What’s New at Summerfest This Year

The Big Gig has made some big changes this year.

Technically, autumn doesn’t arrive until Sept. 22. And that’s good news for the organizers of Summerfest. Because the festival isn’t taking place until Sept. 2-18, a time of the year when many Milwaukeeans are preparing themselves for sweater weather and trading in their iced coffees for pumpkin spice lattes.

“Everyone took a gut punch in 2020,” Don Smiley said at a recent press conference at Henry Maier Festival Park. “We didn’t know what was going to happen the next day, and it was a little tough sleeping at night.”

But more and more people are getting vaccinated every day, and Smiley and his colleagues are convinced that they’ll be able to safely host an outdoor megafest this month. “We’re really pleased as to where we’re at,” he added.



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The event’s late date isn’t the only change coming, either. This year – instead of running continuously from start to finish – the Big Gig will be organized around three consecutive weekends (Sept. 2-4, 9-11 and 16-18). This might be a plus for festival-goers with a 9-to-5 job, who’d rather not attend a Tuesday or Wednesday concert with a 10 p.m. start time. And it’s a welcome development for musicians, who can expect larger crowds at their weekend shows.

And another big change? Summerfest is finally ready to welcome audiences to its newly renovated American Family Insurance Amphitheater, where headliners like Weezer, Chance the Rapper and Sheryl Crow will be playing. “As you can see, everything is new,” Smiley said.

Photo courtesy of Summerfest

By the Numbers The New(ish) American Family Insurance Ampitheater

$51.3 million was spent on the privately funded renovation.

989 construction professionals worked on the project.

They broke ground on the renovation in 2018 and worked on it in stages over the last three years.

The amphitheater’s roof was raised from 39 feet to 65.

19 new dressing rooms and other backstage spaces were added to the venue.

6 new high-definition video screens and displays were scattered throughout the space, including the first 4k screens ever used at an outdoor concert venue.

The concourses were expanded by 20,000 square feet.

7 new concession areas have been added to the space, meaning that audience members don’t have to wait nearly as long for snacks or drinks.


This story is part of Milwaukee Magazine‘s September issue.

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Lindsey Anderson covers culture for Milwaukee Magazine. Before joining the MilMag team she worked as an editor at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago and wrote freelance articles for ArtSlant and Eater.