|Genre||Alternative, Americana, Bluegrass, Blues, Contemporary, Country, Electronic, Folk, Funk, Gospel, Hard rock, Metal, Hip hop, Indie, Jam band, Jazz, Pop, R&B, Reggae, Rock, Zydeco|
|Dates||11 days (Starts last Wednesday in June annually)|
|Location(s)||Henry Maier Festival Park|
Milwaukee, Wisconsin, United States
|Years active||1968–2019, 2021–|
|Attendance|| 409,386 (2021) |
Summerfest is an annual music festival held in downtown Milwaukee, Wisconsin. First held in 1968, Summerfest is located at Henry Maier Festival Park, adjacent to Lake Michigan and Milwaukee's central business district. Summerfest attracts approximately 800,000 people each year, promoting itself as "The World's Largest Music Festival", a title certified by Guinness World Records in 1999, but has been surpassed in attendance by Donauinselfest with over 3 million in 2015.
During Summerfest, the 75-acre (30-hectare) park hosts performances over 11 days, from late June until early July (including the Fourth of July). The festival includes 12 stages with over 1000 performances. The performers include local and nationally known music talent from various genres, performing throughout the grounds from noon to midnight, including the 23,000-capacity American Family Insurance Amphitheater. Since 2004, nearly $150 million has been invested into Henry Maier Festival Park, including permanent stages, bars, production space, VIP amenities and other infrastructure.
Summerfest also showcases a wide variety of food from many Milwaukee-area restaurants. Other Summerfest attractions include shopping vendors, fireworks (including "The Big Bang" on opening night), family activities, and more. Summerfest is operated by Milwaukee World Festival, Inc. a non-profit organization, which is governed by a volunteer board of directors.
In its 50+ year history, Summerfest has hosted a variety of well-known artists, including Paul McCartney, the Rolling Stones, Tina Turner, Metallica, Whitney Houston, Stevie Wonder, Kenny Chesney, Aerosmith, Bruno Mars, Lady Gaga, and Dave Matthews Band.
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, produced by Dee Robb and Con Merten 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 artists Noel Spangler and Richard D. Grant.
It was also in 1970 that Henry Jordan, former Green Bay Packers defensive tackle, became executive director of Summerfest, a title he held during the event's early years until his death in 1977. After a few other businessmen were hired by the board for the executive director's job, Elizabeth "Bo" Black, who was formerly Henry Jordan's secretary, became executive director in 1984 after a ten-year lobbying effort.
The event has not been without its controversy. On December 9, 2002, Lee Gates commented in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel about the lack of opportunity to play at Summerfest. "I don't get the credit I deserve here. I've been playing 50-something years. There's discrimination at Summerfest. I shouldn't need to have a CD out to be paid $700 at Summerfest. If they want you to have CDs, they should pay you like they pay the professional people."
In 2015, Milwaukee World Festival, Inc and ReverbNation announced a three-year agreement to use the online service as an audition to give musicians a chance to perform. Summerfest wanted to provide an opportunity for performers to get a chance to be one of the 800+ acts and allow new talent to be seen by over 900,000 people that attend.
2020 saw the COVID-19 pandemic as grounds for scrapping the concert part & moving others online.
Summerfest Attendance Since 1995
Summerfest attendance peaked in 2001 at 1,000,563 attendees.
Stages and other venues
The Summerfest grounds include seven permanent stages and two pavilions that can be converted to stages (Johnson Controls World Sound Stage and the South Pavilion).
