One of Milwaukee’s best kept secrets, if not the best.
It’s an annual eleven-day music festival held on the lakefront, and it’s known best for two things:
Every type of act imaginable is there, musical or otherwise (this year: Ben Harper, Paul Simon with Brian Wilson, Reel Big Fish, Prince, Blink 182 with New Found Glory, Lewis Black, Lifehouse, the Big Wu, Doobie Brothers, Everclear, Jonny Lang, and many more).
To add to the hot creamy goodness, each day there are ways to get in for free, like bringing in a non-perishable food item, donating money to muscular dystrophy, or showing your Piggly Wiggly savings card.
Long story… which I stole directly from their website (but on the plus side, it’s probably more accurate than the long story I would have told you):
Summerfest is an annual 11-day music blowout that takes place on 90 acres along the glistening shores of Lake Michigan in downtown Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Steeped in music history and tradition, many artists that have performed at Summerfest early in their career have gone on to become some of the top names in the music and entertainment industries.
The vision for Summerfest was the brainchild of the late Mayor Henry W. Maier in the 1960s. Following a visit to Ocktoberfest in Munich, Germany, Mayor Maier dreamed of a festival for the people of Milwaukee that would re-energize the downtown and provide a sense of community pride. His goal was also to offer those who were unable to afford grandiose vacations out-of-town the ability to have an affordable vacation right in their hometown during the height of the summer season.
The first Summerfest was held in 1968 at 35 separate locations throughout the downtown area. Crowds were enthusiastic and festival planners were encouraged, even though the first festival closed with a slim profit of less than $10,000. Summerfest `69 expanded to 60 locations, however it was plagued with inclement weather conditions, and heavy rains on the final day of the festival forced cancellation of all activities planned for that day. Facing $164,000 debt, civic leaders determined that change was mandated. The support and determination of the private sector to see the festival succeed is what essentially saved Summerfest.
In 1970, the festival moved to Milwaukee's lakefront. At the time, the site was an abandoned 15-acre Nike missile site that was drab and stark in appearance. Throughout the early 70's, the festival consisted of wooden platforms raised on concrete blocks, and festivalgoers were often forced to navigate muddy pathways when rainy weather tried to dampen spirits.
By the middle of this decade, permanent stages and structures made their appearance at the festival site, and more aesthetic improvements were made to the facility. The scent of success was in the air, as large crowds gathered to see unforgettable performances by Sarah Vaughn, Sly and the Family Stone, B.B. King, Jackson Five, Jose Feliciano, Little Richard, Bo Diddly, Dionne Warwick, Edgar Winter, Arlo Gutherie, The Doors, Sammy Davis Jr., Blood, Sweat and Tears, Isaac Hayes Movement, The O'Jays, Seals & Croft, Sha Na Na, Johnny Cash, James Taylor, Earth, Wind & Fire, Joan Baez, Bee Gees, Tony Bennett, Kris Kristofferson, Steve Miller Band, Marilyn McCoo & Billy Davis Jr., America, Willie Nelson, Bar-Kays and Cameo, Dolly Parton, Journey, Natalie Cole, The Beach Boys, Pointer Sisters, Allman Brothers Band, and the list goes on and on.
By the 1980s, more permanent stages and structures had appeared on the grounds, festival organizers had secured a long-term lease agreement with the City of Milwaukee for use of the land, and the future of Summerfest was bright. In 1983, turnstiles were added at the admission gates allowing for accurate tracking of attendance figures. In 1983 Summerfest recorded an attendance of 657,429 and by the end of the decade that number rose to 830,500. One of the most memorable improvements to the festival park was unveiled in 1987, when the Marcus Amphitheater, a 24,000-seat, state-of-the-art entertainment venue opened to host the top touring attractions in the world. The tradition of Summerfest featuring stellar entertainment continued throughout the 80s. Performers included Jackson Browne, Kenny Loggins, Squeeze, Chick Corea, Chubby Checker, Eddie Rabbit, Glen Campbell, Aretha Franklin, Peter, Paul & Mary, Billy Squire, Ramsey Lewis, Al Jarreau, Bonnie Raitt, The Commodores, Santana, Rick Springfield, Donna Summer, Hall & Oats, Eric Clapton, Stevie Ray Vaughan & Double Trouble, R.E.M., The Romantics, Tina Turner, Luther Vandross, Huey Lewis and the News, The Go-Go's, John Denver, New Edition, Bryan Adams, Survivor, Bon Jovi, The Violent Femmes, Los Lobos, Run DMC, Jimmy Buffett, Paul Simon, Whitney Houston, Stevie Wonder, Paula Abdul, Smokey Robinson, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, and hundreds of other artists who graced the Summerfest stages.
