Summerfest Music Festival logo.
|Location(s)||Henry Maier Festival Park, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, US|
|Years active||1968 - present|
|Date(s)||11 days - Starts the last Wednesday in June|
|Genre||Eclectic - From Alternative to Zydeco: Alternative, Americana, Bluegrass, Blues, Contemporary, Country, Electronic, Folk, Funk, Gospel, Hard rock, Metal, Hip hop, Indie, Jazz, Pop, R&B, Reggae, Rock|
Summerfest (also known as "The Big Gig") is a yearly music festival held at the 75-acre (30-hectare) Henry Maier Festival Park along the lakefront in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in the United States. The festival lasts for 11 days, is made up of 11 stages with performances from over 700 bands, and since the mid-1970s has run from late June through early July, usually including the 4th of July holiday. Summerfest attracts between 800,000 and 1,000,000 people each year, promoting itself as "The World's Largest Music Festival", a title certified by the Guinness World Records since 1999.
Summerfest is run by the non-profit organization Milwaukee World Festival, and features both local and nationally known music talent from a variety of music genres. The event also provides the opportunity to sample a wide variety of food from many Milwaukee-area restaurants. Other Summerfest attractions include comedy acts, shopping vendors, fireworks (including "The Big Bang" on opening night), other special attractions, family activities, and more.
Live musical acts are offered on 11 stages throughout the grounds from noon to midnight, including the 23,000-capacity Marcus Amphitheater. All shows are free with an admission ticket, with the exception of headlining acts at the Marcus Amphitheater. Admission is between US$11 and US$18, depending on the time of day. There are numerous promotions for discounted or free admission.
- 1 History
- 2 Stages
- 3 Concert history
- 4 See also
- 5 References
- 6 External links
Summerfest was conceived in the 1960s by then-mayor Henry W. Maier. Inspired by his visit to Oktoberfest in Munich, Germany, Maier envisioned a similar ethnic-themed festival in Milwaukee, and in 1962 formed a panel of business and civic leaders to study the feasibility of a large-scale summer festival. By the middle of the decade, the panel drew up a proposal for a 10-day multi-event festival with the proposed name of "Milwaukee World Festival," which was changed briefly in 1966 to "Juli Spaß" (German for "July Fun") and then to "Summerfest".
The inaugural Summerfest was held in July 1968 at 35 different locations throughout the city (including Milwaukee County Stadium and Milwaukee Arena), and its events ranged from concerts to a film festival, an air show, and even a pageant. The first Summerfest was regarded as a success; the second event in 1969, was less successful, as it was plagued by additional venues, inclement weather, and severe financial debt.
In 1970, a permanent central location was decided upon, and Summerfest moved to a former Nike missile site on the lakefront, where it continues to be held to this day. Also that year, Summerfest introduced its red "smiley face" logo, an insignia that has become synonymous with the event. The logo was designed by local graphic artist Noel Spangler.
It was also in 1970 that Henry Jordan became executive director of Summerfest, a title he held during the event's early years until his death in 1977. Another public face in that position was Elizabeth "Bo" Black, who became executive director in 1984. Through her fundraising and organizing, she became a local celebrity (and almost as much a recognizable part of Summerfest as the smiley face logo) until her departure in September 2003.
U.S. Cellular Connection
The U.S. Cellular Connection stage is a moderately-sized free stage at Summerfest, and is often host to alternative and indie music bands. It is partially sponsored by the local alternative music station, Milwaukee FM 102.1.
Potowatomi is the name of a local casino that provided monetary support to the summerfest administration. As of summer 2013, the Potowatomi stage was renamed the "Johnson Controls World Sound Stage."
The Tiki Hut is a small lakefront stage that often features local but talented acts, with genres ranging from acoustic to electronic funk. The area often serves as an oasis for concertgoers looking to get away from the crowds and heat from the larger stages. Unlike most other stages, a single band may perform more than one act per day for a block of three to four days, which aids in developing a local following. The performers on this, and many of the smaller stages usually work for tips, as they are not paid to be there. Two current mainstays and crowd favorites of the Tiki Hut are Roster McCabe, a high-energy Minneapolis-based rock/rap/reggae/funk/electronic fusion group and acoustic guitarist Dan Rodriguez.
