The definitive guide to the best days to attend the Big Gig

Summerfest can be such a hectic place these next two weeks; it’s perfectly fine to want to casually check it out this year. Maybe go early, grab a Saz’s combo platter, purchase a soda from a root beer barrel, stroll down the lakeside path, catch whatever live music is playing at the stage you just passed and watch from afar as small hordes of teens take puffs from vape pens. It actually sounds quite refreshing.

For the best chance to stumble unto something great, here’s a handy guide to the best days to make the trek to the Big Gig. In order to keep things simple, each day includes just six bands (the American Family Insurance Amphitheater headliner, the three best ground stage acts, the best opener, and the best local outfit) that are rated on three categories from 1-10 (relevance-rareness-live performance: total score). The higher the cumulative score, the better the day.


11. Thursday, July 4

With strangely no show at the amphitheater (Megadeth cancelled after announcing frontman Dave Mustaine had throat cancer), this day gets undeservedly knocked down to last place. While there isn’t much in the daytime, things heat up at night with performances by laconic singer-songwriter Courtney Barnett and rapper Vic Mensa.

American Family Insurance Amphitheater Headliner: Megadeth (canceled)

Ground Stage Headliners:

  • Courtney Barnett (9-7-8: 24) at Briggs & Stratton Big Backyard, 10 p.m.
  • Vic Mensa (7-9-7: 23) at Uline Warehouse Stage, 10 p.m.
  • Sublime with Rome (6-6-5: 17) at Harley-Davidson Roadhouse, 9:30 p.m.

    Courtney Barnett. Photo by Mia Mala McDonald

Reason to get there early: Brett Newski & the No Tomorrow (6-6-6: 18) at Briggs & Stratton Big Backyard, 8 p.m.

Hometown hero: Lex Allen (6-5-7: 18) at Uline Warehouse Stage, 8:30 p.m.

Total Score: 100


10.  Wednesday, July 3

Jennifer Lopez takes the glitz and glam from her recent Las Vegas residency on the road as a way to celebrate her 50th birthday in July. The “It’s My Party” Tour marks her first nationwide run in more than 6 years. Fans of emo’s third wave will get a kick out of recently-minted-nostalgia acts Taking Back Sunday and Hawthorne Heights.

American Family Insurance Amphitheater Headliner: Jennifer Lopez (4-8-7: 19), 7:30 p.m.

Ground Stage Headliners:

  • The Roots (6-7-9: 22) at BMO Harris Pavilion, 9:45 p.m.
  • Taking Back Sunday (6-7-6: 19) at Miller Lite Oasis, 10 p.m.
  • Loverboy (4-6-5: 16) at Uline Warehouse Stage, 10 p.m.

Reason to get there early: Hawthorne Heights (5-6-4: 15) at Miller Lite Oasis Stage, 7 p.m.

Hometown hero: The WhiskeyBelles (5-5-6: 16) at U.S. Cellular Connection Stage, 2 p.m.

Total Score: 107


9.  Saturday, July 6

 

With the amount of cover bands that have graced the Summerfest stage over the years, it’s untold how many times “Closing Time” has been played at the Big Gig since Semisonic broke up in 2001. It will be refreshing to hear them actually play it.

American Family Insurance Amphitheater Headliner: Billie Eilish (8-9-7: 24), 7:30 p.m.

Ground Stage Headliners:

  • Bleachers (6-7-6: 19) at Harley-Davidson Roadhouse, 10 p.m.
  • Semisonic (3-9-6: 18) at U.S. Cellular Connection Stage, 10 p.m.
  • Atmosphere (6-4-6: 16) at Miller Lite Oasis, 10 p.m.

    Bleachers performing at Summerfest on July 1, 2017. Photo by Meghan Quadracci.

Reason to get there early: Brother Ali (6-4-5: 15) at Miller Lite Oasis, 8:45 p.m.

Hometown hero: Paul Cebar Tomorrow Sound (4-4-8: 16) at Johnson Controls World Stage, 8 p.m.

Total Score: 108


8.  Wednesday, June 26

Hanson concert at Summerfest 2017

Hanson. Photo by Amelia Coffaro

Hanson are back to Summerfest once again. The group’s last show wasn’t all that bad.

American Family Insurance Amphitheater Headliner: Thomas Rhett (9-6-7: 22), 7:30 p.m.

