Summerfest announces June and July lineup as Wisconsin music festivals prepare for a more normal summer

This summer will mark a return to normal for Milwaukee Summerfest and many other music festivals across the state.

summer festival announced its full range Tuesday, featuring over 135 national artists including Lil Wayne, Justin Bieber, Backstreet Boys and Jason Aldean.

The annual event in downtown Milwaukee is the largest festival in Wisconsin and typically attracts around 800,000 people from Milwaukee, the state and around the world.

The festival was canceled in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, marking the first time the event has been canceled in 53 years. Summerfest organizers brought the festival back in 2021 but delayed shows until September.

Summerfest entertainment director Scott Ziel said organizers were excited to resume their regular season from late June to early July.

“That’s when people are really excited to get out and see music and be part of the festival experience. So we’re very, very excited to get back to normal,” said Ziel.

He said the festival had decided to stick with the three-weekend format it was using in 2021 in hopes of allowing more people to attend the event. The shows will take place from June 23 to 25, from June 30 to July 2 and from July 7 to 9.

Ziel said the calendar will also help organizers find staff to work at the festival more easily this year. He said the event often attracts college and high school students looking for summer jobs.

“We have a lot of teachers who have a long tradition of working at the festival and helping us. So when we moved the festival to September it became very difficult and in general, you know, the labor pool work was much, much smaller,” he said. “The first week of April we’re having our first job fair and based on how many people have signed up so far , you can tell it’s going a lot better and I think we’ll be in a better position to have a bigger workforce this summer.”

Ziel said Summerfest will not have COVID-19 testing or vaccine requirements for attendees this year, based on the state’s current number of COVID-19 cases and declining numbers. of cases last spring that the organizers hope to repeat this year.

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The Blue Ox Music Festival in Eau Claire is also resuming its usual June dates for the 2022 season, which this year runs from June 23-25. The western Wisconsin festival was held virtually in 2020 and moved its 2021 event to August last year in hopes that the number of COVID-19 cases would drop.

Mark Bischel, an organizer with Blue Ox, said the organization of this year’s festival was much closer to normal.

“We’re not 100% sure what to expect. But at the same time, I think we and our participants are both considering looking at this as a more normal year,” Bischel said. “We found that there could be more competition (for bands) and I think there are even a lot of new festivals that we haven’t seen before this year.”

He said programming has also been complicated by bands trying to honor rescheduling shows that have been canceled due to the pandemic.

Blue Ox will bring Old Crow Medicine Show, Punch Brothers, Béla Fleck’s My Bluegrass Heart and over 40 other artists to the three-day festival. This includes several bands with Wisconsin ties, such as Horseshoes & Hand Grenades, Them Coulee Boys, and Armchair Boogie.

Bischel said one trend that’s here to stay from pandemic-era festivals is the live streaming of shows for online audiences. Blue Ox had already started streaming parts of their festival live before the pandemic, and Bischel said he thinks many events will continue to try to cater to virtual audiences.

“I think people have gotten used to things being maybe a bit smaller. I don’t know if overall people are ready for a crowded environment,” he said. “It’s something that we’ve always been proud of is that we want it to feel intimate and small. And I think that’s something that might just be consumer taste.”

Jon Kaiser is the organizer of the Northwoods Rock Rally in Glen Flora. He took over the event in 2021 and brought it back for the first time since 2018, with some COVID-related precautions like limiting attendees to 1,000 people and backstage masking requirements.

Kaiser said booking bands last year was difficult, with some bands remaining cautious about COVID-19 and others keen to book shows and recoup lost revenue from 2020.

“It looks like the industry is pretty much back to normal, I would say. A lot of bands are kind of overrated right now just because they haven’t played at all since 2019,” Kaiser said. “There’s a lot of demand and that drives up the value, which hurts festivals that try to book a lot of bands like me.”

He said festival-related costs were up 20-40% across the board, including things like generators or hiring contractors to fit out the festival site. But he said there were also more food vendors popping up and more volunteers willing to help with the event.

Northwoods Rock Rally will take place August 18-20 and will feature 10 Years, Nonpoint and 25 bands from Wisconsin.

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