Last updated on May 13th, 2019 at 02:43 pm
Small Business Times invited several southeastern Wisconsin executives to share with us their favorite Summerfest memories. We post their responses here for our readers’ enjoyment and reflection. We also invite you to share your memories with other readers by replying to the blog at the bottom of this report.
"I’ll always remember sitting on benches in the 1970s, in not-too-perfect weather, to watch Pete Seeger and Arlo Guthrie pick and sing through folk and protest history. The evening demonstrated how Summerfest’s wide variety of music can bring a different crowd to the Lakefront almost every night."
– Roger Stafford, president, Key Milwaukee and KeyMilwaukee.com
"My favorite Summerfest memory was my first trip to Summerfest in 1989 … I was 19 and took my girlfriend at the time to attend the ‘MTV Club Tour’ concert … Looking back, the acts were priceless … Tone Loc, Paula Abdul, Was Not Was, Milli Vanilli and Information Society. Needless to say, the concert will not be coming back for a repeat performance! Summerfest tickets are a hot commodity. TDS Metrocom buys a bulk of tickets that can be given to customers, prospects and employees so they can enjoy the ‘World’s Largest Music Festival.’"
– Jon Ollmann, regional marketing manager, TDS Metrocom
"My first memory of Summerfest was a concert by Aretha Franklin in a grassy field and wooden plank seating. I was there with a boyfriend who is long forgotten, but the memory of Summerfest and Aretha is a good one!"
– Barbara Wesener, executive director of the South Suburban Chamber (in Oak Creek)
"I have fond memories of a Huey Lewis concert back in maybe 1983 or 84, where my roommates and I climbed up the side of the bleachers of the old Main Stage and squeezed in to try to get a chance to see him in concert. My life has changed quite a bit since that time, and now my goal every year is to head straight for Saz’s for some mozzarella marinara. I have since passed on that tradition to my 16-year-old daughter, Rachel, who also has to have her ‘motz’ when we go down to Summerfest. Here’s to 40 more great years Summerfest! We thank you for some great times! "
– Shari Saeger, president, Classic Corporate Coaching LLC
"Well, there was that time that INXS was at the old mainstage, and we had tornado warnings and torrential downpours, and I actually saw two folks paddling a canoe in the parking lot under the Hoan Bridge, no joke! Everyone was playing in the puddles on the grounds and looking for high ground under all the vendor tents and booths. Just crazy. My fave foods are Saz’s mozzarella sticks and corn from Anderson’s.
"Or how about the time I was at Huey Lewis at the main stage and someone started a straw chain, they started fitting straws together and the chain of straws was lifted up above our heads and went from the stage to the back of the main stage area, It must have been about 10 blocks long. Crazy people.
"Or the time I was broadcasting backstage before the Steve Winwood concert in the middle of the day, waiting for the sound check etc., and Steve Winwood stopped me and asked me where the laundry room was backstage at the Marcus Amphitheatre. He was just standing there in a white T-shirt and jeans with his laundry basket!
"But one of my best memories happened last summer, meeting friends as usual at the Miller Oasis on the first day, when the power went out on the entire grounds! We sat in a strange silence for quite some time, and then suddenly the faint sound of horns in the distance … Then louder and louder, as the Wisconsin Badgers Marching Band saved the day, paraded around the Miller Oasis and entertained all of us for about 30 to 40 minutes. It was SO much fun. We danced on the picnic tables while they played their theme song and classic rock. One of my best memories. They truly saved the day and helped pass the time it took to get the power restored to the grounds. It was just a simple pleasure like in the first days of Summerfest, before the big stages, and corporate sponsors, when it was street musicians, tents and local bands.
– Patti Genko, radio personality and president of Genko Communications, Brookfield.
"I love music and Summerfest. Whenever I have friends or clients visit, I take them, and they cannot believe what a great venue we have, nor can they believe the amount of beer we drink! I always give clients and employees tickets, and I have so many favorite memories that I will briefly share two: Don Henley at the Marcus Amphitheater a few years back was one of the best shows I’d seen in years. I said to my wife, ‘If he ends with ‘Desperado,’ it will be a perfect show.’ He did! I also saw the Greg Khin Band at a side stage years ago, and it was simulcast live nationwide. To this day it’s one of the best shows I have ever seen."
– Grant Johnson, president of Johnson Direct LLC, Brookfield
"The first concert I ever attended was at Summerfest. My parents took my sisters and me to see my fave – David Cassidy! (Right, it was in the fest’s early days…) I will always remember the smallish stands, but the excitement I had over seeing David Cassidy LIVE. Years later, after I’d left the state and returned, I was walking with friends on the Summerfest grounds and spotted an old high school boyfriend whom I hadn’t seen in several years. I don’t know if this is printable, but I recognized him from the back because of the way he held his beer – with his elbow out! In his beer-influenced delight at our reunion, he, then married, told his friends and mine that I was the nicest girl he’d ever dated. At least I left an impression of some sort!"
– Gail Sideman, president, Publiside Personal Publicity, Milwaukee
"I met my wife Lori (former news anchor Lori Stafford) at Summerfest while she was still on Channel 12, but I did not know her. I always watched Chicago news."
– Jeff Thomas, president, SportsBuff.com, Kenosha
"We closed down our design office on a steamy Thursday afternoon in 1990 (I think), much like we did at least one day during the fest for the previous four years. My partner always planned at least three or four trips down there during the 10-day stretch. We’d buy tickets for clients and try to meet them for lunch at the lakefront. I played drums in the obscure Milwaukee rock band Couch Flambeau, and we were playing that day at the Rock Stage (that faced the other way, I think), and we were on just before Robyn Hitchcock and the Egyptians. From the moment I jumped out of my car and these three gorillas looked down at me and said, ‘We’ll get your drums, man,’ I thought, ‘This is what it’s like!’ Then it was off to a dressing room (trailer). It was hot. Typical Summerfest afternoon, about 90 and 190-percent humidity. I opened the door, and there was a metal bucket filled with ice and some of Milwaukee’s finest beverages. Man, I thought, ‘This IS what it’s like!’ I was single, trying to help run our design business, pretending to be a musician and dating a little bit. In fact, I was occasionally hanging out with a number of really intelligent and attractive women, a teacher and a couple that were in the legal field. I had a lot of hair then. I think I saw all of them in the audience when I peered out from backstage. The roadies set up all my junk, They did my sound check. We went out and rocked the fest. One of the coolest days in my business/music career. I thought this then and I still think … ‘So, that is what its like!’ I should’ve been a rock star."
– Joseph Hausch, president, Hausch Design Agency LLC, Franklin
"My most memorable Summerfest moment would easily be the INXS concert in the mid-80s. The day started out normal enough … nice warm weather and a good sized crowd. It started to rain before the concert began, so they put tarps on the speakers to keep them from getting wet. By mid-concert, it was raining so hard that the Summerfest grounds started flooding. Needless to say, they couldn’t continue, but nobody really seemed to care because by now the water was knee deep. It seemed like the deeper the water got, the more fun people were having. At one point, I saw people trying to swim down the street. How often do you see that? I think they were heading back to the beer tent, judging by their enthusiasm. I think they ended up closing the grounds early, but man, what a blast!"
– Bill King, vice president, Centurion Data Systems, Waukesha