Potato salad surgery

Jun 28, 2006 at 12:00 am

Potato salad is the DJ of the American picnic. It really is. Think about it. It's gathered together from disparate sources like a remix for your tongue, it's a culinary cornerstone crucial to the outdoor chilling experience. And if potato salad's the DJ, then iced tea is the emcee, blankets are graffiti, and lawn sports are breakdancing. Hip hop's four elements meet their leisure-time mirrors.

Comerica TasteFest exists at a similar crossroads of food and music. Bass-heavy sound mixes bounce off the hot asphalt, everything from country and R&B to rock, electronic music, jazz and people balance piles of ribs on paper plates as they hoist their Lemon Chills to the sky.

The performers at this year's event are as varied as ever — it is, we'll say, a veritable picnic of music. And from the local kids to the national contenders, they're ready to pig out.

So, our question is, what would a picnic attended by all of this year's TasteFest acts look like? Who would talk to whom? What games would they play? Most importantly, who would bring the potato salad?

"I'm Canadian, so I don't celebrate the Fourth of July," New Pornographers brain trust A.C. Newman says flatly by phone from, er, Canada. But when asked what his band might bring to this mythical rock picnic, he figures it would probably be random items copped from the Pornographers' tour rider. "In fact, we'd probably just pack up the whole rider and drop it off in bulk," he says, and goes on to detail the Pringles, pitas, and salsas that they'd contribute to the cause.

Philadelphia-based DJ and producer Josh Wink is more thoughtful — and excited. "No meat on my barbecue" the proud vegan says. He also imagines a boom box, as long as it's capable of playing cassettes, CDs and has an auxiliary jack for MP3 players. Leave it to the DJ to coordinate the sound system.

Great Lakes Myth Society won't be outdone, though. The Ann Arbor lit-poppers need a transistor radio broadcasting the Tiger game, as well as smoked whitefish, a trunk of Civil War re-enactment gear, and a case of Atwater Pilsner. "I'd also ask A.C. Newman to introduce me to Neko Case," GLMS vocalist-guitarist (and accordionist) Timothy Monger adds.

This idyllic artists-only picnic is really shaping up. But a picnic isn't a picnic without lawn sports, and Civil War re-enactments don't quite count. That's where croquet comes in. Great Lakes guitarist Greg McIntosh is convinced that Kinks great Ray Davies would kill at croquet. "You can imagine him taunting us Americans," McIntosh says. "He'd probably be all like, 'I'm going to croquet your shit bum through wickets of pain, you plank!' Then, after dominating on the pitch he'd limp around on that shot leg of his and get sympathy from all the girls."

Detroit's Jeremy "Ayro" Ellis imagines this penultimate lawn sport showdown differently. "I'm a freestyler," Ellis says, referring to his knack for building freaky, furiously danceable tracks on the fly. "So I'd bring a kickball to the picnic and hit it with the croquet hammer. Because this is Detroit, we'd have no problem fashioning larger wickets [for the kickball to go through] out of scrap metal."

Like Wink, Ellis is a vegetarian. "Not a straight vegan," he says; "more like a once-a-week-cheeser." He thinks he'd probably end up bringing some vegetarian kebabs to the picnic, but admits he'd put some cheese on something. He says he'd bring the potato salad, too, meaning that this picnic is really starting to find its cornerstones.

Suai's response to the picnic query is as calm and soulful as her music. "I'd bring my guitar, a big Caesar salad, and, of course, Miseducation of Lauryn Hill," the D-town resident says. "I'd also suggest a big jam session. It'd be fresh to hear rock, hip hop, R&B, blues and alternative artists all vibe on one accord." Lola Morales suggests a similar vibe. "A pitcher of mojitos, a pair of stilettos and Jorge Ben for the boom box — the finest recipe for good times in the sun!" she says, and it's a statement that could easily summarize her own vibrant hybrid of Latin, funk, pop and soul.

We have potato salad, blankets, lawn sports and a bunch of second-hand condiments courtesy of some Canucks. Where's the iced tea? Where's the booze? "I guess we'd bring lemonade, since none of us can legally buy alcohol," suggests drummer Maria Nucilli of local indie kids the Decks. Lemonade will do in a pinch, just like beatboxing standing in as a fifth hip-hop element. "We'd want to challenge another band to a rousing game of TV tag," Nuccilli adds. "Who's up? Kings of Leon?"

As for the rest of the artists at Comerica TasteFest, we can only imagine. Local roustabouts Cowboy Messiah would challenge Cat Power to a poetry slam-hoedown; all three members of Hairshirt would ask her to marry them. Common would hold court under some shade, musing about life and blues power with the Muggs. And the Demolition Doll Rods' ass power would inevitably get everybody kicked out of the pavilion. This is a public park! Keep your pants on, sis!


Comerica TasteFest runs Friday, June 30, through Tuesday, July 4. For complete stage and performer lineup, please go to tastefest.com.

Johnny Loftus is Metro Times music editor. Send comments to [email protected]