Ground Stage Headliners:

  • Steve Aoki (7-6-8: 21) at Miller Lite Oasis Stage, 10 p.m.
  • Walk the Moon (6-6-6: 18) at Uline Warehouse Stage, 10 p.m.
  • Hanson (5-6-6: 17) at U.S. Cellular Connection Stage, 10 p.m.

Reason to get there early: Chelsea Cutler (5-7-5: 17) at Briggs & Stratton Big Backyard, 8 p.m.

Hometown hero: Robin Pluer & the R&B Coquettes (4-4-6: 14) at Klement’s Sausage & Beer Garden Stage, 6 p.m.

Total Score: 109


7.  Sunday, July 7

Lil Wayne’s not the effervescent, off-the-cuff rapper he was when he was younger, but last year’s long-delayed Tha Carter V showed that his career still has some legs.

American Family Insurance Amphitheater Headliner: Lil Wayne (7-9-7: 23) with Snoop Dogg and Schoolboy Q, 7:30 p.m.

Ground Stage Headliners:

  • Rodrigo y Gabriela (6-7-6: 19) at Uline Warehouse Stage, 9:45 p.m.
  • La Sonora Ponceña (2-8-7: 17) at Harley-Davidson Roadhouse, 9:30 p.m.
  • Jason Mraz (6-5-6: 17) at BMO Harris Pavilion, 9:45 p.m.

Reason to get there early: Your Smith (6-7-6: 19) at BMO Harris Pavilion, 8 p.m.

Hometown hero: Willy Porter (4-4-7: 15) at Uline Warehouse Stage, 8 p.m.

Total Score: 110


6.  Sunday, June 30

The National

The National. Photo by Graham Macindoe

A 4 p.m. show from iconic indie rockers Guided By Voices is more than enough reason to get out early on this Sunday afternoon. A headlining performance from The National is reason enough to stay the rest of the night.

American Family Insurance Amphitheater Headliner: Zac Brown Band (6-6-5: 17), 7:30 p.m.

Ground Stage Headliners:

  • The National (9-7-9: 25) at Miller Lite Oasis Stage, 10 p.m.
  • 3 Doors Down (4-7-5: 16) at Harley-Davidson Roadhouse, 9:45 p.m.
  • Los Lonely Boys (4-6-5: 15) at Johnson Controls World Stage, 10 p.m.

Reason to get there early: Guided By Voices (6-8-8: 22) at Miller Lite Oasis Stage, 4 p.m.

Hometown hero: Platinum Boys (5-5-7: 17) at Briggs & Stratton Big Backyard, 8 p.m.

Total Score: 112


5.  Saturday, June 29

For all the shows Bon Iver has played in Milwaukee, this marks the first at Summerfest. A few years ago an amphitheater show may have seemed too cavernous to fill, but the band’s 2018 sold-out performance at the Bradley Center placed a new marker for the group.

American Family Insurance Amphitheater Headliner: Bon Iver (9-7-9: 25), 7:30 p.m.

Ground Stage Headliners:

  • Jimmy Eat World (6-6-8: 20) at Uline Warehouse Stage, 10 p.m.
  • Third Eye Blind (5-5-8: 18) at Briggs & Stratton Big Backyard, 10 p.m.
  • Chicago (2-5-8: 15) at BMO Harris Pavilion, 9:45 p.m.

Reason to get there early: Ra Ra Riot (6-7-6: 19) at Briggs & Stratton Big Backyard, 8 p.m.

Hometown hero: Hot Coffin (6-4-6: 16) at Uline Warehouse Stage, 6:30 p.m.

Total Score: 113


4.  Friday, July 5

What do you need to know about this day of Summerfest? Well, T.I. is performing, of course.

American Family Insurance Amphitheater Headliner: The Killers (7-6-8: 21), 7:30 p.m.

The Killers

Courtesy of The Killers

Ground Stage Headliners:

  • T.I. (7-9-7: 23) at U.S. Cellular Connection Stage, 10 p.m.
  • The Head and the Heart (8-6-7: 21) at Miller Lite Oasis, 10;15 p.m.
  • Dashboard Confessional (6-7-6: 19) at BMO Harris Pavilion, 9:45 p.m.

Reason to get there early: Chris Robinson Brotherhood (6-5-6: 17) at Uline Warehouse Stage, 4 p.m.

