Daily Summerfest Guide: Day One, June 26

Here’s everything you need to know for the first day of Summerfest!

How to Get in Free Today

If you bring at least three cans of pears or peaches before 3 p.m., Johnson Controls and Fox 6 Milwaukee will provide you free admission for the day. All donations go to Hunger Task Force.

Weather Forecast

High: 78°
Low: 64°
Precipitation: 20% 
Sunset: 8:35 p.m.

Even the recent stubborn weather knows better than to mess with the opening day of Summerfest. With just a few clouds and a slight chance of rain, this is a great day to hit the festival grounds running.

Playing at the American Family Insurance Amphitheater

Thomas Rhett

This platinum-certified country musician’s third album, Life Changes, debuted at the no. 1 spot on the Billboard 200 chart in 2017. And for the second year in a row, Rhett has been named iHeartRadio’s Country Artist of the Year. Evidently a lot of people heart Thomas Rhett.

Staff Music Picks by Generation


Robin Pluer
6 p.m., Johnson Controls

“Milwaukee’s own chanteuse, here in a more rocking incarnation than she’ll present at Bastille Days. Whatever she’s singing, Pluer puts on a great show. #RockLocal” – Carole Nicksin


10 p.m., BMO Harris Pavilion

”Listen, I have no idea if Foreigner’s still got it. But you bet I’m swinging by the the BMO Harris Pavilion for a shot at live renditions of “Hot Blooded,” “Head Games” and a whooooole bunch of rock radio hits of my childhood.” – Chris Drosner 


10 p.m., U.S. Cellular Connection Stage

“I liked them when I was 12; why wouldn’t I like them today?” – Katie Williams

Thomas Rhett
7:30 p.m., American Family Insurance Amphitheater

“Country music says summer to me and I just love Thomas Rhett, so he is my perfect way to kick off Summerfest!” – Libby Lang 


Thomas Rhett
7:30 p.m., American Family Insurance Amphitheater

“Thomas Rhett’s new album instantly became a new playlist for my drive to work (especially “Don’t Threaten Me with a Good Time” feat. Little Big Town).” – Hannah Hoffmeister

Otis Taylor and Psychedelic Banjo Posse
8 p.m., Johnson Controls World Stage 

“Otis Taylor is an evocative, soulful blues man whose sound hearkens back to grimy ballads from the Mississippi Delta, but also packs poignant social commentary. Basically, this is possibly a one-time chance to see a one-of-a-kind artist.” – Matt Martinez

Daily To-Dos

summerfest• The Summerfest Big Bang Fireworks

The sky will be alight with festive explosives above the Summerfest grounds on June 26. As long as the weather holds, the fireworks show provided by J & M Displays should be a fantastic way to end opening day. Stick around until 9:30 p.m. to see the show live, and then beat the traffic home to watch it again on WISN at 10:30. 

Psst, go see the fireworks show from the Skyglider, it’ll make you feel like you’re a firework too. Because you are. (DISCLAIMER: Katy Perry is not playing at Summerfest this year.)

• Summerfest Tech

Interested in technology? You should be! Technology is interested in you!…Vaguely threatening visions of the future aside, anybody who’s interested in tech should check out Summerfest Tech on Wednesday. Over the course of the morning, hear from some of the most influential tech gurus in the state about Women in Technology and Cybersecurity. Registration starts at 8:30 a.m. and you’ll be done before the first free shows start. 

We Tried Lemonade with Judah & the Lion

by Madaleine Townsend 

Photo by Connor and Rachel Dwyer

Judah & the Lion, the talented trio from Nashville, Tennessee, has returned to Summerfest to perform for their second year in a row. They’ll hit the Harley-Davidson Roadhouse stage tonight at 10 p.m. 

The group formed in 2011 when they were attending college at Belmont University together, and they haven’t stopped playing since. The 2017 single “Take It All Back,” was charted #1 on Alternative Radio for three weeks, and were winners of the iHeart Radio Music Awards 2018 Best New Alternative Artist award.

Their latest album, “Pep Talks,” is a deeply personal and raw collection of new songs which came out earlier this year. We were eager to ask about its story, as well as how they guys do life together.  Judah Akers (lead vocals and guitar), Brian Macdonald (mandolin) and Nate Zuercher (banjo) agreed to sit and chat while sipping on lemonade before their June 26th performance. 

How did you come up with the name Judah & the Lion?

Judah: My mom kind of named it way back in the day, it stuck with me. I wanted to be a rapper when I was little—I still get to rap in some of our songs, so that’s kind of nice— she overheard me upstairs in my room, or something, rapping and she said: “Well, if you’re ever actually in a group you should call it ‘The Lion of Judah’.” Which is from the Old Testament in the Bible. When we got together this name was always in the back of my head what if we were inspired by that? And “Judah & the Lion” fit our thing a little bit more.

Is there anyone performing here at Summerfest that you’re excited to see?

Judah: One of our old Belmont buddies is playing at the amphitheater, Russell Dickerson. A lot of good bands playing on that set as well.

Brian: It’s kind of hard because everybody’s playing at the same time, because the stages are so far apart. So I feel like if we weren’t playing, we would probably go see Steve Aoki or Foreigner. We might just have to pause and listen for a second.

So you all went to Belmont together, how did you meet?

Judah: Kind of randomly, I had written some songs my junior year and I don’t know, I  had an epiphany or a moment, like a vision of the songs being played with more organic instruments than the instruments I was playing with at the time. And my roommate at the time randomly knew Nate played the banjo. And then I called Nate and said “Hey, you wanna jam?” Which is kind of common at our school, people jammed with each other. And Nate knew Brian because they were in the bluegrass world together.

Who are some of your inspirations for your music?

Judah: Between the three of us, there’s so much. I feel like for all of us our family is a big influence on us as far as our musical tastes. We all grew up in different spots of the country and have different history with our musical journey. I guess a few bands for me are 50 Cent, Goo Goo Dolls, Queen, Tom Petty.

Nate: Coldplay is a band that we all really love. I like a lot of punk metal stuff like Green Day, Avenged Sevenfold, Manchester Orchestra –they’re not punk rock but that’s another one that we love.

Brian: I grew up kind of listening to Billy Joel, Elton John, James Taylor. Learning piano by listening to them play…when I was young, just kind of what I heard by default. Kind of the same with these guys we have a wide span of genres that we listen to, in high school grew up listening to rock and alternative. But the band that really influenced this record was Frightened Rabbit, just their storytelling and raw, kind of real emotion was a big part of our time in the studio and processing through the whole story.

How have your songs changed over the course of your career? It’s definitely changed sound-wise going a lot more into electronic and EDM style, is there anything else you would like to elaborate on that?

Brian: We aspire to sonically and musically be always evolving. And pressing our comfort level to create something new. But I think our message, for the most part, has remained the same; which is just we want to bring people home through music and enjoy and hopefully connect by telling stories. I think with this record, we’re excited because we feel like we were able to push that boundary more. Like, yeah, we have bluegrass instruments, but we maybe don’t sound totally like a bluegrass or folk band at all at some points.