A highlight of the 2001 festival is the musical lineup, which features some local favorites along with some standout bands from around the country - more than 30 acts in all on two stages.
While most of the festivals in the area are bound by genre or conceit - even one of the more varied, Hornucopia, has an obvious major restriction - Rock Island Summerfest is refreshingly all over the place, featuring a little bit of everything, from plaintive singer-songwriters to roots rock to searing blues to a touch of the avant-garde. As Bill Douglas, who helped book bands for the show, said, "It's almost like public radio."
The Summerfest entertainment lineup has been pared down somewhat this year, yet there's still plenty for just about everybody except metalheads.
Probably the biggest surprise is the presence of the descriptively named Jazz Mandolin Project (9:30 p.m. on Friday), which on one level is exactly what its name suggests but also much more. Jamie Masefield leads the band, playing mandolin and complemented by upright bass and drums. The group explores vast musical territory, improvising off everything from Jimi Hendrix to Miles Davis to the classical Sabre Dance, with exuberance, daring, funk, and superb musicianship. The band's major-label debut hit stores last year, and the group has a reputation for fiery live shows.
Just as oddball is Minneapolis' Stuart Davis (11:30 p.m. on Thursday). Davis crafts some of the most interesting poppy rock you're ever likely to hear, although he prefers the label "post-apocalyptic punk folk," of which he also dubs himself the master. Such claims are actually pretty warranted; his new self-titled album is a topnotch record. (As an added affront to modesty, the CD features a quite-naked and quite-painted Davis - naughty bits somewhat visible - in various poses.) The Western romp "Doppleganger Body Donor" is just one standout, a bawdy tale of living outside of one's own body. With this record, Davis has done an anti-Radiohead, using sound and noise in the service of songs rather than as their bases.
This is a show that is not to be missed, even if it is at a nasty time for a school night. While Davis has played in the Quad Cities before, this will be his first time with his band - a versatile and expressive outfit that's a perfect match for his generally low-key vocals, letting the words work their magic. Davis also brings with him a reputation for being a great live performer, so watch out.
For those who need to get to bed a bit earlier, rockabilly outfit Cave Catt Sammy (10 p.m. on Thursday) rides in from Texas on a wave of praise, drawing positive comparisons to the Stray Cats. High-energy rockabilly that promises to rock. And for those who just can't get enough of that comfy roots vibe, Thursday offers the well-worn and inoffensive sounds of The Nadas (at 7:30 p.m.) and Dazy Head Mazy (11 p.m.).
In addition to the strange sounds of the Jazz Mandolin Project on Friday, Summerfest offers the modern rock of the Matt Weber Band (8 p.m.). Weber seemed poised to make a major splash in the alternative-country pool a few years ago when the album from his Mount Pilot outfit got lost in the studio shuffle. This is his new project.
The west stage on Friday is more of a party atmosphere, with the 1980s retro group Thrillsville (7 p.m.) and the dance sounds of Re: Boot (10 p.m.).
Respecting those of us who actually have to work on Thursday and Friday, weekday-afternoon acts shall be mercifully quiet but no less distinctive.
Jennifer Peterson (1:30 p.m. on Thursday) offers a soothing voice and strong but subdued arrangements. Peterson, from the Chicago area, is a good performer whose vocal presence is greater than lyrics that largely stick to relationship territory. Perfect for a lunch break.
Bluesy Iowa City singer-songwriter Kelly Pardekooper offers a solo acoustic set at 2 p.m. Friday, and his Trailer Records label-mate Brother Trucker comes in for an acoustic set at 1:30 p.m. on Thursday. It's a great opportunity to check out up-and-coming singer-songwriter Andy Fleming.
Friday will also showcase some ethnic music, with the Deutsche Polka Band (noon) and O'Malley's Luck (2 p.m.).
And there are plenty of local standouts. Quad Cities power-pop kings Einstein's Sister play at 4 p.m. on Saturday (and the acoustic-duo spinoff Douglas & Tucker entertain at 11:30 a.m. on Friday), while Elixir (4 p.m. Friday), New Complexion (5 p.m. Friday), and The Bluefins (8 p.m. Saturday) are all represented on the schedule.
And for an early wake-up call on Saturday, don't miss the loud and proud blues of Duke Tomatoe & The Power Trio (11:30 a.m.)
Admission to Summerfest is free on Thursday and before 7:30 p.m. on Friday; $2 before 7:30 p.m. on Saturday; and $3 after 7:30 p.m. on Friday and Saturday. For the complete entertainment lineup, check out the Reader's Live Music section on page 19. The antique market begins Saturday at 8 a.m. and runs through 6 p.m., with vendors' booths along 18th Street.