Less than a mile from the festival grounds, the Milwaukee Art Museum’s architecture is almost as inspiring as the art inside. The striking exterior, designed by Santiago Calatrava, is topped with the Burke Brise Soleil, an airy, white pair of rooftop sails that open each morning and close as the sun sets.
“Come on, Amy, get up here!” yelled my friend Melanie, who was dancing on top of a picnic table. Why not? I asked myself before climbing up beside her to “shake my booty” to KC and the Sunshine Band. It was a clear day on Lake Michigan, the music was great, and I was with friends. What better reason to let loose?
Summerfest is just that kind of celebration, a festival where music lovers of all ages are drawn to dance by the summer sunshine, friendly atmosphere and terrific music. For 11 days, 800 bands fill 11 stages with live music. And visitors — elementary school children, teenagers, their parents and grandparents — listen to their favorite music before sampling a little of this and a little of that at 10 other stages.
I headed to Summerfest for one reason; I scored a ticket to the Marcus Amphitheater headliner concert, a trio of bands from my teenage years: Styx, Foreigner and Def Leppard. But Melanie told me that Summerfest was worth visiting for the lesser-known acts, too. My ticket allowed entrance for the whole day, so we made plans to meet.
All day long we wandered between live stages on the 75-acre festival grounds, located between downtown Milwaukee and Lake Michigan. The classic rock of Rhythm Method, a local group that Melanie knew, reminded us of our school days. The indie rock bands introduced us to groups we’d heard our kids talk about. The country bands didn’t inspire us, but we gave them a try anyway.
Between acts we munched on bratwurst and cheese curds and drank plenty of beer. (This is Milwaukee, after all.) We laughed aloud at 5-year-olds singing “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction” and chuckled at baby boomers getting down to “Whole Lotta Love” before wondering whether we looked like that, too. And we lost all track of time. ?
There’s more to Summerfest than music. Visitors amused themselves with batting cages, hole-in-one contests and kids’ games. But it’s music that makes Summerfest special, and I still had that headliner concert to look forward to.
At 7, I crowded into the Marcus Amphitheater with thousands of others. The crowd’s energy and the music’s volume intensified with the evening, which began with Styx’s “Come Sail Away,” and progressed to Foreigner’s “Double Vision” and “Head Games.” Finally Def Leppard, in too-tight white leather, begged us to “Pour Some Sugar on Me,” and there I was, jumping up and down, singing and whooping like a kid.
I left the concert, ears ringing, a little tipsy, singing my favorites while I walked to my downtown hotel. Visitors can return to their Milwaukee hotels via city shuttles all evening long, but Milwaukee is a straight-forward, safe city to walk, and I wanted to avoid the traffic snarls and walk off that last beer.
Festival organizers are always close-lipped about what each year’s musical lineup will include, revealing artists’ names slowly as performers commit. The first announced this year was Tim McGraw with Lady Antebellum, appearing June 24. Other names will be revealed as winter melts into spring until the lineup is complete in April or May.
But veteran fans don’t sweat these details. They know to expect top names. Previous performers include Taylor Swift, Stevie Wonder and Bob Dylan. And when the music is this good, you don’t need much more to celebrate.
Day passes $8 weekdays, $15 evenings and weekends, $3 for children and seniors. Free shuttles operate from downtown; others charge $3-$6. Check transportation options, buy discounted advance tickets and multiday passes, and view updated musical lineups at summerfest.com or call 414-273-2680.