Summerfest Music Festival - My Experience
For many living in the Midwest the end of June and the start of July signals the onset of Independence Day parades, fireworks, BBQ, and Northwoods vacations. While all of the Fourth of July celebrations are festive fun, there's something else that happens during this time of year that music lovers everywhere mark on their calendars and count down the days for -- Summerfest.
After visiting Oktoberfest in Munich, Germany during the 1960s the late Mayor Henry Maier was inspired to create a similar event in Milwaukee, Wisconsin that would generate profit, as well as bring the community together. Thus, Summerfest was born and opened its gates for the first time in 1968. After several years of trial and error, the event eventually began drawing in so many bands and formulating such massive crowds that in 1999 it was named "The World's Largest Music Festival" by the Guinness Book of World Records. The festival was promised to be bigger and better than ever in 2017 to celebrate fifty years of Summerfest, and I was able to get in on the action for a day. This is my Summerfest experience:
Before experiencing Summerfest itself one must first experience getting to Summerfest. Parking spots in the Summerfest lots typically cost around $20 for the entire day which is a pretty good deal if you're actually spending the entire day at the festival. However, I saw firsthand how horrible the parking traffic going in and out was, and a spot in one of Summerfest's parking lots isn't guaranteed. Basically, if driving/parking can be avoided then I highly recommend doing so. My friends and I achieved this by parking at a Park & Ride and catching the bus to the festival. Not only did we completely avoid traffic and parking, but the bus fee was only $7, we were dropped off right at the entrance to Summerfest, and the bus ride back to the Park & Ride after the event was free.
After a short wait in the security check line we were officially in Summerfest. Luckily for me my friends had been to Summerfest many times before so I didn't really need to worry about knowing my way around. Although don't freak out if it is your first time there and you don't have a guide because grounds maps are provided, and all of the stages are along the same stretch of pavement so eventually you'll get to wherever you need to go. Summerfest also has a ride called the Skyglider, which is basically a ski lift over the festival, that I would highly recommend making a beeline to if you don't know the grounds well because it provides the perfect overhead view to all of the stages, attractions, and food stands for only $5 per person roundtrip.
Since we had time to kill before any of the bands we came to see started their sets our first objective was to find something to eat and something to drink. Summerfest has so many choices when it comes to food/beverages that there's literally something for everyone whether that's gyros, ice cream, Italian, Chinese, sandwiches, BBQ, coffee, wine, beer, etc. We sought out a stand called Saz's which serves a lot of typical festival food such as mozzarella sticks, chicken tenders, cheese curds, brats, ribs, and more. There were so many good options that we ended up splitting the perfect snack (a.k.a. the sampler platter) that included chive fries, cheese curds, and mozzarella sticks. Of course after feasting on a sampler platter we were a bit thirsty, especially with the heat, but everywhere we went the drinks were crazy expensive. I mean, $4.50 for a tiny bottle of water? No thanks. If your looking for something to drink other than water then expect to pay an average of $5 for each drink, but if it's water you want then you have to go on a scavenger hunt for a stand called the Rootbeer Barrel. Don't let the stand name confuse you because yes it mainly serves soda, but if you ask for a cup of water not only will they provide you with a cup of water (with ice by request), but you only have to pay $1 for it. Also, if deep fried, fast food, crunchy snacks and desserts aren't your cup of tea then I definitely recommend seeking out the Catalano's stand because they serve fruit bowls and fresh fruit to go such as green grapes and watermelon (I mean just because you're at a festival doesn't mean you have to break your diet right?).
If you have more time to kill before going to your show then there's plenty of things to do in the park such as make tyedye, shop the merch, check out the kiosks, play in the fountain, go for a relaxing walk on the lakefront, check out other stages to discover new music, or of course go to the stage where your favorite band is playing early so that you can get the best seats in the house. I know what you might be thinking, "Seats? At a music festival?" and yes you read that all correctly. One thing that I really appreciated about Summerfest is that bleacher benches were set up in front of each stage so that we didn't have to stand for the entire show. Of course most of us stood on the benches instead of using them for their true purpose, but it was still comforting to know that if I got fatigued I could sit down somewhere without having to give up my spot.
Whether you're seeking out your favorite bands, great food, or a good time then Summerfest is the place to be. Considering that a general admittance ticket is only $20 Summerfest is absolutely 100% worth the trip especially if you're a music festival virgin like I was. Just remember to wear comfortable shoes, don't overpack (a phone, ID, and money is really all you'll need), jam out and of course dance a little.