As the festival moved into the 90s, improvements to the Summerfest grounds continued to be made and the popularity of the festival continued to grow. New stage areas were constructed including the Leinie Lodge at the Koss Pavilion and the Pepsi Comedy Pavilion, a multi-purpose South Pavilion. The lakewalk on the north end of the festival site was completely re-landscaped, a new admission gate complete with an electronic signboard was erected at the north entrance to the facility, a permanent first-aid treatment center was introduced, a respite center was built, a new amphitheater roof was constructed, and a number of other improvements occurred throughout the 1990s. The hottest entertainers continued to fill the line-ups on the stages during Summerfest, earning the festival the 1999 Guinness Book of Records title as the "Biggest Music Festival." Chart-toppers including Fleetwood Mac, Depeche Mode, Anita Baker, Bruce Hornsby, M.C. Hammer, B-52's, Whitney Houston, Michael Bolton, The Judds, Warrant, Bell Biv DeVoe, Pearl Jam, Janet Jackson, Clint Black, Boyz II Men, Dave Matthews Band, Sting, John Mellencamp, Metallica, Tina Turner, BoDeans, Lauryn Hill, Blues Traveler, Stone Temple Pilots, Brandy, Shania Twain, James Taylor, Aretha Franklin, Paul Simon & Bob Dylan, Mary J. Blige, Counting Crows, R. Kelly, and many other world-renown artists were in the spotlight at the amphitheater during the 90s. The grounds stages hosted everyone from Collective Soul, Neville Brothers, Brian Setzer Orchestra, Hootie and the Blowfish, Lita Ford, Robert Cray, Chumbawamba, Third Eye Blind, Eddie Money, Fabulous Thunderbirds, Ted Nugent, Kansas, The Temptations, Blue Oyster Cult, and Buddy Guy to Smash mouth, Candlebox, Buckwheat Zydeco, Ziggy Marley and the Melody Makers, REO Speedwagon, Chicago, Morris Day and the Time, Foreginer, Vonda Shepard, and War.
Comedy has been a forte of the festival as well. A small sampling of the comic talents that have performed at Summerfest include Paul Rodriguez, Emo Philips, Will Durst, Judy Tenuta, Jay Leno, Joe Rogan, Tommy Davidson, Wendy Liebman, Sally Jessie Raphael, Willie Tyler & Lester Paula Poundstone, Adam Sandler, Jon Stewart, Father Guido, Weird Al Yankovic, Billy Crystal, Carrot Top, Gilbert Gottfried, Rita Rudner, Richard Belzer, and Victoria Jackson.
Today, nearly one million attendees visit Summerfest each year. The festival boasts 13 stages that are filled with exciting performances from 11:30 a.m. until midnight each day of the festival, and the lakefront location provides the perfect atmosphere for a summertime music extravaganza. Aside from the music, there's plenty of activities for children and families including a Children's Theater and PlayZone, water shows, sports demonstrations, an amusement ride park, shopping in three marketplaces, and much more.
In addition to a diverse assortment of music and comedy, the festival provides a smorgasbord of appetizing cuisine to tempt anyone's palate. Over 45 of Milwaukee's favorite dining establishments provide mouthwatering fare of every type. Whether it's Chinese, Greek, Mexican, German, Cajun, Italian, American, or Thai that you crave we offer it all. From pasta, pepper steak, tamales, pot stickers, and pizza to fried eggplant, shish-ke-bobs, crawfish, couscous, and bratwurst, Summerfest has selections that will satisfy your hunger. Plus, our vendors also offer plenty of vegetarian and heart-healthy dishes too. A plethora of delicious desserts are available to top-off any meal, and, of course, a wide-array of beverage selections are available, too.
Each year Summerfest provides exciting and affordable entertainment for all ages and musical tastes. If you've experienced it before you already know how magical it is. If you've never attended Summerfest, make plans to do so!
copyright 2001 MWF
(If you didn't read the whole thing I don't blame you, but I'd like to point out the fact that they listed Sally Jessie Rapheal as a comedy act... I love it.)