Last updated on June 29th, 2022 at 01:40 pm
The opening weekend of the “world’s largest music festival” is well under way, bringing large crowds, live entertainment and a lineup of local food and beverages to the Henry Meier Festival Park on Milwaukee’s lakefront.
Summerfest this year returns to its usual place on Milwaukee’s events calendar, having been postponed to September in 2021 and canceled in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s the second time the festival has been held in a weekend-only format verses its traditional 11-day run.
In past years, the annual event has made an estimated $186 million economic impact on the Milwaukee area. In 2019, the festival had 718,144 visitors. Attendance was down significantly last year due to the festival’s move to September, COVID-related entry restrictions and the emerging delta variant.
Summerfest officially opened Thursday, with country singer Jason Aldean headlining the American Family Insurance Amphitheater. Opening weekend headliners also include hip hop stars Lil Wayne, Wiz Khalifa and Wu Tang Clan. Justin Bieber was originally booked to perform Friday, June 24, but the pop star just days ago announced he would postpone the show as he recovers from Ramsay Hunt syndrome, which temporarily paralyzed half his face. See photos from the festivals opening day below.
Some of the ground stage acts throughout the festival include rock group Steve Miller Band, 90’s grunge-era band Stone Temple Pilots, KC & The Sunshine Band, and hip hop acts like Lupe Fiasco and Atmosphere.
Summerfest kicks off this year following some shifts in its executive leadership. This year is the second to last festival for longtime head Don Smiley, who will retire as chief executive officer of Milwaukee World Festival Inc. at the end of 2023. Upon announcing his retirement earlier this month, Smiley passed the role of president down to Sarah Smith Pancheri, previously chief operating officer and vice president of sales and marketing at MWF. This year marks the last festival season as head of entertainment for longtime talent buyer Bob Babisch, who will step down at the end of the year and transition into a consulting role.
Summerfest this year has at least one new corporate partner: Potawatomi Hotel & Casino. Under the multi-year sponsorship deal, announced earlier this month, the casino will have its name on the Founder’s Club, a premium VIP hospitality area at the American Family Insurance Amphitheater. It will also be the presenting sponsor of Summerfest’s Fan Appreciation Day on July 9.