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Summerfest Music Festival logo.
Genre Eclectic - From Alternative to Zydeco: Alternative, Americana, Bluegrass, Blues, Contemporary, Country, Electronic, Folk, Funk, Gospel, Hard rock, Metal, Hip hop, Indie, Jazz, Pop, R&B, Reggae, Rock
Dates 11 days - Starts the last Wednesday in June
Location(s) Henry Maier Festival Park, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, US
Years active 1968 - present
Summerfest website
The Pabst Showcase located on the Henry W. Maier Festival Grounds during the 1994 Summerfest, with Downtown Milwaukee and Interstate 794 in the background.

Summerfest (also known as "The Big Gig") is a yearly music festival held at the 75-acre (30-hectare) Henry Maier Festival Park along the lakefront in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in the United States. The festival lasts for 11 days, is made up of 11 stages with performances from over 700 bands, and since the mid-1970s has run from late June through early July, usually including the 4th of July holiday.[1] Summerfest attracts between 800,000 and 1,000,000 people each year, promoting itself as "The World's Largest Music Festival", a title certified by the Guinness World Records since 1999.[2][3]

Summerfest is ruled by a non-profit board that hires the production staff to operate both the venue and main Summerfest event, which features local and nationally known music talent from a variety of music genres. The event also provides the opportunity to sample a wide variety of food from many Milwaukee-area restaurants. Other Summerfest attractions include comedy acts, shopping vendors, fireworks (including "The Big Bang" on opening night), other special attractions, family activities, and more.

Performing and Recording Artists make personal appearances on 11 sponsor-themed stages throughout the grounds from noon to midnight, including the 23,000-capacity Marcus Amphitheater. All shows are free with an admission ticket, with the exception of headlining acts at the Marcus Amphitheater. Admission is between US$11 and US$18, depending on the time of day. There are numerous promotions for discounted or free admission.[4]


  • History 1
  • Stages 2
    • U.S. Cellular Connection 2.1
    • Potowatomi/Johnson Controls 2.2
    • Tiki Hut 2.3
    • Miller Lite Oasis 2.4
    • Refugee 2.5
    • Marcus Amphitheater 2.6
    • Harley-Davidson Roadhouse 2.7
    • Briggs & Stratton Big Backyard 2.8
    • BMO Harris Pavilion 2.9
  • Concert history 3
    • Opening headliners 3.1
    • Winterfest 3.2
  • See also 4
  • References 5
  • External links 6


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 artist Noel Spangler.

It was also in 1970 that

  • Official Summerfest website
  • Retrospectives by Dave Tianen in the June 24, 2007 and June 28, 2007 Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
  • "Fun in the Sun" by Jeanette Hurt from Midwest Airlines "My Midwest" Magazine.

External links

  1. ^ Official Summerfest Website
  2. ^ - In Summerfest Guide Briefs - Total Summerfest attendance was...
  3. ^ "My Midwest" Magazine - Fun in the Sun by Jeanette Hurt; May 1st, 2007
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  14. ^ "Summerfest: Gig has had many high notes". Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (Journal Interactive). 2007-06-28. Retrieved 2010-08-10. 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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  18. ^ "Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers to Headline Marcus Amphitheater During Summerfest '08". Retrieved 2011-06-03. 
  19. ^ "Bon Jovi to Headline Marcus Amphitheater During Summerfest 2009". Retrieved 2011-06-10. 
  20. ^ "Hard-rockin' Soraia warms up Summerfest for Bon Jovi". 2009-06-25. Retrieved 2011-06-10. 
  21. ^ "Tim McGraw to Headline Marcus Amphitheater During Summerfest 2010". Retrieved 2011-06-03. 
  22. ^ "Peter Gabriel to Headline Marcus Amphitheater During Summerfest 2011". Retrieved 2011-06-03. 
  23. ^ "Marcus Amphitheater Headliners". Milwaukee, WI: Summerfest 2012. June 27 - July 1, July 3–8, 2012. Retrieved 2012-07-06. 
  24. ^ "Summerfest announces 2014 lineup". Milwaukee, WI: USA Today. June 25–29 and July 1–6, 2014. Retrieved 2013-03-26. 
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See also

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 near Cathedral Square. Due largely to undesirable Milwaukee winters, Winterfest was never as profitable as its older summer counterpart, and ceased operations after the 1997-98 event.

