Summerfest canceled for first time in 53 years

The South Gate to the Summerfest grounds, officially known as Henry Maier Festival Park.

Last updated on June 5th, 2020 at 01:43 pm

Summerfest 2020 will be canceled for the first time in the music festival’s 53-year history. 

The Milwaukee World Festival, Inc. board of directors elected Thursday to cancel the festival due to the ongoing uncertainty related to the safety of large gatherings amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

In late March, MWF announced this year’s festival, originally scheduled for late June, would be pushed back to September

This year’s festival was also scheduled to be the grand opening of the new American Family Insurance Amphitheater, which has undergone a $53 million renovation over the past two years. The revamped venue was slated to open on June 24. 

Don Smiley, president and chief executive officer of MWF, said the organization was committed to “doing everything possible” to preserve the event’s $186 million economic impact, and its staff, sponsors and vendors have worked “tirelessly” over the past two months in preparation for the September event. But, “uncertainties are too great,” he said. 

“After careful, diligent, and thoughtful consideration and out of an abundance of caution for the health and safety of our community – including artists, fans, vendors, participants and staff – Summerfest presented by American Family Insurance will not take place in September 2020, as previously announced,” Smiley said. “It is our honor to be responsible for such a storied tradition. With five decades of festivals, countless legendary performances and millions of memories, Milwaukee World Festival, Inc. explored numerous options to ensure the Summerfest tradition could continue in 2020, in a safe and healthy manner.

“Yet, given the information available today, and the uncertainty surrounding very large gatherings, we cannot in good conscience proceed with the festival this year,” Smiley said. “The immediate future presents multiple levels of risk for our fans, and we choose the side of safety.”

Refunds are available and more information is available at the Summerfest website. 

“We are grateful to American Family Insurance and all the donors who made this new (amphitheater) possible, and look forward to welcoming artists and fans in 2021,” Smiley said. 

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Lauren Anderson
Lauren Anderson covers health care, nonprofits, education and insurance for BizTimes. Lauren previously reported on education for the Waukesha Freeman. She graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she studied journalism, history and African studies. In her free time, Lauren enjoys spending time with family and friends and seeing live music wherever she can.

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