8 takeaways from the Summerfest 2018 lineup in Milwaukee
The much-hyped 50th edition for Summerfest — the pride of Milwaukee, and the World's Largest Music Festival — has come and gone. But this year's lineup for the 51st edition is arguably stronger.
You'll still see several perennials among the 150 acts announced Wednesday — your O.A.R.s and Phil Vassars and Cheap Tricks — but not as many as last year.
In the mix, Bob Babisch and his Summerfest talent buying team have nabbed noted names that haven't played Milwaukee in ages — like Arcade Fire and Janelle Monae — and in the case of the Weeknd, a superstar who has never played the city before.
All the while, they've upheld their mission statement, with the most diverse musical lineup you'll find at any festival on the planet. They've accomplished this for 2018 by making some significant strides, although they're still falling short in some areas.
The full schedule for the 800-act-plus lineup — playing 13 stages from June 27 to July 1 and July 3 to 8 — won't be out until late May. But here are eight thoughts on Summerfest 2018 based on the 167 "headliners" announced so far.
1. It's the "People's Festival," but millennials matter most: Last year's Millennial Day, where nearly all of the headliners on July 4 were in their twenties, won't return, but the festival is catering to teens and twentysomethings more than ever. Just look at the American Family Insurance Amphitheater lineup, which is dominated by shows serving younger audiences: the Weeknd, Shawn Mendes, Halsey and Logic, Imagine Dragons, J. Cole, Florida Georgia Line. Only two shows there are largely for the boomers: James Taylor with Bonnie Raitt, and Def Leppard with Journey.
2. Country downgraded, at least in the amphitheater: For years, Summerfest has booked at least three country shows in the amphitheater. This year, there are only two, with Blake Shelton and Florida Georgia Line, and the latter will be pop-heavy, especially with Bebe Rexha opening. You can expect a large country presence at Summerfest's new U.S. Cellular Connection Stage, with its expanded capacity to 9,000 people, and sponsorship from WMIL-FM (106.1). Headliners like Billy Currington, Kane Brown and Kip Moore likely will play there.
3. EDM expands: Electronic dance music has long factored at the festival, including an amphitheater play when the genre exploded in 2012. But there seem to be more DJs, and more variety, than ever in 2018, from pop chart-toppers like Marshmello; to heady acts like Louis the Child; to the ultra-intense Party Favor, a surprising choice that shows Summerfest's talent team is stepping out of its comfort zone.
4. Rap represents the old school and new stars: Summerfest's hip-hop lineup just two years ago was embarrassingly abysmal, and too frequently for the grounds stages, they've played it safe with repeat players like Common, the Roots or Talib Kweli. The festival made some strides in 2017, and that momentum continues, with two hip-hop shows (J. Cole; Logic and NF performing with Halsey) in the amphitheater, and hot stars like Lil Uzi Vert and Tory Lanez. But, refreshingly, you can find some hip-hop pioneers, too, including Sugarhill Gang and DJ Jazzy Jeff.
5. As with every other music festival, women are underrepresented: While Summerfest smartly improved its hip-hop and EDM offerings, all of its headliners representing those genres are male, just like last year. And while the talent team usually books some female country stars, this year there aren't any. More disappointing is the realization that there's still a massive gender disparity at practically every music festival; Lollapalooza in Chicago has no women headliners, and didn't even list any female acts until the fourth line of its lineup poster. Summerfest, at least, has Halsey headlining the amphitheater, and Arcade Fire featuring Regine Chassagne, along with amphitheater openers Grace VanderWaal, Charli XCX, Bonnie Raitt and Bebe Rexha. On the grounds, you also can see Kesha and MILCK, whose powerful songs "Praying" and "Quiet," respectively, have become the leading anthems of the #MeToo and #Time'sUp movements.
6. Not as much local love: The 50th Summerfest was a banner year for celebrating homegrown talent: IshDARR was the first local rapper to headline a grounds stage, and Milwaukee acts like GGOOLLDD, Vinyl Theatre and Horseshoes & Hand Grenades had official headliner status. This year, there are only two: Dead Horses and Abby Jeanne. No doubt Summerfest will give some local acts prime opening slots; plus there's the new Klement's Beer and Sausage Garden, which will feature acoustic sets by Milwaukee artists from 2 to 8 p.m. daily.
7. It's a great festival for discovery: With the Summerfest lineup, complaints usually come one of two ways — people either whine about a "lame" act that's played the festival over and over, or they complain about all the acts they've never heard of before. Those no-name acts, though, can be quite amazing, and that's as true as ever in 2018 with such emerging artists as Caroline Rose, Soccer Mommy and Wisconsin native Carlie Hanson. Their names may be tiny on the poster, but they're bound to make a big impression.
8. The value proposition is ridiculous: Music industry observers were shocked that it took more than a week for Lollapalooza to sell out its four-day passes; last year, they were scooped up within a few hours. But with tickets costing $400, maybe we shouldn't be all that surprised, especially when you consider the wide variety of lower-cost festivals in the region.
In terms of value, nothing beats Summerfest. Eleven-day passes are $85 for a limited time; following the promotional deal, they'll just be $100. Those don't include amphitheater access, but that's still an incredible bargain. And even if you splurge on a $165 ticket to see the Weeknd in a premium amphitheater seat, and you get a $100 11-day pass on top of that, you'll still be saving more than $100 compared to Lolla.
Or you can pay more to watch the Weeknd from a packed field at Lolla — where port-a-potties are your only bathroom options.
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