Milwaukee's Summerfest will require all attendees to show proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test
If you want to go to Summerfest 2021, you're going to have to have a COVID-19 vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test.
Milwaukee World Festival Inc., which operates the Milwaukee music festival, the largest in the United States, announced Tuesday morning that a COVID-19 vaccination or negative COVID-19 test result will be required to attend Summerfest, which runs Sept. 2 to 4, 9 to 11, and 16 to 18.
The requirement also covers the Wednesday standalone "preview" concerts before those dates at the American Family Insurance Amphitheater, as well as a Milwaukee World Festival-produced concert with Little Big Town and the BoDeans Aug. 13.
Summerfest's move comes as more music venues and performers push for more safety measures as COVID-19 cases surge again in Wisconsin and around the country.
“We collaborated with national health experts and music industry executives and determined this was the best course of action for Summerfest.” Don Smiley, president and chief executive officer of Milwaukee World Festival Inc., said in a statement.
“Milwaukee World Festival has been a community leader and a tremendous partner in prioritizing the health of festival staff, vendors, performers, and attendees throughout their planning,” Milwaukee Health Commissioner Kirsten Johnson said in the same statement. “We are pleased with their proactive decision to implement these additional safety measures and ensure festivalgoers can feel comfortable attending this beloved music fest responsibly.”
Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett on Tuesday praised Summerfest’s decision, saying it was made based on science and out of concern for the safety of participants and the community.
Asked whether Summerfest should be postponed altogether given concerns about rising case numbers, Barrett said: “From my perspective, I think people are still looking at the numbers, and we have to see what’s going to happen over the next several weeks. It remains a very fluid situation, not in the right direction.”
What Summerfest is requiring
According to Milwaukee World Festival's statement, Summerfest attendees will be asked at the entry gate to show a valid COVID-19 vaccination card or proof of a negative test. An original vaccination card, a printed copy of a valid vaccination card or a negative test will be accepted. Documentation may also be digital, such as a screenshot or photo on a phone.
For patrons who are not fully vaccinated, a negative COVID-19 test result must be obtained within 72 hours of attending the festival.
Masks will also be required for children younger than 12. Children younger than 12 are not yet eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine.
Also, children younger than 12 will not be required to provide a negative COVID-19 test.
Summerfest is not requiring masks for visitors over the age of 12, although in its statement the festival urged, per current Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, that attendees wear masks in indoor spaces on the Summerfest grounds. The CDC also recommends masks for unvaccinated people when they're at large gatherings.
Due to the fluidity of the situation with the COVID-19 pandemic, Summerfest's safety protocols and procedures could change, a Summerfest spokeswoman said. The festival plans to keep fans updated on its website.
Summerfest also said it would have information on refunds for general-admission and concert tickets on its website "in the days to come."
More concerts, venues adding COVID-19 protocols
Summerfest 2021 had been set for its usual June-July dates but was postponed until September in the hopes of getting out from under the COVID-19 pandemic. It returns next month after being canceled in 2020, the first cancellation in the festival’s 53-year history.
The pandemic also forced music venues in Milwaukee and much of the country to abruptly close their doors in March 2020. Only this summer have they begun to host shows again, prompted by growing vaccination rates and a decline in COVID-19 cases this spring.
But as cases have surged across the country in recent days with the rise of the more-contagious delta variant, music venues, and some performers, have been pushing for more safety protocols such as requiring masks or proof of vaccination.
The Cactus Club began requiring proof of vaccination for all events beginning this week, and patrons must wear masks. Some touring artists coming to Milwaukee this year — including Umphrey’s McGee at the Riverside Theater Friday and Japanese Breakfast at Turner Hall Ballroom next month — will also require proof of vaccination or a negative test.
On Thursday, the Pabst Theater Group announced plans to require patrons to have either COVID-19 vaccinations or a negative COVID-19 test for shows starting Sept. 1.
The number is bound to grow. Last week, Live Nation, the largest concert promoter in the world, opened the door for artists to require masks and proof of vaccination or negative COVID tests for their tour stops.
Last month, Lollapalooza, the giant music festival on Chicago's lakefront, put in place restrictions similar to those Summerfest announced. On Tuesday, the Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival, which is scheduled for Sept. 2 through 5, announced the same requirements.
But not everyone is on board with those policies just yet. In fact, Milwaukee World Festival is hosting multiple shows at the amphitheater and BMO Harris Pavilion outside of Summerfest that have yet to announce a vaccine or negative test requirement.
Those include: Chris Tomlin (Aug. 15 at the pavilion); Doobie Brothers (Aug. 24, pavilion); Hall & Oates (Aug. 28, amphitheater); KISS (Sept. 5, amphitheater); Mt. Joy and Trampled by Turtles (Sept. 24, pavilion); Slipknot (Sept. 29, amphitheater); Alice Cooper (Oct. 1, pavilion) and Primus (Oct. 8, pavilion).
Alison Dirr of the Journal Sentinel staff contributed to this report.
Editor's note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly said masks would be required for all children 12 and younger.