I’ll always look back on the year 2016 as a year of many first-time experiences, including going to Summerfest! The lineup was stocked with music that spanned all genres, of course… and I found myself excited for a huge country presence on the world’s biggest stage, and eventually finding my favorite show in a way I wasn’t expecting.
I’ve had a personal and professional relationship with country music for the better part of a decade with my position at country radio stations (insert no-shame shameless plug: locally at 94.5 KTI Country in Milwaukee!), and I was positive that my favorite show of the Fest would come from one of those many country artists that were on the bill… Luke Bryan, Tim McGraw, Willie Nelson, Chris Stapleton, Kacey Musgraves, Hunter Hayes, Cam, Brothers Osborne, Randy Houser. Country music made its mark on Summerfest 2016, and I enjoyed every minute! Surprisingly, my ultimate favorite show came from something a little different – something, a little… purple.
It was a warm summer night, as all usually are at Summerfest… the second to last before wrapping up for the year. I had been bouncing around from stage to stage all day and was determined to catch a glimpse of “Gabriel Sanchez and the Prince Experience” when they started in the evening. I knew to expect a crowd, and that I probably wouldn’t be able to get up front. The Minnesota-born girl inside me was simply aching to see some kind of magical Prince performance. Just months prior, the world was shocked at the sudden death of the musical genius. The loss of Prince was the first celebrity loss that really rocked me – he was the first celebrity, icon, stranger that I ever grieved for. I did not know this person, I had never met him.. and yet, I felt a great loss when he passed. All I knew was his music, and I had known it my whole life. The loss of Prince was a huge reminder for me of just how powerful music is, and how important it is for us as humans to have music to help get through this thing called life.
When I made my way into the crowd for a show I had anticipated all week, I felt something I’d never really felt at a concert before. Sure – you go to a concert, and you usually feel like you’re a part of something, right? You’re a part of the audience that’s there to see the performer on stage. This show immediately felt different. I felt just as if I had walked into a party full of people I hadn’t seen in a long time, like a high school reunion. I felt as if I knew ALL these people, yet I was there alone. People – of all shapes, sizes, and colors – were SINGING along to Prince’s songs word for word! They were smiling, they were dancing, and they were so full of life! We were ALL grieving Prince’s sudden death and all celebrating the musical legacy that he had left behind… and it was beautiful. The crowd bulged out from around all sides of the stage, people packed in up front, the end of the crowd blending in with the crowds walking by the stage area. It was as packed as any live music event I’ve EVER been to, and yet there was still always room for one more who wanted to come in and enjoy the party.
There were a lot of other shows happening on the many other Summerfest stages that night. No one rocked it the way that Gabriel Sanchez and the crowd that surrounded me did! This was what I was told Summerfest was all about: dancing, people, community, FUN… and they were spot on.