Miller Lite Oasis
The Miller Lite Oasis stage is the largest stage inside the Summerfest grounds without having to pay the extra for the Marcus Amphitheatre headliner.
Like the Tiki Hut, the Refugee stage features local acts of a variety of genres. The Refugee stage is just 15 feet from Lake Michigan and is a popular place to feel the lake breeze on hotter summer days and meet the musicians.
The Marcus Amphitheater is an amphitheater on the south end of the Summerfest grounds. The amphitheater was built after an extremely overcrowded concert in 1984 to carry crowds of 25,000 fans during concerts. It was completed in 1987, with the principal contribution from the Marcus Corporation. It is the venue for headlining acts performing at Summerfest. It is also the host to a variety of concerts and events during the spring, summer and fall.
Harley-Davidson teamed up with Summerfest to completely renovate their stage and area footprint for the 2008 festival season. The renovation improved sight lines, sound and lighting, while also increasing the area's capacity and providing for improved traffic flow in and around the stage area. Upgrades included large video screens for image magnification of performances and a comfortable seating area at the lakefront.
Briggs & Stratton Big Backyard
BMO Harris Pavilion
In 2012, the BMO Harris Pavilion finished construction. The new pavilion and stage, designed by Epstein Uhen, features a swooshing wave-like roof and replaces the temporary Classic Rock Stage on the south end of the grounds. It is the main project of phase two of Summerfest's two-year, US$35,000,000 redevelopment project.
The pavilion features a 10,000-person capacity, including 5,000 seats. A 17-by-10-foot video screen has been added to enhance viewing for standing-room-only patrons. Additional amenities include a lakeside sit-down restaurant and a "club bar" – with room for 200 patrons and a commanding view of the stage – open to the public during unsold time periods. Plans are also in the works to book concerts at the pavilion outside of Summerfest. There have been complaints that this is now the first ticketed venue in what was a completely general admission festival since the beginning of Summerfest in 1968, besides Marcus Amphitheater.
Summerfest has been most famous for its music, ever since the first festival in 1968, when acts such as Ronnie Dove, The New Colony Six, and Up With People performed. In 1969, Led Zeppelin performed (see Midwest Rock Festival). Since then, musical acts from Bob Dylan, The Jonas Brothers, Maroon 5, Fun., Britney Spears, Tina Turner, and James Taylor to Christina Aguilera, Kanye West, Kid Cudi, Mary J. Blige, Wiz Khalifa, Imagine Dragons,and Nine Inch Nails have graced the Summerfest stages. Acts with Milwaukee and Wisconsin connections have had a prominent history at Summerfest, most notably the BoDeans, The Gufs, Danny Gokey, and Violent Femmes.
The concerts have been mostly civil events, with two notable exceptions. In 1970, a performance by the late-arriving Sly & the Family Stone nearly resulted in a riot. In 1973, a performance by Humble Pie & the Blackberries resulted in a riot, a bonfire, and about 300 arrests. As a result of the latter concert, organizers shied away from rock bands for several years, and established guidelines for "family-friendly" acts and a ban on alcohol brought in by patrons.
Live comedy acts have also been a part of Summerfest's history, even before a regular "Comedy Showcase" was first established in 1975. Bob Hope was the main headliner at Summerfest 1969, performing two shows at Milwaukee County Stadium. George Carlin (opening for Arlo Guthrie) performed his "Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television" routine at the 1972 event (and was subsequently arrested for violating obscenity laws). Prior to his arrest, he discarded a bag of cocaine to avoid further imprisonment.
Since 1975, comedy acts ranging from David Brenner and Henny Youngman to Jay Leno and Jon Stewart have performed at the event. Sandra Bernhard did TV and radio promos for its 1986 season when she was a performer there. Lewis Black has become a frequent performer at Summerfest, making near-annual performances since his first appearance in 1991.
