The Festive Season
Think you know your way around a summer festival? Think again
by Amanda Petrusich
The world's largest music festival (a title bestowed, oﬃcially, by the Guinness Book of World Records in 1999), Summerfest unfolds over 11 days every June and July and attracts nearly one million fans to Henry Maier Festival Park in Milwaukee. From noon to midnight each day, festival-goers can wander between 11 stages (including the 23,000-capacity Marcus Amphitheater), sampling local food and admiring Lake Michigan's midsummer sparkle.
Unlike the scads of summer festivals focused on a single genre or demographic, Summerfest is populist at heart. Since 1968, the event has hosted an extraordinary range of performers, from Led Zeppelin to Dolly Parton to Prince to Britney Spears. And while its epic lineup (700-plus bands) always includes a few high-charting pop, country and rock acts (the Beach Boys, the Zac Brown Band and Iron Maiden are already confirmed for this year), there's something on the roster for nearly every set of ears. Accordingly, Summerfest rewards intrepid exploration: Parking yourself in the Amphitheater each night is tempting, but don't sleep on the smaller stages, which are often packed with up-and-comers (last year, Wiz Khalifa, Neon Trees, the Old 97s, Girl Talk, and Owl City all performed). Bob Babisch, Vice President of Entertainment for Summerfest, says that the festival is booked with a huge array of tastes in mind. "We have a very eclectic lineup. We pride ourselves as being a festival for the people, and as such we try to hit all genres of music almost every day."
Most festival sites are dismantled by the end of the weekend, but Summerfest benefits from having a permanent home. "As of this year, all of our main staging venues are permanent. Four of the stages have undercover seating. We have asphalt walkways and seating areas, as well as permanent bathroom buildings. Our patrons don't have to worry about mud or getting soaked when a storm hits," Babisch says. He recommends showing up early to check out local talent on the smaller stages (and to snag discounted admission rates) and downloading the oﬃcial Summerfest app (available for iPhone and Android), which will help you plot your day in advance. Babisch's final bit of Summerfest advice? "Make sure you sample some fine Milwaukee beer!"
When: June 27-July 1, July 3-8, 2012 (closed Monday)
What: Rock, hip hop, experimental/world
Why: World's largest music festival