Summerfest in Milwaukee postponed until September due to coronavirus pandemic
Festivals are canceling and postponing all over the world because of the coronavirus pandemic.
For Summerfest in Milwaukee, the show will go on — in September.
Officials with parent company Milwaukee World Festival Inc. announced that the annual 11-day festival — originally set this year for June 24 to 28 and June 30 to July 5 — will now run nine days in 2020, taking place on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays across the first three weeks in September.
The new dates: Sept. 3 to 5, Sept. 10 to 12 and Sept. 17 to 19. Festival officials Monday did not reveal if any of the 32 acts already announced for 2020 will be available in September. They were split up across nine shows at the American Family Insurance Amphitheater and seven shows at the BMO Harris Pavilion, and included Justin Bieber, Guns N' Roses, Chris Stapleton, Dave Matthews Band and Halsey.
"The new dates provide the best possible option to deliver the Summerfest experience our fans and sponsors have grown to love; we are doing everything possible to continue a tradition which spans five decades," Don Smiley, CEO of Milwaukee World Festival Inc., said in a letter Monday.
"We know there will be many questions and we look forward to sharing details with you in the future."
All previously purchased general-admission passes will be honored, and Summerfest officials said they would reveal the status of previously announced shows at the amphitheater and the pavilion in the coming days.
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It's the first time in Summerfest's 52-year history that the festival has been postponed. But the coronavirus pandemic has prompted a lot of firsts for the live music industry.
With a growing urgency to end social gatherings to reduce the virus' spread around the world, Live Nation and AEG, the largest players in the live music industry, took the unprecedented step of halting all tours starting March 12.
Within a couple days, the Milwaukee spring music calendar was virtually wiped out, including the season's biggest concerts, like a Kenny Chesney and Florida Georgia Line Miller Park blowout, and Elton John's final Milwaukee show at Fiserv Forum, both of which have been postponed with new dates to be announced.
The Pabst Theater Group alone canceled or postponed 128 shows through May 15 at its four Milwaukee venues. Milwaukee shows through May are being canceled or postponed every day, and with each day of uncertainty about the pandemic's possible end, summer concerts and events are increasingly in greater jeopardy. PrideFest, set to kick off the city's summer festival season from Maier Festival Park June 4 to 7, has already been postponed, with new dates to be determined.
While most big tours are being rescheduled, it's a more complicated process for festival organizers, given the large number of artists involved and schedules to coordinate for each event.
And Summerfest has one of the most complicated booking processes of any festival in the world, scheduling 800 acts across 11 days each year. Even with its lowest attendance since at least 1986 last year — where 718,144 people walked through the turnstiles — Summerfest still had the highest attendance of any music festival in the United States, according to Rolling Stone.
Coachella and Bonnaroo managed to push off their 2020 editions to the fall. Other festivals weren't so lucky. Glastonbury in England was set to celebrate its 50th anniversary beginning June 24 — the same day as Summerfest's opening day — but has been postponed to 2021. SXSW in Austin and Pharrell Williams' Something In The Water festival canceled completely.
So for Summerfest organizers to be able to salvage this year's edition is quite an accomplishment. There are few annual events that carry as much civic pride, in Milwaukee certainly and arguably in Wisconsin, than Summerfest.
A 2013 study by the firm Tourism Economics concluded Summerfest's annual economic impact was $187 million in Milwaukee, with an additional $39 million filtering throughout the state. Even if a shorter September version doesn't have that impact, the festival will generate spending across the city and generate some work. Last year, the festival itself hired 2,225 seasonal employees.
This is also an especially important year for festival officials because it's the first season with its fully upgraded American Family Insurance Amphitheater. A two-year, $53 million renovation is set to be completed by June.
The remodel of Summerfest's 23,000-capacity amphitheater is the largest in the festival's history, part of $165 million in renovations to Maier Festival Park since 2006 that have included reconstructed ground stages and entrances. Summerfest's biggest venue opened as the Marcus Amphitheater in 1987.
By the end of last year, Milwaukee World Festival's debt amounted to an estimated $30.1 million, but Smiley has stressed that the festival remains profitable and was on track to reduce that debt to $13 million by 2030, when its lease with the city for Maier Festival Park expires.
With high promoter interest in the new amphitheater, Maier Festival Park is on track for its busiest season in 16 years. Eight shows have been booked for the amphitheater outside of Summerfest, beginning with Santana and Earth, Wind & Fire July 12, and wrapping up with KISS' farewell tour stop Sept. 15 with David Lee Roth.
To date none of those amphitheater shows outside of Summerfest have been postponed.
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Summerfest acts previously announced
Before Monday's announcement, 32 acts were announced for Summerfest 2020, when it was originally scheduled for June 24 to 28 and June 30 to July 5.
Officials have yet to announce if any of those acts will perform at Summerfest in the fall.
Those shows included:
American Family Insurance Amphitheater
- Justin Bieber with Kehlani and Jaden Smith
- Luke Bryan with Morgan Wallen
- Sam Hunt with Kip Moore, Travis Denning, Ernest and Brandi Cyrus
- Khalid with Jessie Reyez
- Blink-182 with Coheed and Cambria, The Used and Grandson
- Chris Stapleton with Sheryl Crow
- Dave Matthews Band
- Halsey with Chvrches and Omar Apollo
- Guns N' Roses
BMO Harris Pavilion
- Goo Goo Dolls
- Steve Miller Band with Marty Stuart and His Fabulous Superlatives
- Barenaked Ladies
- Charlie Wilson
- KC and the Sunshine Band
- Psychedelic Furs
- Rolling Stone previously announced that Modern English was supposed to play Summerfest, but festival officials have yet to confirm the booking.
Contact Piet at (414) 223-5162 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @pietlevy or Facebook at facebook.com/PietLevyMJS.
Piet also talks concerts, local music and more on "TAP'd In" with Jordan Lee. Hear it at 8 a.m. Thursdays on WYMS-FM (88.9), or wherever you get your podcasts.