Summerfest is largely responsible for my love of live music; I’ve been making the two hour trek from Elgin to Milwaukee since I was two years old. My first concert was John Cougar Mellencamp at the then-named Marcus Amphitheater, and my father has been attending since the festival’s inception in the early 1970s, so you could say Summerfest is a family tradition.
The thing that Summerfest does best is updating to the needs and requests of their attendees and a changing audience year after year.
Admittedly, Summerfest has one primary advantage that many other music festivals across the country don’t have — permanent grounds. This allows the festival to install stages, buildings, restaurant stands, bathrooms and crowd-favorite staples like the Sky Glider that they can continue to renovate and update during festival offseasons.
These constant updates draw in patrons who aren’t necessarily able/willing to attend festivals like Bonnaroo where attendees camp for the weekend. That set-up isn’t exactly ideal for music lovers with small families, disabilities or a limited budget.
Summerfest molds its grounds around the diverse crowds that walk through the gates every year. Wide pathways, elevated platforms, cooling centers and a designated children’s area that’s complete with its own stage and playground are all parts of what has made the festival more inclusive to all music lovers over the years.
I’ve also been able to watch musicians grow throughout the years; for example, Panic! At the Disco started out as the third band to support the headliner on a side stage in 2010, but they eventually grew to headliners at the Amphitheater to a sold out crowd six years later.
Watching other people discover artists and began to support and love them in the same way I do is my favorite part about live music. There’s an indescribable bond between complete strangers watching the same set, as we sing the same lyrics. Summerfest is particularly special because I can watch the faces and demographics in the crowd change each year.
This year was no different, as my dad and I headed up on June 30 to see Buddy Guy play the Harley Davidson Roadhouse stage. Behind us on the bleachers was a little girl, no older than five, dancing with her parents while her little sister slept in the stroller.
I looked over to my dad and laughed, both realizing that we were stood at this same stage sixteen years prior, dancing to a different artist.