” and “Wishing” showed that his voice hasn’t aged so well, but the flat tone still suited the New Wave weirdness of “Telecommunication,” and Score’s warm melodies from his Roland synthesizer sounded like they traveled in Doc Brown’s DeLorean straight from the 1980s.

— Piet Levy 

Ric Wilson 

Anyone who made their way to the Miller Lite Oasis Friday received one of those special Summerfest moments when Ric Wilson took the stage for a set of introspective hip-hop and juicy grooves that resulted in an amalgam of the best that hip-hop can be in a live experience.

The set started off slow, with both a soft vocal mix that buried Wilson’s lyrics at the start, and what seemed like a shy front man. “Hey! What’s up guys?” Wilson sheepishly asked the audience. “Are we ready to have a good time?” The tentative nature of his greeting, though, belied the artist that would soon come alive on stage.

As Wilson, his five-piece band and a talented accompanying vocalist bounced the soul melody of “Don’t Kill the Wave,” the Chicago rapper came alive as he showed the crowd standing on the bleachers how to find the rhythm. “Chicago Bae” was a smooth bossa-nova-driven groove with Wilson’s hometown-focused lyrics dancing lightly in response to the music.

A rapper who knows both a hook and a message, Wilson had the crowd waving their arms in unison on the funky interplay of “BANBA,” with the powerfully uplifting chorus call of “Black art, not bad art.” “Fight Like Ida B & Marsha P” was a powerful protest song born out of the Black Lives Matter movement in 2020.

As a vocalist, Wilson’s flow was part Kendrick Lamar, part Lil Wayne. As a lyricist, his rhymes were rich with brilliantly vivid exploration of his life in the south side of Chicago, biting criticism of racial issues in the United States and a joyful spirit of celebration in the midst of the struggle for progress.

By the time Wilson was spitting the rapid fire rhymes of “Breakin Rules,” the band was jamming and the drums were pounding, and memories of that initial tentative greeting were long gone.

— Erik Ernst 

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Gilberto Santa Rosa 

When you think about the genres most often seen at Summerfest, you’re probably thinking of nostalgic ‘90s rockers, a recently famous one-hit wonder, or a complete legend like Paul McCartney or Tom Petty. With that in mind, salsa is a seriously underrepresented genre at the Big Gig — and that’s probably why the crowd for Gilberto Santa Rosa was so massive Friday night.

The Puerto Rican crooner has been dubbed “El Cabellero de Salsa” for his silky smooth voice and timeless on-stage swagger. He brought both of those things — along with a massive 12-person band — to the Briggs & Stratton Big Backyard stage. Fans were swaying side to side during Santa Rosa’s entire set, enchanted by the sounds of gorgeous harmonies, maracas and trumpets.

Speaking of trumpets, Santa Rosa’s brass section was certainly a highlight. The sound of saxophone rang throughout the entire south end of the festival grounds as couples near the outskirts of the crowd tangoed together. The twinkling string lights above the audience only added to the ambiance.

If Summerfest organizers are looking to boost attendance numbers — and create a more diverse crowd — they should consider bringing more salsa bands to the Big Gig.

— Lauren Keene, Special to the Journal Sentinel 

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