Do you know about Summerfest, Milwaukee’s annual summer concert? I didn’t even though it is apparently the largest music festival in the entire world (according to the Guinness Book of World Records. When Visit Milwaukee invited to me attend I was of course psyched, but mostly just because I wanted to see Tom Petty (I love my classic rock).
Then I actually experienced Summerfest, first with a behind the scenes tour and then with a long afternoon and evening wandering the fair grounds. It was surprisingly amazing! Loud and crowded shows are not usually my thing, but Summerfest was not your typical music festival, and here is why:
As you might have guessed from it’s aforementioned world record, Summerfest is a very, very large festival. Spread out over 11 days, this year’s festival featured over 700 bands and attracted just shy of one million visitors!
Because it’s such a major event, Summerfest has it’s own show grounds, the Henry Maier Festival Park. The park holds other events throughout the year but it was built specifically to accommodate Summerfest. It has 11 stages ranging from tiny to very very large (the biggest seats 23,000 people!).
How big are the concert grounds? Big enough that you can take a chair lift from one end of the park to the other (the view alone is totally worth the $4).
This year a day’s admission to Summerfest ran between $8 and $17. Less if you joined one of the many promotions giving away cheap or discounted tickets. I’ve been to a lot of concerts and, with the exception of Virgin Mobile FreeFest, you won’t find a better deal than that!
For that amount you have free run of the park and 10 of the 11 stages. Some of the bands playing throughout the day included Imagine Dragons, Gavin DeGraw, Styx and Bad Religion. Plus dozens of other big name performers. Mike and I managed to catch LL Cool J, some country duo and Cake (highly recommended: they always put on a terrific performance).
If you want to see the headliners you’ll have to shell out a bit more. Tickets for the Tom Petty concert we attended in the Marcus Amphitheater were going for $100+. Other headliners this year included New Kids on the Block (!), The Eagles and and Fun.
From the names mentioned above you can probable glean that Summerfest doesn’t stick to any one type of music. Different stages were devoted to genres like world music, country, indie rock and rap. It was pretty neat to walk from pavilion to pavilion and hear the many different types of music blasting. My favorite small stage was the Tiki Hut, where a duo were performing sweet little indie songs. Then we ate lunch at the sports area and watched local students perform Irish stepdancing.
It’s Family Friendly
Oddly, my favorite thing about Summerfest (maybe about Milwaukee in general) was how wholesome it all seemed. Sure the Cake set was populate with underage teenagers drunk off their faces, but we also saw tons of families with small children wandering the festival grounds, happily eating fried cheese curds and hot dogs. Although visitors come from all over the world it’s mostly popular with locals from Milwaukee and Chicago who all seemed to be really enjoying their warm summer evening outside.
We were there on a Friday night, what I assume is one of the most crowded moments of the festival but the space was so big we didn’t feel cramped at all. Everyone seemed to be having a good time. We definitely did too.
Have you been to Summerfest?
I visited Milwaukee as a guest of Visit Milwaukee. All classic rock enthusiast opinions are my own.