The B-52s bring crossover appeal, fun music and a weird factor, all things PrideFest was looking for
You’d be hard pressed to find a karaoke bar that doesn’t have “Love Shack” in its songbook. The B-52s best known song is fun, weird and gets the party going, much like the band itself, and that’s one big reason why PrideFest Milwaukee is excited the B-52s are a Sunday headliner at the annual festival.
Landing The B-52s came late in the planning process, said Brian Burke, who’s an entertainment department board member for PrideFest. He helped book the band.
“This is a band that the board has been trying to get for a few years,” said Burke.
The B-52s formed in 1976 in Athens, Ga. The group’s popularity has spanned decades. One of its biggest hits, “Rock Lobster,” was released in 1979; “Love Shack” came out in 1989. Its last album arrived in 2008.
“What we’re looking for overall is an act that’s popular and that people will want to come to see,” Burke said. “We look at what’s popular now and what bands have been around for a while who still have a dedicated and loyal fan base.”
The B-52s do have a strong following in the LGBTQ community, similar to artists like Queen, Madonna or Blondie, who played PrideFest a couple years ago.
“I can’t speak for the whole community,” Burke said of the band’s popularity. “One, you have Fred Schneider, who is the lead singer, who is an openly gay man. Two, when the band first became popular in the ’70s and ’80s, (band member) Ricky Wilson died of AIDS. But what it really comes down to is that they’re a fun, high-energy band. You add those other aspects, and the songs are just fun. Who doesn’t love ‘Rock Lobster.’ Those songs have just resonated over the years.”
For Mark Sander, who works at Shelter Mortgage in Milwaukee, the band’s music and its weirdness resonate with him.
“It’s this sense of being able to let your freak flag fly,” Sander said. “You could be different, and it was OK to be different. That’s a huge appeal in the gay community. You always feel like you’re an outsider being gay. You can relate to something that’s a little different.”
Milo Miller, who grew up in Shorewood and now lives in Riverwest, said, “You get a lot of gender expressions in one band. The B-52s give you space to explore that. And they’re fun and funny.”
Sander’s and Miller’s love for the B-52s started in the early late 1980s and early ’90s when they were teens and preteens.
“The first time I remember hearing them, I was probably about 10 or 11 years old,” said Sander. “MTV Sunday nights played alternative videos and I saw ‘Channel Z.’ I didn’t think much about it until ‘Love Shack’ came out. I saw the video. And I loved everything about it. The two women singing in this doo-wop style. I was enamored hook line and sinker right there.”
Sander has seen the B-52s every time they’ve come to Milwaukee since 1990. The first time he saw them, he was 12 or 13 years old. Most recently, he saw singer Cindy Wilson on a solo tour in Chicago in March.
He laughed, “I’m pretty sure she was about to call security after I made her hug me for the third time.”
Burke, who has booked the band at Potawatomi Casino, said, “I’ve been in the music business for a while, and it just comes down to the music. And the connection you get with the songs, it just stays with you. They’re just fun. They’re a fun band for me to experience.”
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