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The scene Friday at Turner Hall: local, loud, uplifting

A man playing electric bass guitar stands at the front of the stage as a large crowd of people reach toward him.
Brett Krzykowski
Diet Lite was part of an all-Milwaukee showcase at Turner Hall last Friday.

The first song of the night was supposed to be a downer. Sad. Morose. A breakup song that reminded everyone at Turner Hall Ballroom — the band, the crowd, bartenders, security guards — of the times they’ve been burned. Of how life isn’t fair.

And there was Jasmine Rosenblatt, standing center stage, belting out every line with a big smile on her face.

To put it mildly, Bug Moment’s lead singer wasn’t exactly selling the emotion underpinning the tune. But she was the picture-perfect personification of the feelings running through Turner Hall during a remarkable night for local indie music.

“I just couldn't help but look at everyone and be like, ‘Wow, this is a great moment,’” she said backstage after the band’s set Friday night. “I remembered I was singing this sad song about a breakup. But I’m at Turner Hall! Even on the sad songs, literally no matter where I looked, I saw someone that I really cared for.”

There were a lot of those “someones” in attendance, considering the evening’s entertainment: four regulars from Milwaukee’s music scene who didn’t just fill out the bill; they were the whole thing. Bug Moment, Diet Lite, Fellow Kinsman and Social Cig — each one with fans, friends and family in tow, creating an environment completely foreign to anyone accustomed to the usual experience of seeing a national touring act.

In that situation, more of than not, there's a sort of remove to the whole thing. Yes, everyone there is a fan of whomever they came to see. But it's a sort of detached connection among the audience.

Walking through the ballroom’s doors last Friday, it felt more like a class reunion than a rock show. People greeting each other with monster hugs. Group hangs slowly expanding as another familiar face joined. It was as celebratory as it was communal, which only made sense considering that’s how this whole thing came together in the first place.

The show was announced back in May with all four bands in the lineup and promoted as an “epic night of indie goodness.” But, when asked how their respective groups got involved, Rosenblatt and Diet Lite drummer Evan Marsalli both name-checked Parker Schultz from Social Cig and Nate Kinsman from Fellow Kinsman for pulling it all together.

Considering the unforgiving nature of the music business, you’d forgive any band for getting an opportunity to play a venue like Turner Hall and keeping it as much to themselves as possible. That just isn’t the current state of Milwaukee’s DIY music scene.

“I feel like anytime you're trying to develop a really healthy scene, a really good music scene, it’s really about lifting everybody up, working together and having a positive outlook,” Marsalli said just a few moments after coming off stage. “I’ve heard from some of the people who've been in the scene for five 10 years that it wasn't always like this. It was a little more dog eat dog. The pandemic kind of seemed like a reset.”

Rosenblatt pointed to the post-lockdown window as well, saying that “since the pandemic, I feel like all four of these bands have just flourished and have brought so many people together through DIY music. We’re all post-pandemic bands. So, right when we started, it got a lot of people out of the house again. And we just accumulated more love, and it’s insane right now.”

As Friday night progressed, that combination of adoration and insanity grew in intensity. Bug Moment’s lead singer got it started with some early crowd surfing during their leadoff set. Diet Lite were up next, with Max Niemann and Kelson Kuzdas working the edge of the stage to whip the pit into a frenzy. Fellow Kinsman found themselves joined by several attendees who felt emboldened to take flying leaps from the stage into the crowd.

A man carries a case of water bottles across a stage and hands them out to the crowd as musicians tune their instruments behind him.
Brett Krzykowski
Not all heroes wear capes.

At that point, you couldn’t help but wonder if the crowd had anything left in the tank. Someone must’ve had the same thought because, as Social Cig set up in the background, a good Samaritan walked the front of the stage with a case of water cradled in his arms, handing out bottles to the most active members of the audience. Good vibes, indeed.

By the time the lights dimmed for the night’s final set, loud chants of “Social Cig, Social Cig” went up from the room. After three hours of local music, they were ready for more. Hopefully, the larger venues in town will listen.

“Look at this. We’ve got 800-something people in a 987-capacity room for four local bands,” Marsalli said. “They don't really have local bands here unless they're opening for a touring act, and even then the touring acts usually bring their own openers. That alone is just kind of a testament to the strength of and the fervor for the music scene right now.

“I think this is the biggest show that any band here has ever played. And I think what it's really showing is just how many people not in bands really give a crap about what's going on.”