Authors: Jake Walczyk & David Heinrich
For 11 days during the transition starting June 28th, over 900,000 people will walk the grounds of Henry Maier Festival Park in Milwaukee to celebrate summer with cold beer, delicious food, gorgeous views and, of course, great music. In case I didn’t make it clear enough, I am referring to the legendary Summerfest. Though this fest is widely known as “The World’s Largest Music Festival”, it has so much more to offer.
Summerfest is celebrating its 50th anniversary of bringing good times to the city of Milwaukee, so it would only be right to look back on the history of what has evolved into one of the most unique festivals today.
In the early 1960s, Mayor Henry Maier, who the park would later be named after, returned from a trip to Oktoberfest in Munich, inspired to bring back the festive celebration he had experienced abroad. After years of working with local business to create one big party, the “Milwaukee World Festival” was established. At the beginning, the festival was spread throughout the city, featuring film, music, food, and even an air show. A few years later, the festival was centralized into a single location. A former missile site would become the new permanent home for Summerfest.
Over the following 5 decades, Summerfest would be built into an absolute spectacle. Every year Summerfest makes it a mission to improve the festival experience even more. This is not only evident in new structural additions and activities, but also their consistently stacked lineups. You name a band, chances are they’ve played on those gorgeous summer shores of Milwaukee.
What Makes it Unique
Summerfest is not your typical festival. It is unique in that the experience can be personalized to fit any attendees’ needs.
At the park, you’ll be sure to see shirtless, hairy, older men that have been roasting in the sun all day as well as young business professionals in a shirt and tie taking a lunch break. On weekdays, tickets are a mere $13, which makes the festival extremely accessible and draws what seems to be the entire city. This is a far different case than other festivals which typically charge in the hundreds for 4 days of music. If you want to see the biggest show of the night, you can pay for separate tickets, but otherwise you can save your money and still listen to fantastic music.
At the park, you will see people on day 11 of the festival and those who are just going for one evening. Summerfest is unique in offering so many days of great music, which helps work with anyone’s hectic schedule.
At the park, there will be die hard country fans among rave babies and heavy metal rockers. Summerfest does not restrict itself to one genre. In fact, it encourages a diversity of musical acts, striving to satisfy any music lover’s needs. Most of their stages are relatively consistent with genres, making it easy to discover new music that fit your tastes, or explore artists unlike anything you have heard before.
At the park, you will never be bored. Every square foot of the festival grounds are used to maximize the fun. This includes having a miniature sports arena, street performers, artists, shops, adventurous food vendors, and much more. It would be a shame to go to Summerfest and not explore the 15 acre stretch of land. Not to mention the beautiful views of Lake Michigan on a warm summer night.
For such a low price, high schedule flexibility, music for everyone, and good vibes all around, it’s hard to think of reasons not to make the trip to Milwaukee to celebrate the happiest time of the year.
Artists to check out at Summerfest
The Grammy-winning Australian DJ Flume is this year’s Miller Lite Oasis headliner, and he is going to throw down. Touring with his excellent 2016 album Skin, his sets always bring the energy. Coupled with an incredible light show, Flume is not going to disappoint. Make sure you kick off your Summerfest right.
Car Seat Headrest
WSUM favorites Car Seat Headrest are making an appearance at Summerfest this year, one of many bookings that are out of the norm for the festival, but very welcome. These lo-fi indie rockers will take you on a rollercoaster of emotions and soaring melodies. Led by Will Toledo, these guys will put on a hell of a show. We didn’t name their 2016 release Teens of Denial our favorite album of 2016 for no reason.
Speaking of WSUM favorites, Whitney is also playing Summerfest this year. They’re brand of indie rock is a little different, but for fans of the band and newcomers, their intimate set at the Johnson Controls stage will leave everyone with a grin across their face. They headlined WSUM’s Snake on the Lake last fall, and I can’t wait to see them again this summer.
Swedish indie-pop trio Miike Snow is playing Summerfest this year as well. I wrote about Miike Snow when I covered Mamby on the Beach last week, and I can say that my second Miike Snow show blew me away, just like the first one. Their set of the 4th of July should not be missed.
Speaking of indie pop acts, Bleachers will also be in attendance. Frontman Jack Antonoff is a busy man, he released Bleachers’ second album Gone Now a few weeks ago, but also produced the excellent new album from Lorde, Melodrama. He’s also worked with and written for pop royalty like Taylor Swift, Carly Rae Jepsen, Grimes, and Sia.
Walk the Moon
Walk the Moon are making their triumphant return to the stage this summer. After a year-long hiatus from touring, they have only a few dates announced for this summer. I saw them at Mamby on the Beach last weekend, but Summerfest and Basilica Block Party are their only other two dates. These indie-pop rockers will lift your spirit as high as your hands can reach, and will make you dance until your feet are sore.
Lower down the lineup, you can find Big Thief. They’re truly a gem, a diamond in the rough. For fans of Mitski, Whitney, and Vagabon, Big Thief is for you. Two excellent albums (Masterpiece and Capacity) in two years will make for an unforgettable show.
I can’t stress this enough: Go. See. Saba. He brought the heat at Mamby on the Beach last weekend and surely will do so again at the Briggs and Stratton Big Backyard stage.
A great one-two punch on the 4th is WebsterX and Saba. They’re playing one after another, and will surely bring the energy. WebsterX is no stranger to Summerfest, he’s one of the brightest hip-hop talents to come out of Milwaukee in years.