Milwaukee’s annual Summerfest boasts the title of ‘world’s largest music festival,’ and it earns that claim by lasting a whopping two weeks (most fests are just a few days) and bringing in a wide variety of genres for its many stages. For a website that has been to SXSW, Lollapalooza and more, we must say that Summerfest is really in a league of its own – it’s like nothing else we’ve experienced. As Summerfest first timers, here’s a brief recap of what we experienced and loved on the first day and what other Summerfest goers can expect:
Fest Fare: Taste Milwaukee’s Finest
When people think Wisconsin they think cheese, but when you’re in Milwaukee, it’s all about the beer. If you’re a local, Summerfest has all your favorites covered. If you’re an out-of-towner, Summerfest is a great place to stick with the Milwaukee brews you know such as Miller or Leinenkugel or try one of the more localized microbrews that are harder to find outside the region such as New Glaurus. For the underaged festival attendees, Summerfest had fun root beer shaped booths with soda and plenty of fresh lemonade options.
The food options were also a great introduction to Milwaukee local spots. You could try La Perla’s Mexican Food or get familiar with Milwaukee’s German roots and try Mader’s. The most popular food item had to have been corn on the cob though – practically anyone who was eating on the go was enjoying one of those summer treats. I loved seeing that the fest food was all local, but I would have liked to have seen some more veggie options on some of the menus. Vegetarian options exist at Summerfest, but are a bit trickier to find at the local booths.
A Lakeside View
Summerfest is wedged in South Milwaukee in between the Historic Third Ward and Lake Michigan. It’s long angle means the view of the Milwaukee skyline is a bit obstructed, but for those wanting a lakeside view, Summerfest has you covered. Half of the attendees looking for a break from the music or the big crowds found spots on the rocks by the lake, sitting and watching boaters as they passed by. The lake breeze helped cool festival goers off and added a sense of serenity that’s missing from some other festivals.
For those looking for an alternate view of festival, Summerfest has a skytram that runs the length of the grounds. This was probably my favorite non-music treat of the festival as it helped me scope out where the stages were, what other activities there were at Summerfest (wheelchair basketball, face painting, etc). Especially for a first time Summerfester, the sky ride was a must for becoming acquainted with Summerfest.
Sense of Community
At Midcoast Station, we’ve been to several festivals, but Summerfest really felt more like a community event than the other fests we frequented. In addition to the local pride found with the food and drink options, the people there were bursting with Milwaukee pride – this is the only fest where motorcycle love is given such prominence: an indication of the love for local company Harley Davidson. They not only had their own stage, but their own up close motorcycle parking.
Also, there were more families here than any other fest I’ve been to – that’s possibly why the children’s playground is smack in the center when you walk into the grounds. Summerfest did a good job finding family friendly stages and providing lots of activities for small children that might tire of the bands.
Pitchfork is pretty much only indie bands. Coachella and Lollapalooza tend to go more indie, rock and a few pop acts. Bonnaroo goes a bit more indie rock with jam bands. But no line-up is as diverse as Summerfest’s. Indie rock? Stick with an emerging artists stage like the US Cellular Stage. But if you wanted something harder you could just walk to the next stage. If you’re with your parents, maybe you’d hit up Marcus Amphitheater for Chicago or the Beach Boys. Maybe you were in the mood to dance so you went to Lupe Fiasco or you straight up wanted to rock out to the Foo Fighters. Pop music fan? Kelly Clarkson had you covered. No matter what your interest, there was at least one band that caters to you during Summerfest two weeks.
I’m pretty much an indie rock gal myself, so I found myself hanging around the US Cellular Stage opening day for smaller, less well-known bands like Walk the Moon and Ready Goes. If you haven’t seen Walk the Moon, they’re an Ohio band known for painting their faces and playing upbeat indie rock. They had an easy time getting the crowd to sing along with songs like “I Can Lift a Car” and “Anna Sun.” I personally love the fun rhythms and little yelps of “Quesadilla” and their Fleet Foxes cover was superb. Before them, Minnesota’s Ready Goes played a fun set akin to the glamorous performances of Neon Trees. Keep an eye out for both Ready Goes and Walk the Moon – with the hooks and stage presence that both of these bands have, they’re going places.
Finally, the best part about Summerfest’s kick-off was the fireworks show. This is a display that could rival most Independence Day shows. The fireworks display lasted about 30 minutes and everyone lined up along the lake, looking out over the dark waters to watch the fireworks light up in the night sky. The view was unpolluted by city lights and was quite simply a blast to watch. It was a perfect closing to the first day of the festival.