|American Family Insurance Amphitheater||23,000||Previously known as the "Marcus Amphitheater", it 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. In 2019 Crews successfully raised the roof of the American Family Insurance Amphitheater to almost twice the height of the current roof, from 39 feet to 65 feet. The backstage building was also rebuilt, offering new artist amenities. The second phase of work on the new American Family Insurance Amphitheater will be completed in time for Summerfest 2020. Featuring a new seating bowl configuration and raised stage to allow for better sightlines, enhanced accessibility, expanded concourses, new video screens, reimagined food and beverage operations, new VIP hospitality areas, additional restrooms, and much more.|
|BMO Harris Pavilion||10,000||Designed and built in 2012 the venue features an iconic, wave-inspired roof, which covers more than an acre of space (approximately 50,000 square feet) and provides protection from the elements for approximately 5,000 guests with high-quality permanent seats and bleachers with backrests and another 5,000 guests in its standing room viewing area adjacent to the venue and outside of the roofline.|
|Miller Lite Oasis||11,400||Completed in 2006. The largest stage inside the Summerfest grounds that is accessible without having to pay extra for the American Family Insurance Amphitheatre headliner. A renovation of the Miller Lite Oasis stage was completed for Summerfest 2017. Additions to the stage footprint include the "longest bar on the grounds", fresh hops growing alongside the stage, a second VIP deck, and handicap accessibility near the front of the stage. Citation|
|Generac Power Stage||11,000||Previously known as Harley-Davidson Roadhouse, it was renovated in 2008. In 2021, it was renovated and renamed Generac Power Stage.|
|Briggs and Stratton Big Backyard||8,600||In 2011, a renovated Briggs & Stratton Big Backyard stage opened. Its capacity ranges from 6,000 to 8,000.|
|U.S. Cellular Connection Stage||5,700||Renovated in 2018, the U.S. Cellular® Connection Stage provides a view of Lake Michigan, a 25-foot LED screen – the largest screen on the grounds, benches with charging amenities along the lakefront, a new bar area, and improved walkway access for fans. iHeartMedia, including FM 106.1, is the media partner of the stage.|
|Uline Warehouse||7,300||Located on the north end of the grounds, the Uline Warehouse stage was rebuilt in 2019. The stage features a mix of acts from various genres including classic rock, country, hard rock, blues, and jam.|
|Johnson Controls World Sound Stage||3,200||The Johnson Controls World Sound Stage lineup hosts a mix of acts spanning genres including R&B, blues, world beat, and soul.|
|JoJo's Martini Lounge||Located near the American Family Insurance Amphitheater, JoJo's Martini Lounge with Miller Lite is a popular hot spot, offering JoJo's specialty martinis and great local entertainment.|
|Klement's Sausage and Beer Garden||The Klement's Sausage and Beer Garden stage, located on the North End of Henry Maier Festival Park, features acoustic music daily, spotlighting local artists. Modeled as a “backyard” picnic-style area, there is a seated lounge area, picnic tables, and barbeque grills, as well as locations to purchase Klement's products.|
|Gruber Law Offices Sportszone||Located near the Mid Gate along the lakefront it is the ultimate place for sports fans. The area offers interactive daily programming including sports demonstrations from professional teams, children's games, and health and fitness activities.|
|South Pavilion||2,700||Hosts no permanent stage.|
|Other||N/A||Other venues include the Tiki Hut (a small lakefront stage often featuring local acts such as Roster McCabe and (formerly) Ari Herstand), the Ground Floor Stage, the 2nd Floor Stage, and the "DIY" Rebel Stage.|
Concert history year by year
Summerfest has been most famous for its music since the first festival in 1968, when acts such as Ronnie Dove, The New Colony Six, The Robbs and Up With People performed. 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, Nine Inch Nails, Billie Eilish, Willie Nelson, the Rolling Stones, and Paul McCartney 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 & Jo Jo Gunne 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. This was properly managed when Henry Jordan found the experienced managers: Joel Gast and Lou Volpano, to manage entertainment in-house, eliminating Cleveland's Jules Belkin Promotions, who were hired by Board Members Bernie Samson and Steve Marcus. Also at that time local manager Volpano was hired specifically to improve production and book international superstars on what was a mere Local Rock Stage, where then the Ramones, UFO, and Judas Priest headlined 
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.