1997-1998 web banner for Winterfest


Summerfest never became the ethnic festival Henry Maier envisioned, but other ethnic festivals are held at the festival grounds throughout the summer and into autumn, including: Polish Fest, Festa Italiana, German Fest, African World Festival, Irish Fest, Mexican Fiesta, Indian Summer, Asian Moon Festival, Arab World Fest, PrideFest, and several run/walk charity events.

  • 2015 [25]


Opening headliners

For 2015, Linkin Park and Florida Georgia Line have been announced as headliners.[17]

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.[16]

The concerts have been mostly civil events, with two notable exceptions. In 1970, a performance by the late-arriving 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.[15]

Summerfest has been most famous for its music, ever 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,and Nine Inch Nails 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.

Concert history

The pavilion features a 10,000-person capacity, including 5,000 seats. A 17-by-10-foot video screen has been added to enhance viewing for standing-room-only patrons. Additional amenities include a lakeside sit-down restaurant and a "club bar" – with room for 200 patrons and a commanding view of the stage – open to the public during unsold time periods. Plans are also in the works to book concerts at the pavilion outside of Summerfest.[12] There have been complaints that this is now the first ticketed venue in what was a completely general admission festival since the beginning of Summerfest in 1968, besides Marcus Amphitheater.[13]

In 2012, the BMO Harris Pavilion finished construction. The new pavilion and stage, designed by Epstein Uhen, features a swooshing wave-like roof and replaces the temporary Classic Rock Stage on the south end of the grounds. It is the main project of phase two of Summerfest's two-year, US$35,000,000 redevelopment project.

BMO Harris Pavilion

In 2011, a renovated Briggs & Stratton Big Backyard stage opened.[10][11]

Briggs & Stratton Big Backyard

Harley-Davidson teamed up with Summerfest to completely renovate their stage and area footprint for the 2008 festival season. The renovation improved sight lines, sound and lighting, while also increasing the area's capacity and providing for improved traffic flow in and around the stage area. Upgrades included large video screens for image magnification of performances and a comfortable seating area at the lakefront.[9]

Harley-Davidson Roadhouse

The Marcus Amphitheater is an amphitheater on the south end of the Summerfest grounds. The amphitheater 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. It is the venue for headlining acts performing at Summerfest. It is also the host to a variety of concerts and events during the spring, summer and fall.

Marcus Amphitheater

Like the Tiki Hut, the Refugee stage features local acts of a variety of genres. The Refugee stage is just 15 feet from Lake Michigan and is a popular place to feel the lake breeze on hotter summer days and meet the musicians.


The Miller Lite Oasis stage, completed in 2006, is the largest stage inside the Summerfest grounds without having to pay the extra for the Marcus Amphitheatre headliner.

Miller Lite Oasis

The Tiki Hut is a small lakefront stage that often features local but talented acts, with genres ranging from acoustic to electronic funk. The area often serves as an oasis for concertgoers looking to get away from the crowds and heat from the larger stages. Unlike most other stages, a single band may perform more than one act per day for a block of three to four days, which aids in developing a local following. The performers on this, and many of the smaller stages usually work for tips, as they are not paid to be there. Two current mainstays and crowd favorites of the Tiki Hut are Roster McCabe, a high-energy Minneapolis-based rock/rap/reggae/funk/electronic fusion group and acoustic guitarist Dan Rodriguez.

Tiki Hut

Potowatomi is the name of a local casino that provided monetary support to the summerfest administration. As of summer 2013, the Potowatomi stage was renamed the "Johnson Controls World Sound Stage."[8]

Potowatomi/Johnson Controls

The U.S. Cellular Connection stage is a moderately-sized free stage at Summerfest, and is often host to alternative and indie music bands. It is partially sponsored by the local alternative music station, Milwaukee FM 102.1.

U.S. Cellular Connection

Uline Warehouse Located on the north end of the grounds, the Uline Warehouse can host approximately 5,000 - 6,000 fans and features an eclectic mix of acts from various genres including classic rock, country, hard rock, blues and jam bands.


Summerfest celebrated its 40th anniversary in 2007. The event's history was the subject of "Summerfest Stories", a documentary that aired in June 2007 on Milwaukee Public Television.[7]


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