Having already snagged some tickets, but looking at the discouraging airline prices, I started reminiscing about the past years of attending. They are celebrating their 55th anniversary, and I have been there for most of those years.
My first Summerfest I was nine years old. My father took my best friend and I to see Gladys Knight and The Pips at the Main Stage. We were in the bleachers pretty far back and even standing it was hard to see. But I felt like this was a very cool place.
A friend I met in middle school had parents who were big jazz fans. They would go down early in the day, bring a deck of cards and camp out on a picnic table, enjoying good music, each other, and some beers. My friend and I would roam the grounds, stopping off to watch local bands and upcoming acts at all the stages. That’s if there wasn’t someone we wanted to see over at the Main Stage. In those days, everything was general seating on bleachers, so it was total first come, best seats. The gates to the Main Stage would open a couple of hours after the festival grounds opened, which meant there would already be a line waiting to get some seats. A testimony to people in Wisconsin, this situation never resulted in anyone being killed or even injured, something I am not sure could have been pulled off in other parts of the country. Despite not being very athletic, I got quite good at doing the Main Stage Mad Dash when the gates opened. Bleacher jumping and getting somewhere in the first few rows and then spreading my body out as far as I could to save as many seats as possible for my friends. We rarely sat farther back than the first five rows. By high school, my seat saving skills got so good, we were almost always in the front row.
When I hit the workforce at age 18, too broke for any real vacations, I took my two weeks during Summerfest. I went every day, sometimes from open to close, depending on the lineup. My dream was to sometime play there, since at this point, I was singing in bands. That dream finally came true in the last 80s when we got booked for an early evening gig on one of the smaller stages.
I moved to California shortly after that gig, feeling like my goals for Wisconsin were completed. I went through several day jobs before having a real career, buying my home, and of course, continuing to do music. Every summer, I made my pilgrimage back to the place where my love of music had been cultivated, sometimes convincing California friends to come along and eventually, the D-Man, who is not particularly fond of concert going. Every time I walk on the grounds for the first time of the season, all the memories and good times come flooding back.
A Wisconsin friend and I were commiserating about the Summerfest changes. The three weekends instead of the 11 straight days of years past. The demise of the wine coolers, for more expensive signature drinks. The less than stellar lineups on certain days.
The D-Man, never one to listen to complaining, had enough. “Would you stop it? There is no other music festival like this in the country. Stop complaining and just enjoy it!”
He had a point. Those of us who love it, want it to be better. Or maybe we want it to be the way it was. But like so many things in life, it is what it is. Still my happy place.
Check out www.summerfest.com for more information.