top of page

July, 3rd 2014

Photo Diary: Summerfestarrest!

(Misleading title. But I couldn't help it.)

I go to Milwaukee’s Summerfest every year. This is my 25th. I was probably a fetus on these grounds at one point. They still insist on selling it as the world’s biggest music festival, but it’s got competition these days: Glastonbury is bigger with more people. Lollapalooza may have less people and bands, but much bigger artists. And Coachella is going to overtake Summerfest’s attendance next year.

Anyway, I wasn’t going to write a Fest story. After Spring Awakening, I can’t find too many interesting things to shoot here. Too much boring light, no interesting bands until 10 PM—and at 10, there’s not enough light left to shoot without a flash or noise-ridden pictures shot at 6400 ISO. But, like every year, the Fest found a way to get me interested again.

I was halfway through writing an off-the-cuff editorial about Sexuality in Milwaukee when a pair of very stern cops walk up on our group. Our group is all 55+ year olds; my parents, my aunt and uncle, and a few friends of theirs from out of town, plus my delinquent, rule-breaking, line-cutting, barrier-sneaking-past, press-pass-forging, camera-welding, photosnapping, fairly drunk, 25 year-old self.

They start asking us questions about taking videos of people... and they aren't looking at the guy with 4 grand worth of camera equipment. They're staring at my Dad and his phone.

He was taking vids and pics of people dancing on his iPhone. And the cops certainly didn’t take a friendly tone with him.

Earlier in the day, my faith in collective human intelligence had been usurped by a geriatric usher, pushing 150 years old, with a face that I noticed was scaring the small children around me. Despite my yelling at him, he insisted that my nearly 2 grand lens was a water bottle that he needed to shake to ensure it was empty.


His only reply was, “What do you mean this is a lens?” while he shakes it, clearly trying to snap it in half. Anger is likely the reason I had to use an archive image of the usher, and could not take one myself:

Archive Image from

So, I wasn’t exactly in a good mood during the lead in to the cops showing up—and I was very convinced they were talking to me, at first.

It had to start with irony, my aunt remarking that she hadn’t seen any cops around ‘Fest today. My Mom then points out the two officers walking up behind her. The lead officer—the bald one—opens up with the usual small talk in that condescending ‘you know what you did’ tone: “Who are you here seeing?” “Are you all together?” And leading up to, “So, you all taking some videos today?” We collectively blink, and everyone except the cop looks at me and my camera; the cops are still looking right at my Dad.

It turned out someone reported him for taking pics and videos with his phone. Baldy took his ID, to run it against a sex offender or criminal record database. I never understood how it’s always my Dad who ‘looks suspicious’. Yeah, he looks like you don’t want to start a fight with him, but that’s about the worst I can say. 

I'm the one clad in black, long sleeves, long pants all year 'round, and I'm habitually am heavily armed and... honestly, sometimes I'm just looking for a fight.

Anyway, I wander off about then because there was no suspicion of the dude with the camera, nor did I want them to find some.


The rest comes from the story I was told afterward: While Baldy wandered off, Officer Friendly finally spoke up and told my Dad that he was sorry about the inconvenience, that someone reported “feeling unsafe” with his videography, and they had to follow-up on it.

This is what got me: In any given picture I’m trying to take of any stage, anywhere, I’m competing with your goddamn cell phones these days—you raise your arms up, hold up your phone, and try to record something THAT YOU KNOW YOU ARE NOT GOING TO GET A GOOD AUDIO OR VIDEO RECORDING OF! You know this, and yet you try it anyway!! Stop doing that!!

Wandered off point, but really! A majority of people in this crowd, a majority of the nearly 100,000 people on the grounds today have a mobile phone with photo and/or video capabilities. There is no rule at Summerfest regarding photography or videography within reason—aside from on the main, Marcus Amphitheater stage, and that only applies to restrictions on "professional" video equipment.

Anyway, I was going to post the only video he actually took that day… but it’s literally 23 seconds of 4 people dancing and is far too boring for me to remember how to upload videos to YouTube. He did have one image that Baldy was particularly suspicious of:

She’s adorable!

The two officers draw a third into play as they continued asking inane questions, while my aunt and uncle remark and tell my Dad that the lawmen have nothing on him, nor does he have any responsibility to follow the officer's demands.


Finally, after just following those demands, the cops seem legitimately apologetic for wasting their time and walked off.

I’m failing to see the ‘unsafe environment’ my father is creating here. And moreover, we are in a public space. I have an issue with people still thinking that privacy is something you still have in public.

I’m not making NSA wiretapping references today. I’m not crying out there’s a police state in play and we’ve lost all our freedoms, nor am I crying because a black man’s in the White House…


I’m just saying, my Dad snapping pictures subtley with his phone because he's too shy to walk up and ask for a proper pose—and not outside your window taking pictures of you sleeping—constitutes nothing but misguided, insecure people thinking there’s a right to privacy in a public space.

If you don’t like the fact that anyone in public can take a picture of you, stop going outside. Stay at home, get an aluminum foil hat, order your food online, and make sure the delivery man just leaves it on your porch and you pick it up through the doggy door with one of those old-people grabber-hands.







bottom of page