'Everything is moving along great': Summerfest bookings filling up for September dates
Summerfest in Milwaukee is still a go for this September, officials with parent company Milwaukee World Festival Inc. said at a board of directors meeting Thursday morning.
With COVID-19 vaccinations underway, and President Joe Biden suggesting all American adults will be eligible for a vaccine by May 1, bookings for the country's largest music festival "in the last few months (have) started to open up," Bob Babisch, Summerfest's vice president of entertainment, said at the board meeting.
"We have holds on most of the dates going into September," Babisch said. "A lot of our (previously announced) amphitheater shows are moving to new dates."
"We're just waiting now for the proper time to announce tickets," Babisch added. "Everything is moving along great."
Last month, Summerfest officials announced that its dates would be affected for a third time because of the pandemic, pushing off its late June and early July run to Sept. 2 to 4, 9 to 11 and 16 to 18.
"The optimism is high given the vaccines that are out there, but we agreed that it would take longer to vaccinate the broader community than what our June 24 start date was going to allow," Don Smiley, president and CEO of Milwaukee World Festival, told the Journal Sentinel at the time.
Variety reported Wednesday that Coachella in California, one of the world's premier music festivals, will again stay dark in 2021 because of COVID-19. Officials with that festival have yet to confirm the report.
While some other major music festivals also are scrapping 2021 plans — including Boston Calling, CMA Fest and Glastonbury in England — Live Nation CEO Michael Rapino suggested in an earnings call last month that outdoor concerts and festivals could return by midsummer as the nation aims to reach herd immunity.
Some festivals have already moved to September and October hoping that's the case, like Bonnaroo in Tennessee, Governor's Ball in New York and the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival.
The Life is Beautiful festival in Las Vegas has already announced its lineup for Sept. 17 to 19 — led by Billie Eilish, Green Day and Tame Impala — and sold out weekend passes in record time this month.
Two announced Summerfest headliners for 2020 — Halsey and Sam Hunt — canceled for 2021, but seven others set for the American Family Insurance Amphitheater had moved to the festival's June and July 2021 dates, including Guns N' Roses, Justin Bieber, Luke Bryan, Chris Stapleton, Dave Matthews Band, Blink-182 and Khalid. There's no word yet which of those shows may reschedule for September. No other acts have been announced for 2021 so far.
The board Thursday also approved the tentative Maier Festival Park calendar for 2021, with the caveat that plans during the pandemic are subject to change.
Polish Fest, German Fest and Festa Italiana have already been called off for a second year in a row, while PrideFest, typically in June, is hoping for an October event.
But the approved calendar suggests for now that Black Arts MKE is on for Aug. 7, Irish Fest for Aug. 19 to 21, and Mexican Fiesta for Aug. 27 to 29. The Fromm Petfest, Labor Fest and four walking or running events are also scheduled for August through October.
Five rescheduled amphitheater shows outside of Summerfest — featuring KISS, Maroon 5, Hall & Oates, the Black Crowes and Santana with Earth, Wind and Fire — are still on the books for July through September. The 5,000-seat BMO Harris Pavilion at Maier Festival Park is still scheduled to host Primus July 24 — and five other shows outside of Summerfest, yet to be announced.
The board Thursday also heard the grim bullet points from Tuesday's audit committee meeting, including an $8.1 million loss for the organization before depreciation, and a $17.4 million loss after depreciation, when Summerfest was forced to cancel for the first time in its 53-year history in 2020.
Revenue for 2020 was $384,017, which was less than 1% of the 2019 amount of $48,876,210. The organization received $935,000 from the federal Paycheck Protection Program last year, and $395,308 from a Wisconsin entertainment venue grant program. Milwaukee World Festival plans to apply for the Shuttered Venue Grant, which is a $16.25 billion program run by the Small Business Administration.
"2020 was a tough year, but as far as we're concerned 2020 is in the rear-view mirror," Smiley said at Thursday's board meeting. "It's time to move on and look at ... all the opportunities ahead."
Smiley discussed progress of the new Northwestern Mutual Community Park, currently under construction, and the Generac Stage, replacing the Harley-Davidson Roadhouse, with construction scheduled for completion on June 1.
Smiley also discussed the amphitheater, which completed a two-year, $51.3 million redesign last year. Smiley revealed that Molson Coors was behind a capital project within the amphitheater, saying more specifics would be revealed at a later date.
Smiley also touted the hiring of Derrick Harris, a 25-year veteran of the Milwaukee Police Department, as Milwaukee World Festival’s new director of security.
The hiring follows a months-long dispute in 2019 and early 2020 between Milwaukee World Festival and city officials over security costs, which topped $800,000 for four consecutive years.
"Importantly, he will be helpful to us in developing an operating plan with the Milwaukee Police Department for services related to Summerfest that we can work with the city on," Smiley said. "That’s been a long desired goal of the city and Derrick is going to play a big role in how we staff and keep our fans safe when attending events at Henry Maier Festival Park."
The board Thursday also announced that it was postponing its planned June meeting to Aug. 5 to take place closer to Summerfest.
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.