We Grabbed Ice Cream with DJ Shawna

Chocolate peanut butter ice cream is where it’s at!

Shawna Nicols — DJ Shawna — is opening for Lizzo tonight starting at 6 p.m. and will keep the Harley-Davidson Roadhouse crowd going for an hour and a half.

But she has 11 hours of music set aside in a folder, ready to go.

“I’ve been building this for probably about two or three months, since I’ve known I was opening for her,” she says.

DJ Shawna saw Lizzo four and a half years ago at an event in Madison highlighting women in hip-hop, headlined by SZA. Ever since, she’s been a fan.

“SZA’s amazing, but Lizzo just has this level of energy (that) you can’t even put into words,” DJ Shawna says.

You could probably say the same thing about her. She laughs easily. The only time she checked her phone was to show me photos of icebergs that formed on Lake Michigan last winter. 

I sat down with DJ Shawna on the first night of Summerfest. We got malts from Cedar Crest Ice Cream (chocolate peanut butter for her, chocolate for me) and chatted about overusing commas in our writing, Milwaukee custard and much more. We could have talked for twice the amount of time we did.

Her weeks revolve around music for a variety of audiences (basketball, kids, concerts, bars), but music isn’t her sole focus. As easily as she can talk music, she can talk basketball, zoology, family, her business and published book, the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo and the infamous polar vortex — just to name a few.

DJ Shawna works with the Milwaukee Bucks as one of their premier DJs. She also does home games for the Wisconsin Badgers men’s and women’s basketball teams.

Her courtside experience isn’t just from the DJ booth; she was also a point guard at Wisconsin and played in Holland. She credits that with giving her the situational knowledge to be a natural, instinctive DJ at basketball games.

“From the marketing side, that’s one of the best compliments I get,” she says. “How many timeouts each team has left – knowing those things kind of matters. It’s something that’s sort of ingrained in me that I hope I never lose.”

In addition to her responsibilities for the Bucks and Badgers, she records a weekly podcast and DJs at two venues Friday and Saturday nights.

To satisfy her need to do something bigger than herself she invests time in DareToBe, a clothing- and podcast-based business with a message that is intentionally open to interpretation. You can dare to be whatever suits you, whether that be confident, brave, selfless, etc.

The bottom line? If DJ Shawna brings as much positive energy tonight as she did to our interview, there will only be good vibes floating through the Summerfest air.