Hometown hero: Immortal Girlfriend (6-5-6: 17) at Johnson Controls World Stage, 6:45 p.m.

Total Score: 118


3.  Tuesday, July 2

This year’s amphitheater headliners have been an interesting bunch. That’s perhaps best embodied by this Tuesday night, which features a performance from the legendary R&B singer and American Idol panelist Lionel Richie. Unless you prefer “Dancing on the Ceiling,” the ground stages is the place to be on this evening, everything from synth-pop (Chvrches), a veteran singer-songwriter (Liz Phair) and another R&B throwback (Chaka Khan).

American Family Insurance Amphitheater Headliner: Lionel Richie (3-9-7: 19), 7:30 p.m.

Ground Stage Headliners:

  • Chvrches (8-7-8: 23) at Miller Lite Oasis Stage, 10 p.m.
  • Liz Phair (6-7-7: 20) at Briggs & Stratton Big Backyard, 9:45 p.m.
  • Chaka Khan (3-9-7: 18) at BMO Harris Pavilion, 9:45 p.m.

Reason to get there early: Jacob Latimore (6-7-6: 19) at U.S. Cellular Connection Stage, 8 p.m.

Hometown hero: REYNA (7-6-7: 20) at Miller Lite Oasis Stage, 7 p.m.

Total Score: 119


2. Friday, June 28

The music-comedy trio The Lonely Island is fresh off its Netflix special, The Unauthorized Bash Brothers Experience, in which Andy Samberg stars as Jose Canseco and Akiva Schaffer as Mark McGwire during the two ball players’ steroid-fueled reign with the Oakland A’s 30 years ago. Their sometimes collaborator T-Pain (“I’m on a Boat”), who is still riding high from his victory on The Masked Singer this winter (spoiler alert: he was The Monster), plays 30 minutes, which makes a late run-in seem entirely possible.

American Family Insurance Amphitheater Headliner: Jason Aldean (8-5-7: 20), 7:30 p.m.

Ground Stage Headliners:

  • The Lonely Island (9-8-8: 25), Miller Lite Oasis Stage, 10:15 p.m.
  • T-Pain at Harley-Davidson Roadhouse (7-6-7: 20), 9:45 p.m.
  • Brandi Carlile (8-5-7: 20) at BMO Harris Pavilion, 9:45 p.m.

    T-Pain, Summerfest

    T-Pain. Photo by Hannibal Matthews.

Reason to get there early: SHAED (6-6-6: 18) at Briggs & Stratton Big Backyard, 8 p.m.

Hometown hero: GGOOLLDD (6-6-8: 20) at Johnson Controls World Stage, 10 p.m.

Total Score: 123


1. Thursday, June 27

Take the afternoon off work. All the best daytime shows are packed into the second day of the festival. There are more tough choices at 4 p.m. (proto-punk band X at U.S. Cellular Connection Stage; trance DJ Paul Oakenfold at Miller Lite Oasis Stage; and party-rocker Andrew W.K. at Uline Warehouse Stage) than most nights’ headliners provide. The amphitheater also offers an entire day of roots and country music for those that can’t make up their minds and just want to chill. But the capstone atop the best night of Summerfest (and what could be the best show of the festival) is the performance from rapper Lizzo, who put out one of the most thrilling and confident albums of the year, Cuz I Love You.  

American Family Insurance Amphitheater Headliner: Outlaw Music Festival (5-6-10: 21) featuring Willie Nelson, Phil Lesh & Friends, The Avett Brothers, Counting Crows, Alison Krauss, Dawes and Trapper Shoepp, 1 p.m.

Ground Stage Headliners:

Lizzo

Lizzo. Photo By Luke Gilford.

  • Lizzo (10-9-9:28) at Harley-Davidson Roadhouse, 10 p.m.
  • Bone Thugs-N-Harmony (6-8-8: 22) at Johnson Controls World Stage, 10 p.m.
  • St. Paul and the Broken Bones (7-7-7: 21) at Briggs & Stratton Big Backyard, 9:30 p.m.

Reason to get there early: Andrew W.K. (6-7-10: 23) at Uline Warehouse Stage, 4 p.m.

Hometown hero: Vincent Van Great (6-5-6: 17) at Johnsons Controls World Stage, 8 p.m.

Total Score: 132

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