Why Summerfest Isn’t Your Typical Music Festival

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:

It’s Enormous

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).

It’s Cheap

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.

It’s Diverse

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.

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11 thoughts on “Why Summerfest Isn’t Your Typical Music Festival”

  1. Coming from Milwaukee I’ve grown up with this festival but now as I travel I’m surprised by the number of people that had never heard of it! I actually started to doubt it’s claim as the “worlds largest”. Glad to see it getting some credit, great article!

  2. Can’t say I have heard it before but look like one to put on the do list. Planning a road tip of the states next year, we got a great deal from Tour America.

    My to do list is getting very long..

  3. Cake was just at our local outdoor music festival this past Friday – I had a ticket and did not go because it was pouring rain… now I kind of regret it! Luckily the festival is still going on this week – so I do get to see Steve Miller Band on Friday – maybe it will make up for missing out. I hear they put on a great show!

  4. Wow, I can’t believe I’ve never heard of this before! It looks incredible. I like that it’s remained cheap, with most festivals there seems to be a distinct correlation between popularity and price.

  5. Honestly I had no idea this festival existed until I read this post about it. Milwaukee. I love every type of music, so the diversity factor seems pretty cool to me.

  6. Summerfest has really been changing throughout the years, but it still has somewhat of a family-friendly vibe. Ever since I was born, my parents would take me each year. They used to have a lot more activities for children, such as petting zoos, playground areas, circus acts, and craft centers, etc.

    It’s always a highlight of summer for me–and even though I’ve missed these past 2 years, I’m excited to resume my yearly tradition (hopefully) next summer!

  7. $8-17? Holy moly, that is a steal. And that chair lift! This would be so cool to see. Maybe I’ll try to head out that way next summer. How was the weather? I hope it wasn’t too hot, because that many people probably wouldn’t make that a pleasant experience. 😉

    1. It was around 80 during the day, slightly cooler at night. They are near Lake Michigan so there was a pretty nice breeze!

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