Summerfest 2011 – Milwaukee, WI

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Henry W. Maier. To a Chicagoan, the name probably rings no bells whatsoever.  But to our neighbors to the north living in Milwaukee, this name is recognized almost instantly. He served as mayor of the Miller City for 28 years and would later establish one of the greatest music festivals still happening each year. For the majority of the year, Henry Maier Festival Park along Milwaukee’s lakefront is closed to the public. In the winter The grounds are comparable to a ghost town. It’s not until the summer months that the park finally opens for the traditional ethnic festivals beginning in early June ranging from Festa Italiana to Irish Fest. While these festivals are popular attractions, none compare to the 11 days each summer where Henry Maier Park opens its gates for the world’s largest music festival: Summerfest.

One thing is certain: Henry Maier must have had one hell of a time at Oktoberfest in Munich. He returned to Milwaukee with one idea — to bring a similar ethnic festival to Wisconsin. He began planning a “Germanesque” festival in 1968, but the end result was slightly different than what he expected. I have been fortunate enough to experience both a beer garden in Germany and Summerfest and there are certainly some similar qualities between the two. While there’s a lot more Miller Lite and Harley Davidson clothing seen in Milwaukee, the two festivals have three major similarities: a large amount of people, mass quantities of alcohol, and an overwhelming urge to dance to whatever live music playing after drinking said mass quantities of alcohol.

While Summerfest was originally designed as an ethnic festival, it slowly evolved into an enormous music festival. The 11 stages throughout the Summerfest grounds have hosted some of the greatest performers of all different genres and generations. Artists ranging from Bob Dylan to Tim McGraw, Dolly Parton to Britney Spears, Sly and the Family Stone to Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers have performed as headliners throughout the years. In 2011, Summerfest welcomes headliners such as Peter Gabriel, Kanye West featuring Kid Cudi, Def Leppard, Toby Keith, Katy Perry, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, and Sugarland.

The festival is generally held around the 4th of July holiday and is open from noon to midnight. Admission during the week before 4pm is $8, while general admission is set at $15. However, there are several different things you can do on certain days to get into the park for free. Check out Summerfest’s website at to see the different “gate giveaways” and promotions offered for free entry. 

Whether you have an entire weekend or are looking for an affordable day trip, Summerfest is only a two hour drive or a brisk Amtrak ride from Chicago. And to be honest, it’s not every day you could walk from Matisyahu’s concert to Hall and Oates, Girl Talk’s to the Styx, Kid Rock’s to Ben Harper or Britney Spears to the Flaming Lips.

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