Saturday, December 31, 2011
Summerfest Milwaukee History 1968 to 2012
If you are old enough to remember what Summerfest Milwaukee was like in past decades, you will probably agree that the festival of old was so very different from today. The "Worlds Largest Music Festival" is what they call it today, but in the 1970's Summerfest was a bit more freewheeling fun when compared to the more structured and clean family style event that it is now. When it all started, the festival was spread out over the entire city. There were concerts, films, and contests. It was 1968, so one would imagine that the types of music and events varied greatly. Henry Maier was Milwaukee's mayor, and the founder of the festival. He was proud to say that the first Summerfest was a financial success.
Summerfest 1969 Comes Up Short
After the success of the inaugural Summerfest '68, city officials decided to make Summerfest 1969 even bigger. Sadly, the weather didn't cooperate, and the event lost money. If Summerfest were to continue, Mayor Maier felt that the festival needed a permanent home. He thought that a central location would make it easy to control and maintain the event, and he was right. The City of Milwaukee leased to festival organizers a large parcel of land located just south of downtown. The site is just shy of 80 acres, and looked out over Lake Michigan.
Summerfest Stages and Grounds
In those early years the Summerfest Stages were a bit more rickety and mobile. The rock stage was located on the north end of the grounds, and it pointed west towards Milwaukee's third ward. In front of the stage were wooden bleachers bolted to paved ground. Folks rarely sat on those bleachers, as they made for better viewing when stood upon. Kids would jump from row to row, while others danced on the thick wooden planks. These days, it's not unusual to see old and young dancing on top of picnic tables scattered around Summerfest. For nearly 20 years, Summerfest had a midway. In those days, one could walk the midway without having to pay admission to the festival, as the rides and games were located just north or south of the entrance. These days, the eleven stages that take up the grounds are beautiful, permanent structures that weather the cold snowy Wisconsin winters.
Summerfest Sponsors Over the Years
In the early years, there were few corporate sponsors of Summerfest. The companies that did pony up the funds for the festival were given naming rights to the stages on the grounds. If you are old like me, you will remember the Miller Jazz Oasis. The current rock stage has seen many sponsors, including Zippo Lighters. The largest stage, and what is really a separate venue is named after the Marcus family of Milwaukee. The Marcus Amphitheater will never lose it's name, as the 18,000 seat structure was paid for by the family that bears its name. Harley Davidson, M&I Bank, Miller, and US Cellular are a few of the corporate sponsors of Summerfest.