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Summerfest is a thrilling stop on the musical journey for Wisconsin musicians

Musicians Trapper Schoepp and Micah Emrich describe the view from the stage of the Big Gig

Morry Gash/AP Photo

Summerfest, Milwaukee’s summer music festival, kicked off last weekend and will feature hundreds of artists from around the world before it concludes after the July 4 weekend. 

But some artists don’t have to travel far to play at the event billed “the world’s largest music festival.”

Singer-songwriters Trapper Schoepp and Micah Emrich are based in Milwaukee, and they both performed at the festival this year. It’s Micah’s first year on a main stage, and Trapper’s 10th, give or take. They both say that Summerfest is a unique performing experience for Wisconsin musicians.

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Schoepp and Emrich joined WPR’s “Wisconsin Today” to talk about what it’s like pursuing music as a career in Milwaukee, and what role Summerfest plays on that journey. 

The following has been edited for brevity and clarity. 

Kate Archer Kent: You both performed at Summerfest in recent days. How did it feel? 

Micah Emrich: Oh, it felt amazing. It was a lot of energy to be up on that big stage and I had a lot of ground to cover as well.

KAK: What do you mean by that? 

ME: It’s just a bigger stage. I’ve played at a lot more club shows — Cactus Club and different venues around here — and they don’t have a stage even half the size of that. So I was running a lot in preparation for the show.

KAK: Trapper, how many summer fests are under your belt now?

Trapper Schoepp: 10, 11, 12? I lost count somewhere along the way. Too many Summerfests for me. 

KAK: Does each one feel new and different in a way? 

TS: I’ve kind of been at a different place, emotionally and physically all these different years. I remember the first Summerfest, I had just come off of having spinal decompression surgery. So who knows if I was all there for that one. But every one has been uniquely different and I’m grateful for the opportunity. 

KAK: Micah, did you have any nerves being on the Summerfest stage? 

ME: Not necessarily. It was just a lot of excitement. If anything, I deal with nerves afterwards, once all the adrenaline leaves and I’m like, “Oh my goodness, that just happened.” Sometimes my stomach gets a little bit messed up after shows, but that’s just a “me” thing. I’m bringing Tums in preparation for that. 

Me and my guys, we practice really hard for it. At the end of the day, being up there is the fun part. There’s a lot of work put into it and it’s all worth it at the end of the day once you’re up there. 

KAK: Micah, can you talk a little bit about your song “My Process” and what the story is behind it?

ME: Being in Milwaukee and following the creative pursuit of music and trying to make it a career, sometimes you’ve got people who have a certain opinion on what you should be doing or where you should be. I’ve been told to move out of Milwaukee, and that there’s no way that I’m going to make it in music if I do what I’m trying to do in Milwaukee. But I feel with the internet age, you can do whatever you want.

Everybody has a different process at the end of the day. So I just really took that inspiration as, “You know what? It’s my process and everybody’s got their own. I’m gonna make mistakes along the way and that’s fine.”

KAK: Trapper, what advice do you have for an artist who’s playing the festival for the first time and really finding their place in music?

TS: I think you can’t take any of it too seriously. You can’t put too much weight on one gig. You don’t want to bring any of that nervous energy to the stage. 

Giving other musicians advice is really, really difficult because everyone has their own path. Look at my hero, Bob Dylan. By the time he was 20, he fled the Dairy State and the Midwest and went to New York City and things ended up pretty good for him. (But) I’m sticking around. I’ve now published a song with Bob Dylan about Wisconsin.

It’s very hard to gauge what anyone’s path should be other than your own. And even that can be difficult at times. … The first Summerfest, for me, was quite monumental in a way. But you don’t necessarily have to bring all those nerves to the stage either.

Milwaukee singer-songwriter Trapper Schoepp added lyrics and melody to the unfinished Bob Dylan song, “On, Wisconsin.” Schoepp collaborated with Dylan to take it to the finish and publish it in 2019.

KAK: Trapper, what role does Summerfest have in elevating up-and-coming Wisconsin musicians?

TS: If you’re from Wisconsin, everyone asks, “Are you playing Summerfest? Did you play Summerfest?” …. It is pretty funny actually, how you say you’re a musician to someone and they always jump straight to Summerfest. Does that happen with you, Micah?

ME: Definitely. I have people who are like, “Oh my goodness, I’m gonna take off work and come to the show.” And I’m like, “Wait, no, come to my album release party!”