- 1968 Bob Hope
- 1969 Dolly Parton
- 1970 Sly and The Family Stone
- 1972 The Doors
- 1973 Steve Miller Band
- 1974 Johnny Cash featuring June Carter Cash
- 1975 The Beach Boys
- 1976 Billy Crystal
- 1977 Willie Nelson
- 1978 Grateful Dead
- 1979 Charles Aznavor/Jane Olivor
- 1980 Kenny Loggins/Jim Messina
- 1981 George Thorogood and The Destroyers
- 1982 Santana
- 1983 Eric Clapton
- 1984 Huey Lewis and the News
- 1985 Bryan Adams
- 1986 The Go-Go's/INXS
- 1987 Paul Simon
- 1988 Sting
- 1989 Rod Stewart
- 1989 Richard Belzer
- 1990 Cher
- 1991 Whitney Houston
- 1992 Metallica
- 1993 Bon Jovi
- 1994 Janet Jackson
- 1995 Pearl Jam
- 1996 Alanis Morissette
- 1997 Dave Matthews Band
- 1998 Shania Twain
- 1999 Paul Simon/Bob Dylan
- 2000 Britney Spears
- 2001 Destiny's Child
- 2002 Nine Inch Nails
- 2003 Kenny Chesney/Keith Urban
- 2004 Prince (musician) & the New Power Generation
- 2005 John Mellencamp/John Fogerty
- 2006 Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers/Pearl Jam
- 2007 Steely Dan
- 2008 Stevie Wonder
- 2009 Bon Jovi/Soraia
- 2010 Tim McGraw/Lady Antebellum/Love and Theft
- 2011 Peter Gabriel and the New Blood Orchestra
- 2012 Rascal Flatts Lady Antebellum
- 2013 The Avett Brothers/Violent Femmes
- 2014 Bruno Mars and Lady Gaga
Summerfest never became the ethnic festival Henry Maier envisioned,[opinion][clarification needed] but other ethnic festivals are held at the festival grounds throughout the summer and into autumn, including: Polish Fest, Festa Italiana, German Fest, African World Festival, Irish Fest, Mexican Fiesta, Indian Summer, Asian Moon Festival, Arab World Fest, PrideFest, and several run/walk charity events.
Beginning in the winter of 1989-1990, Summerfest organizers staged a colder (in the literal sense) version of Summerfest, known as Winterfest. Rather than being chiefly set at Henry Maier Festival Park, the event took inspiration from Summerfest's early days and spread its music, comedy, and other events throughout several downtown Milwaukee locations, the central spot being an ice skating rink near Cathedral Square. Due largely to undesirable Milwaukee winters, Winterfest was never as profitable as its older summer counterpart, and ceased operations after the 1997-98 event.
- Official Summerfest Website
- OnMilwaukee.com - In Summerfest Guide Briefs - Total Summerfest attendance was...
- "My Midwest" Magazine - Fun in the Sun by Jeanette Hurt; May 1st, 2007
- http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_qn4196/is_20030913/ai_n10907152. Missing or empty
- "Summerfest: Gig has had many high notes". Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (Journal Interactive). 2007-06-28. Retrieved 2010-08-10. "Summerfest is all things to all ears - or at least, it tries to be. Of the major American music festivals, none paints with as broad a brush."
- "Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers to Headline Marcus Amphitheater During Summerfest '08". Summerfest.com. Retrieved 2011-06-03.
- "Bon Jovi to Headline Marcus Amphitheater During Summerfest 2009". Summerfest.com. Retrieved 2011-06-10.
- "Hard-rockin' Soraia warms up Summerfest for Bon Jovi". Madison.com. 2009-06-25. Retrieved 2011-06-10.
- "Tim McGraw to Headline Marcus Amphitheater During Summerfest 2010". Summerfest.com. Retrieved 2011-06-03.
- "Peter Gabriel to Headline Marcus Amphitheater During Summerfest 2011". Summerfest.com. Retrieved 2011-06-03.
- "Marcus Amphitheater Headliners". Milwaukee, WI: Summerfest 2012. June 27 - July 1, July 3–8, 2012. Retrieved 2012-07-06.
- "Summerfest announces 2014 lineup". Milwaukee, WI: USA Today. June 25-29 and July 1-6, 2014. Retrieved 2013-03-26.
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