It’s mid-June in Milwaukee. Amid the shining sun and hot pavement, a familiar scene plays out.
All over the city, officials and city workers are scrambling to get the information out, not just to concerned citizens, but to the rest of the world. Buses are being rerouted. Highways that have been closed for over a year are being reopened; some say, just in time.
For those who don’t understand the meaning of that goofy red smiley face, it’s simple. Since 1968, Milwaukee has played host to a summer music festival called Summerfest; since 1970, that smiley face has served as the festival’s logo.
Since 1999, it’s held the Guinness World Record for the title of “World’s Largest Music Festival” every year; this year, it expects to bring in between 800,000 and 1 million visitors.
Held at the Henry Maier Festival Park on the Third Ward’s lakefront edge over the course of 11 days in late June and early July (including Independence Day), and spanning 11 stages, 700 bands, arguably the state’s largest fireworks display (The Big Bang), and dozens of food venues, the “Big Gig” has earned its place as one of the must-see summer attractions of Milwaukee.
From headliner acts including The Rolling Stones, Kings of Leon, and Florida Georgia Line, to free stage acts like Walk the Moon (a personal favorite of mine since I first heard them perform Anna Sun at the Fest years ago), Weird Al Yankovic, and Lindsey Stirling, to sideshow performers, robotics demonstrations, weightlifting displays, kids shows, face painting, merchandise booths, local microbrew vendors, and so on, it’s Milwaukee’s musical equivalent of New Orleans’ Mardi Gras (just a lot cleaner and with slightly less public debauchery).
And the food is fantastic.
Henry Maier Festival Park plays host to dozens of food vendors during the festival, from permanent and semi-permanent fixtures such as Kokopelli’s Pub, Saz’s, and Mader’s, to lemonade and hot dog carts, chain restaurants like Qdoba and Wendy’s (ehhh), slushie vendors, and the delightful portable booth of Sil’s Mini Donuts (a Milwaukee favorite, forced to leave their drive-thru building on North and Oakland a few years ago, citing rising costs).
This year is special for Sydney and I; it’s the first year that she’ll be 21, and her birthday is the first day of Summerfest. While we aren’t planning on attending the Fest that day (we’d rather see the fireworks from elsewhere, and pick up her commemorative birthday mug from Rosie’s on Water), it’s something we won’t be able to pass up.
So, Milwaukee, grab your suntan lotion, your tanktops, and your big plastic sunglasses; it’s Summerfest time.