Everyone remembers their first concert; in many ways, it’s a rite of passage. The lights, the smells and the sounds that ring in your ears even after you leave – it all culminates in a night you will never forget.
I’ve been to what seems like hundreds of concerts. And, as someone who has lived in the Milwaukee area my whole life, a lot of those shows are ones I’ve seen at Summerfest. From the Amphitheater to the Oasis, and everywhere in between, I’ve made countless memories on that patch of lakefront in Milwaukee. So many, that almost every other song I shuffle through takes me right back to the Henry Maier Festival Park. If life is a show and music is the soundtrack, then Summerfest is the stage with an audience of 800,000+ of your best friends.
All those memories start somewhere, and for me that somewhere was the Amphitheater when my 12-year-old self saw Styx – yes, Styx, I realize I was a little late to the party – take the stage. It was truly unlike anything I had ever witnessed. After the concert ended, we filed out of the Amphitheater and walked down the main drag of the festival, passing by stage after stage of world-class musicians. These were artists I had only heard on the radio, and never dreamed I’d see in real life.
On the way home, my Dad told me about his first Summerfest concert in the early ‘80s. It was none other than, you guessed it, Styx. During “Come Sail Away” (if you don’t love this song, this blog is not for you) the spotlight panned over to Lake Michigan behind the stage, focusing on a man who had climbed to the mast of his sailboat, waving to the crowd and trying to get a glimpse of the action. Come sail away, indeed. What a wild thought – my father seeing the same band, hearing the same songs, at the same venue, more than 25 years earlier. Only at Summerfest. The years fly by and your life changes, but one constant is music and its ability to transport you to a different time and place. In my experience, Summerfest was and remains that special place.
This festival has a remarkable ability to bring together people from all walks of life, even bridging generations. The second you walk through those gates, you enter a place where all that matters is good food, cold beer, great music and belting out songs with your family and friends. I knew when my head hit the pillow the night of my first show that there was something special at the grounds of the World’s Largest Music Festival.
Fast forward 11 years, and Summerfest has the same magical effect on me today as it did when I walked the grounds for the first time. Where else can you sip Tennessee Whiskey with Chris Stapleton and Learn to Fly with Tom Petty in the same night? Or experience the look on your friend’s face when her favorite artist (and probable love of her life) launches into the first chords of “You Can Call Me Al” as fireworks burst overhead? Name another place where I can bless the rains down in Africa with Toto and accept that rain is, in fact, a good thing with Luke Bryan in the same night! The diversity of music at Summerfest is second to none. (Blogger’s note: This only sums up the first half of Summerfest 2017. I could go into detail about Zac Brown Band, Bob Dylan, Willie Nelson, Atmosphere, Dispatch and more, but I am not here to make others jealous).
So thank you, Summerfest, for the many sun burns, the thirst-quenching Miller Lites, incredible performances and, most of all, the memories.
Milwaukee is an amazing city full of hard-working, fun-loving people from all backgrounds. We are Milwaukee, and Milwaukee is Summerfest.