The “world’s largest music festival” might as well be the world’s largest family picnic. Is Summerfest stuck in the 90’s?
Having 800 acts should place Summerfest atop the mountain of music festivals that fill the spring and summer seasons, but it doesn’t. For whatever reason, Milwaukee seems content with letting Summerfest become a gathering place for C-list musicians and aging rock stars who are older than the festival itself.
Of Summerfest’s 11 headliners, there are: four country acts, three groups formed before John Lennon was shot, a former Disney star, two punk bands who have seen their recent album sales plummet, and then there’s Paul McCartney; none have had a Billboard #1 single within the last 10 years.
For most kids across the country, summer marks the end of school, and the temporary end of responsibility. On the other hand, if you live in Milwaukee, then the end of spring means that Summerfest, the world’s largest music festival, is on its way. Over an 11-day span, from June 29 to July 9, over 800 acts will perform for nearly 1 million guests at Henry Maier Festival Park.
It sounds great, until you look at the names.
This year’s headliners at Summerfest, in no particular order, are: Paul McCartney, Luke Bryan, Sting, Weezer, Chris Stapleton, Selena Gomez, Blake Shelton, Def Leppard, REO Speedwagon, Tim McGraw and Blink-182. A whitewashed blend of country sprinkled in with some nostalgic rock without a shred of cultural diversity.
The free stages are a desolate wasteland akin to the shadowy land that Mufasa warned us about nearly 21-years-ago. A blend of names we’ve never heard of and names we never thought we’d hear again; these free stages are banking on nostalgia. Names such as: Jason Derulo, Gavin Degraw, Timeflies and The Barenaked Ladies standout amongst the usual lineup full of acts dating as far back as the 1970’s.
However, reading Summerfest’s 2016 lineup is a lot like reading the credits to your favorite movie; there’s a few noteworthy names and then bunch that you might never see again. It’s normal for festivals to have a blend of famous and unknown artists. However, the noteworthy names at Summerfest tend to be older than most of the concert attendees, contrary to the more youth-centered lineups at other festivals.
“I noticed a lot of the bigger artist and groups are pretty much an older generations type of music. Nothing really appeals to me as a college student.,” said former Summerfest grounds employee, Chris Tribble.
This year Coachella, which took place in Indio, CA, saw a Guns N’ Roses reunion. Although a concert featuring an aging Slash and Axl Rose might not be what millennials are dying to see, it’s a tad more impressive than the cluster of country performers who headline Summerfest every year. Aside from Guns N Roses, Coachella brought in the likes of A$AP Rocky, Ellie Goulding, LCD Soundsystem, G-Eazy, Ice Cube, Disclosure, Calvin Harris and Sia. Just to name a few.
The follow-up festival to Summerfest is Lollapalooza, which takes place the first weekend of August in Chicago’s Grant Park. This year, Lollapalooza has extended the party an extra day in order to celebrate their 25th anniversary. The special four-day festival features headliners including: Radiohead, Red Hot Chili Peppers, J. Cole, Lana Del Ray and Future. Non-headliners include well known performers like Mac Miller as well as up-and-coming artists like Tory Lanez and Vince Staples
These other festivals have proven that a diverse line-up, that is appealing to all ages and tastes of music, is possible.
There is an obvious lack of hip-hop and rap music at “the world’s largest music festival,” which is interesting considering the Milwaukee rap scene is booming. It seems to be a festival geared towards white dads and soccer moms. In past years Summerfest has gotten the likes of Nas, Wiz Khalifa, Kendrick Lamar to perform. This year, there isn’t a notable rap or hip-hop performer to be found anywhere within the lineup.
“I think we get token black performances, and those performances are for my parents. It’s a beckoning call for whites of all ages,” said Milwaukee resident, Montell Allen.
This has become increasingly noticeable since Wiz Khalifa’s show on a free stage in 2011, which led to an extremely large and rowdy crowd.
“I went with friends but left after like 10 minutes because the crowd was too rowdy,” said frequent Summerfest attendee Maria Donadio. “I have gone to Summerfest every year since I was 14, so this [year] will be my eighth year.”
When asked about this year’s lineup, Donadio said, “It’s lame. This lineup isn’t as good as other years.” Although her music taste is shifted more towards alternative and punk rock, she added, “There was diversity, but mostly with alternative and country; there’s not many hip-hop artists if you compare it to country.”
Like the drunk uncle at Thanksgiving, Coachella and Lollapalooza force you to expect the unexpected. Four years ago, Coachella brought Tupac back from the dead via hologram to perform on stage alongside Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg. That same year Summerfest’s ‘big bang’ was an anniversary show by The Beach Boys, a group old enough to have worked with Charles Manson. (Before he left the music industry to pursue other ventures.) Summerfest is nothing like your drunk uncle. Summerfest is more like the human resources rep who daydreams about ballpoint pens.