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US Cellular Connection stage lines up up-and-comers opening night

Summerfest main gate
Summerfest main gate
Photo courtesty of Flickr used with permission

Summerfest 2014

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A big part of Summerfest is exposing audiences to bands on the rise. The world's largest festival kicked off last night, June 25 and came with a full supply of local and national bands on their way to the top. The emerging artists series caters specifically to this by featuring up-and-coming artists from 3-7:30 p.m. and allowing audiences to vote for their favorite. Each day, the band with the most votes or texts associated with their name win a prize package of music equipment from major manufacturers, valued at over $2,000.

Highlights from the US Cellular Connection stage emerging artists included The Belle Brigade and Nightmare & The Cat. The Belle Brigade is a brother-sister band consisting of Barbara Gruska (guitar, drums, vocals) and Ethan Gruska (guitar, piano, vocals). Their first album (self-titled) released in 2011 with a overall positive critical response. Their last album released in March, 2014 and they played a combination of songs from both albums. The duo work very well as a band, especially in terms of vocals. While not always the most energetic of performers, they have great harmonies and create a more sentimental, indie sound.

Nightmare & The Cat brought considerably more energy to the stage and tended towards a more pop/rock persuasion. The band consists of English brothers Django (lead vocals, tambourine) and Samuel Stewart (guitar), Claire Acey (backing vocals, guitar, drums), Scott Henson (bass guitar), and Brandon "Spike" Philips (drums). They're great to watch as a group because they clearly have great chemistry and have lots of fun playing together. Django Stewart leads the band with crip vocals similar to One Republic's Ryan Tedder, while the overall sound mixes that with their own unique blend of music. They're the band to see for a new sound, swiveling hips, and hair flips.

Though not a part of the emerging artists series, Neon Trees opener Smallpools must be mentioned because they really got the crowd pumped and ready for the rest of the night. Though newer than The Belle Brigade and Nightmare & The Cat, Smallpools brought a decent following among Neon Trees fans. Formed in 2013, Smallpools is made up of Sean Scanlon (vocals, keyboards), Mike Kamerman (guitar), Joseph Intile (bass guitar), and Beau Kuther (drums). They create high-energy dance music with vocals similar to Andrew McMahon and a sound like MGMT. This new band is quickly on the rise and will perform at Lollapalooza on August 2.

Summerfest continues now through June 29, and again July 1-6. Tickets are available here.