No Apologies

No Apologies

A defense of the Big Gig.

I love Summerfest. As soon as I walk through those gates, grab a cold beer, make my way to Saz’s for a sampler platter, and find a stage with live music to enjoy, I’m at home.

But despite this glorious slice of America gracing our fine city for 11 days, it’s become all too common for people to be critical of the Big Gig.

This negativity is misguided. Does Summerfest have its problems? Of course. Although buses bring festival-goers from all over the region, the transportation scene on the grounds can lead to hourlong waits for a ride home. Women, minorities and local acts are always underrepresented on the lineup; dinosaur bands from bygone eras are always overrepresented (it’s 2015, Summerfest. Sammy Hagar should only be headlining chili cook-offs). But anything as expansive as the World’s Largest Music Festival is bound to be flawed, and these complaints diminish the Big Gig’s larger impact on Milwaukee.

Summerfest brings people together. Sometimes a cliché is true.

Shared experiences are becoming a casualty of the 21st century. Gone are the days when people crowd around the TV set to watch the same shows; we waved goodbye to any commonality in musical choice in the iPod Era. We choose our own adventures now. By and large, this is a good thing. People have more autonomy, and this should be seen as progress. But a certain connection over things we all know has slipped through the cracks.

But not in Milwaukee. Here, we have Summerfest. More than the Brewers, Bucks or navigating our streets through construction barrels, it’s Summerfest that is our great shared experience.

Complaints? You’ll laugh about them, sure. But when the lineup gets announced each spring, the city looks ahead to sunnier days. For months out of the year, you can bring up Summerfest with anyone around town, and you’ll have something to talk about.

We take Summerfest for granted. There’s great food, plenty to drink, live music in every direction, a beautiful stretch of Lake Michigan to the east, fireworks to light up the sky, getting a little crazy is more or less encouraged, and it’s home to the finest people-watching the world has ever known.

If you can hate all of that, I have a question: Why do you hate fun?

‘No Apologies’ appears in the June 2015 issue of Milwaukee Magazine.
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Dan Shafer was the digital editor at Milwaukee Magazine. Dan joined the magazine as assistant editor in 2014 and wrote the November 2014 cover story, "Downtown Horizons." He's worked as a reporter at BizTimes Milwaukee and an editor at ThirdCoast Digest. Contact him at He's on Twitter @danshaferMKE.