What It’s Like Raising Summerfest Kids

Summerfest lovin’ really does run in the family.

My fanaticism for Summerfest, as well as my vast storehouse of insider knowledge built up over a half-century of Summerfesting, have downloaded successfully to the offspring.

Mission accomplished. I now can relax. 

Kalia, the 18-year-old, drove her Subaru Forester 1,000 miles with her friends to attend Summerfest. As I write this, the four new high school graduates from Fort Collins, Colorado, are sprawled out on a living room floor in my brother’s vacant upstairs living quarters. In the nearby bedroom, Bianka, my 14-year-old who joined me in my Honda Fit for my annual excursion to Milwaukee for Summerfest, sleeps the morning away with a friend of hers who tagged along beside her.

They all knew the two-week living arrangements would be cramped, hot and humid. That was how it was when I used to bring friends from college and beyond to stay at my mom’s old and small, non-air-conditioned South Side house during Summerfest. My kids survived in that house, too. Yet, knowing my brother’s pad likewise wouldn’t be Mar-a-Lago Milwaukee, the girls still demanded to make the trip. 

Kalia wanted to take her friends to the Bon Iver show and a few other bands I never heard of, like the Lonely Island. Bianka likes the festival, too – not so much for the music but for what our annual road trip represents – connections to family, friends and traditions. Both kids love the family reunions at South Shore Park, Fourth of July celebrations at a friend’s house, trips to nearby towns and lakeside resorts.

Of course, there’s also the lure of playing in the sand at Bradford Beach, eating cheap but tasty tacos in my old Walker’s Point neighborhood, and lapping away at frozen custard from Leon’s and Kopp’s – all integral parts of our annual summer road trips. 

But they also know that Summerfest is the No. 1 reason we take two weeks out of our Colorado lives to drive through the thunderstorms of Nebraska and Iowa, and then brave the humidity and heat of a Milwaukee summer.

They have the Milwaukee summer routine down to perfection.

Bianka, the minute she steps onto Summerfest grounds, asks for $20 and heads off to buy food with whichever friends happen to be with her each year. I give her the safety lecture – this isn’t small-town Colorado so be careful. 

Kalia, the minute she pulled into Milwaukee, took her friends to Conejito’s for tacos. For Summerfest, she knew where to park for free, what bar shuttle to get on, and what admission deal to use. She even developed her own plan on the second day to beat the system – park with lights flashing at the amphitheater box office while two friends enter the grounds with their free-before-4 p.m. tickets and then exit immediately, getting a wristband that will allow them to get back in before 7 p.m. at no charge. Then the other two get out of the car and do the same thing.

It’s reassuring to know that on the Summerfest grounds, Kalia and Bianka will know the best burgers to eat, the best bands to see, the best strategies to maneuver their way quickly across the grounds, and the best ways to cool off in the heat or to seek shelter in a storm. Off the grounds, they will know how to find the best beaches and parks, the coolest cafes and coffee shops, and the tastiest tacos and frozen custard.

I’ve raised my two daughters to love Summerfest. 

So proud.

Without a doubt, my parenting skills are certifiably awesome. 

Kris Kodrich is a journalism professor at Colorado State University. Having grown up in Milwaukee, Kris has been attending Summerfest since the beginning – 1968, to be exact, when his mom took him as a kid to what eventually became the world’s largest music festival. Kris has been hooked ever since and finds a way to return each summer.