Embrace The Fest
Milwaukee is often its own worst critic.
Many a tree has been felled and digital 0/1 burned trying to explain the source of our self-loathing, the inferiority complex some of us carry, the way we can sometimes belittle/criticize/under-sell our attributes. It's not one of our more appealing traits.
Never is this more true than when the subject is Summerfest.
Our lakefront extravaganza is the source of endless pro and con debate with everything from food to price to access up for scrutiny.
And then, there's the music. It's the essence of Summerfest, and it's easily the top target among critics.
"Too much classic rock," some will beef. Others bemoan new groups they haven't heard of. "They have both kinds of music--country AND western," snark the rockers and rappers and others who aren't dialed in to the stylings of Tim McGraw and Rascal Flatts.
That's why it was so refreshing to read what others OUTSIDE Milwaukee think about the Big Gig in Piet Levy's Journal/Sentinel story this week. When seen through the eyes of agents, managers and others in the music business, you get a new appreciation for what Summerfest's Bob Babisch crafted for the Marcus this season.
You also get an idea of just how big a destination our little lakefront beer bash is to big name acts. "Summerfest is as A-level as it gets" when it comes to national music festivals according to Bob Edelmann, the agent who had a hand in bringing Outkast to Milwaukee. And, festivals are hot among performers who like the advantages that come with being part of a larger card as opposed to being a stand-alone headliner with an opening act.
This year's slate is bringing Summerfest something its lacked in the past--national buzz, according to Babisch who correctly points out that the chat is good not just for Summerfest but also for Milwaukee.
For years I've heard people dismiss the Summerfest lineups for varied reasons. Some of those folks are new to the area. Others are local. I get the misconceptions of outsiders who think the Big Gig should be a Lollapalooza/Coachella clone, a weekend of narrowly targeted attractions that will speak to their demo and ONLY their demo--others need not buy tickets.
That's not Summerfest--never has been, and hopefully never will be. Our party has organic roots, meant to bring the city together after the turbulence of the 60's while paying homage to the beer gardens of days gone by where strangers became friends over a couple of tastes. It grew from the mud bath-and-Dolly-Parton-Main-Stage-tent era into what it is now: a local treasure, a week and a half of good times that speak to almost all.
It's inevitable that an effort that reaches so broadly ends up disappointing a few--you never please everyone--but to beef about Summerfest is cliche, counter-productive and downright wrong, at least if anyone has a clue about the party's mission statement. You need to look no further than 90 miles south, where Chicago has for years desperately tried to emulate what we have with it's annual "Taste" event. Never been there myself and don't plan to be. That's because Milwaukee got it right the first time almost five decades ago.
Embrace the Fest.