Summerfest Celebrates 50 Years of Music

Article Contributed by L. Paul Mann | Published on Friday, July 28, 2017

The Summerfest in Milwaukee, Wisconsin celebrated its 50th anniversary this summer. The 11-day festival has been certified by the Guinness Book of World Records as the world's largest music festival. The festival features over a dozen stages large and small of entertainment along the lakefront Henry Maier Festival Park. This years festival saw attendance rise to over 830,000 people over the 11-day run. The festival, which ran from June 28th to July 9th featured headline acts from almost every musical genre including The Chili Peppers, Pink, The Chainsmokers, Zac Brown Band, Bob Dylan, Paul Simon, Big Sean and Migos, Willie Nelson, and an exclusive two night headline set by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, celebrating their 40th anniversary.

The festival opened June 29th to a squall that threatened to close down the event, with torrential rains, heavy winds, and potential tornado activity. But luckily, as the festival progressed the weather improved and attendance swelled. The festival runs for 11 of 12 summer days, shutting down on July 3rd so that the city can throw their July 4th fireworks spectacle. The festival reopens on July 4th, which is one of the best days to attend the festival. With many surrounding communities having their own July 4th activities, the crowds at the festival are much lighter than usual making it easier to move about and take advantage of all the festival has to offer. Summerfest is unlike any other music festival. The enormous musical offering is a secondary draw for the event, which is more of a beer drinking and food festival. With admission tickets starting at $13 or less with special offers, families arrive with children in toe to eat drink and just hang out at the 75-acre lake front park, which is a bit like a county fair but without the carnival rides and animals. Copious amounts of teenagers hang out to catch some of the music on the more than 12 stages. The day begins at noon with mostly bad cover bands, but by the time night falls headline acts start to appear on multiple stages at the same time. All the venues are free with fair admission except the central American Family Insurance Amphitheater. EDM hit makers The Chainsmokers headlined the Amphitheater on July 4th. But plenty of other good bands also played on July 4th at the other stages.

By late afternoon the Independence Day line up began to heat up. Chicago based R&B singer Jamila Woods had a primarily young crowd standing on the bleachers in front of one of the larger stages. The singer, backed by an energetic R&B band showcased her talents that have made her a favorite collaborator by Chicago Rap star Chance The Rapper. As the late summer sun began to set painting the Milwaukee skyline in an orange glow, DJ Dallas K was laying down dance tracks in the largest venue outside the amphitheater, the impressive open air BMO Harris Pavilion, with a stunning lake and city skyline view. As twilight fell, a far different sound was coming from the Harley Davidson Roadhouse Stage. The indie rockers Klangstof were laying down intricate jams. The band is a Dutch/Norwegian group composed of Koen van de Wardt, Wannes Salome, Jun Christian Villanueva and Jobo Engh. The multinational collaboration has led to an interesting take on Indie jam rock. At the same time on the next stage over another Chance The Rapper collaborator from Chicago, Saba, was riling up a mainly young crowd. Judging by the enthusiasm of the audience, rap music seemed to be the most popular genre of the July 4th line up.

Back at the Pavilion, Third Eye Blind was playing the headline set of the evening, celebrating their 20th anniversary. The now veteran post grunge rockers from Mississippi wowed the large crowd with their catchy hit songs. On the Harley Davidson Roadhouse stage, the Indietronica band from Sweden Mike Snow headlined a hot set of inspiring dance rock. On the other side of the sprawling festival grounds, Canadian pop singer Alessia Cara had amassed a large crowd of young fans for her set of catchy tunes. There were no real fireworks at the festival on July 4th, but there were plenty of musical ones with an incredibly diverse line up that kept stages alive all night long.