Bob Babisch, Summerfest’s longtime talent buyer, transitioning to consulting role

Bob Babisch (Photo: Lila Aryan Photography)

Last updated on March 7th, 2022 at 11:31 am

Bob Babisch, the leader of Summerfest operator Milwaukee World Festival Inc.’s entertainment department for the past four decades, announced he will step down from that role at the end of the year.

Babisch, who joined Milwaukee World Festival in 1976, has been in his current position of vice president of entertainment for most of those years, leading the team that handles booking and production for all concerts during Summerfest and non-festival shows held at the American Family Insurance Amphitheater and BMO Harris Pavilion.

Babisch will retain a consulting role with MWF after the 2022 season.

Babisch’s connections to talent agencies and management firms in the music industry have led to some big gets for the Big Gig over the years, including the Rolling Stones, Prince and Paul McCartney.

“Bob has an unmatched legacy that has helped shape not only Summerfest, but the music industry, during his illustrious career,” said Don Smiley, president and chief executive officer of MWF. “In the months to come, he will provide exceptional support for his team as we begin this transition to new leadership. On a personal note, I will miss seeing Bob on a day-to-day basis in 2023, but we both look forward to rocking and rolling in 2022.”

Scott Ziel, current associate booking director, will become director of entertainment, MWF announced. Ziel has worked closely with Babisch on the booking and production of Summerfest over the past 25 years.

He joined the organization as a seasonal production team member in 1992 before becoming a consultant in 1995 and later became associate booking director in 2015.

“I am excited to continue our tradition of presenting the world’s top talent as well as our strategy of offering an eclectic Summerfest lineup,” Ziel said. “We have an excellent booking and production team, which will continue to elevate the live music experience for artists and fans alike.”

Summerfest 2022, Babisch’s final season in his current role, will be held over three consecutive weekends this summer: June 23-25, June 30 – July 2 and July 7-9. Headliners announced so far include Justin Bieber, Jason Aldean, Halsey and Rod Stewart.

“It has truly been a dream job, I can’t believe I’ve been here for 46 years,” Babisch said in a statement Thursday. “Looking back, it’s the connection of live music and the fans that has inspired me for all these years. I am excited to continue to work with Scott and bring that connection to the next generation of music fans.”

In an interview with BizTimes editor Andrew Weiland last fall, Babisch recounted stories of how he’s managed to land some major acts for the festival.

“We waited forever for the Stones. The same (management) company did the Stones for years, and they did (only stadium shows). … But eventually it turned out they were putting together a 25-date Stones tour, and they were all stadiums, but they wanted to put them in one place where they thought they would have fun. And the reason we got that date was because the guys who were promoting that Stones tour years before promoted Prince. … And the only reason we got that first Prince date was because we heard (where) he was going to have a birthday party in Minneapolis and we cold-called like 45 times until somebody would pick up the phone and they said ‘I’ll ask.’ … He came and played the old amphitheater and had the time of his life, left, came back a couple years later and did it again.”


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