REVIEW: Welshly Arms at Summerfest

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On a terribly hot night that was sparse of attractive ground stage headliners, there was a shining moment that happened at the Briggs And Stratton Big Backyard stage on Saturday. That moment was all of Welshly Arms’ set. The band is one you know, but perhaps not quite by name. Their song, “Legendary” is featured in a Miller Lite ad and currently in rotation at FM 1021. However, the Cleveland-based indie rockers aren’t necessarily household names. That may need to change soon.

When the band took the stage on Saturday night, they weren’t exactly new in town, either. The band has played Milwaukee pretty regularly, now their second Summerfest and FM 1021’s Big Snow Show this past winter, as well as gig at the Back Room at Collectivo last year as well. However, this was their first Summerfest on the heels of their breakout song, and they made every effort to let you know that there was much more in their catalog of music worth checking out.

The most telling story of the show was the crowd itself. The combination of an 8:00 opening slot for the night’s headliners, Kaleo, and the fact that it was 95 degrees (but felt like 10,000) meant a majority of the crowd were seated at the show’s energetic start. As things progressed, more and more bodies were upright. By the time we got to the show close, most of the crowd were on their feet, treating Welshly Arms as if they were the night’s headliner. Perhaps they will be the next time they play The Big Gig.

The majority of the night’s set list consisted of tracks from the band’s latest release, “No Place Is Home”. The band started winning over fans early with “Indestructible” from the album, and “Three Dark Days” was well received, as well. Frontman Sam Getz commanded the stage with the energy of a southern preacher, and much of the band’s sound has a tough, gristled tone to it. During “Sactuary”, Getz took time to preach to the choir, stressing the importance of bringing everyone together for something as beautiful as Summerfest. You felt the authenticity in his voice, and he later closed the show by proclaiming that it felt great to be sharing a lineup with one of his heroes, Buddy Guy.

The band also has a crowd-pleasing extra dimension to them in background vocalists Bri and Jon Bryant. The pair accented the distorted drums and thick sounds of a triple-pickup Gibson guitar with some gospel-inspired vocals, and Bri in particular captivated the crowd with her powerful range when given the chance to shine on her own. The apex of their spotlight came in a blistering cover of Rick Derringer’s “Rock & Roll Hoochie Koo”. If there was any questioning the band’s chops, they proved themselves here.

Based on what we’ve seen so far, Welshly Arms was the first true standout performance of Summerfest 2018. It’s still very early on, but with the energy that the band brought, and the desire to prove themselves to Saturday night’s crowd, they may wind up having the best set of the entire festival.

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