|2015||Linkin Park, Keith Urban, Ed Sheeran, Florida Georgia Line, Zac Brown Band, Kings of Leon, Kendrick Lamar, The Rolling Stones, Stevie Wonder, Neil Young, Carrie Underwood, and The Avett Brothers||The Rolling Stones performed its first Milwaukee concert in 10 years as part of the Zip Code Tour.|
|2016||Selena Gomez, Pitbull, Blake Shelton, Chris Stapleton, Tim McGraw, Blink-182, Def Leppard, REO Speedwagon, Luke Bryan, Paul McCartney, Weezer, Panic! at the Disco, Sting, and Peter Gabriel.|
|2017||Red Hot Chili Peppers, Luke Bryan, Brothers Osborne, Paul Simon, Zac Brown Band, P!nk, The Chainsmokers, Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, Chris Stapleton, Dierks Bentley, Jon Pardi, Cole Swindell, Future, Big Sean, Migos, Willie Nelson, Bob Dylan, Sheryl Crow, Margo Price, Promise of the Real, Steve Miller Band, A Day to Remember, Atmosphere, Walk the Moon, Shinedown, Andy Grammer, Third Eye Blind, The Band Perry, Philip Phillips, Collective Soul, Blues Traveler, Spin Doctors, Tonic, Soul Asylum, Los Lonely Boys, Peter Frampton, Huey Lewis & the News, Toto, REO Speedwagon, and John Waite.|
|2018||James Taylor & Bonnie Raitt, Halsey & Logic, Arcade Fire, Florida Georgia Line, Dave Matthews Band, Blake Shelton, J. Cole, Journey and Def Leppard, The Weeknd, and Imagine Dragons, A Flock Of Seagulls, Shawn Mendes with Charli XCX, Marshmello, Lil Uzi Vert, Steven Tyler, Kesha, Jason Isbell and the 400 unit, Aless, The Flaming Lips, Pixies, Greta Van Fleet, Foster the People, Billie Currington, Janelle Monáe, Jethro Tull, Tory Lanez, Kip Moore, Kaleo, The Neighbourhood, Rachel Platten, Louis the Child, PHANTOGRAM, Cheap Trick, Grizzly Bear, Spoon, Borns, Yonder Mountain String Band, The Fray, Buddy Guy, Kane Brown, Slightly Stoopid, Maze featuring Frankie Beverly, Cheat Codes, Chromeo, O.A.R., Jon Batist with The Dap-Kings, GoldLink, Machine Gun Kelly, Timeflies, Nelly, Brett Young, Benjamin Booker, Capital Cities, Judah & The Lion, Victor Manuelle, George Thorogood & The Destroyers, Social Distortion, Gavin DeGraw, Echosmith, Rick Springfield, and more.|
|2019||Thomas Rhett with Dustin Lynch & Russell Dickerson, Willie Nelson & Family, Phil Lesh & Friends, The Avett Brothers, Counting Crows, Alison Krauss, Dawes, Trapper Schoepp, Jason Aldean with Kane Brown and Carly Pearce, Bon Iver with Lord Huron & Julien Baker, Zac Brown Band with Drake White, Lionel Richie with Michael McDonald, Jennifer Lopez, The Killers with Death Cab for Cutie, Lil Wayne, Billie Eilish, Snoop Dogg, and ScHoolboy Q. Ground stage 2019 performances included rock artists Chicago, Foreigner, Loverboy, Styx, & 38 Special. Pop artists Jason Mraz, Walk the Moon, Third Eye Blind, Jimmy Eat World, 3 Doors Down, X Ambassadors, Switchfoot, Skillet, and Collective Soul, Brandi Carlile, Cole Swindell, The Head and the Heart, The Lonely Island, A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie, Lizzo, The National, Steve Aoki, Brothers Osborne, Young The Giant, Sublime with Rome, Courtney Barnett, Quinn XCII, Atmosphere, T-Pain, Vic Mensa, Taking Back Sunday, Rodrigo y Gabriela, Dashboard Confessional, Judah & the Lion, Catfish and the Bottleman, Chaka Khan, Frenship, Chris Janson, Elle King, Gryffin, Dispatch, Chase Rice, August Burns Red, St. Paul & the Broken Bones, Hanson, LANCO, Daya, Chelsea Cutler, lovelytheband, Chris Robinson Brotherhood, Semisonic, COIN, La Sonora Poncena, The Roots, Matoma, Neon Trees, Bone Thugs-n-Harmony, Lake Street Dive, Ludacris, Los Lonely Boys, Jimmy Allen, and more.|
|2020||NONE||COVID-19 pandemic concerns caused its cancellation.|
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 in Cathedral Square Park. Due largely to undesirable Milwaukee winters, Winterfest was never as profitable as its older summer counterpart, and ceased operations after the 1997-98 event. However, the Cathedral Square rink has remained a yearly tradition long after the end of Winterfest.
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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.
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