8 top Wisconsin summer music festivals to check out in 2018

Piet Levy
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
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Summerfest, the world's largest music festival, will host more than 800 acts performing across 11 days for its 51st edition, running June 27 to July 1 and July 3 to 8 on Milwaukee's lakefront.

Between the show-heavy first season at the new Bucks arena, Alpine Valley Music Theatre reopening, and a few bonus bashes at Miller Park and the American Family Insurance Amphitheater, 2018 looks to be the biggest year for major concerts in the Milwaukee area in at least a decade.

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But some of biggest stars and best talent will be visiting Wisconsin outside the city limits, at one, or possibly many, of our music festivals this summer.

This year, that number isn't quite as high as usual — the EDM and hip-hop heavy Summer Set, and Country on the River in Prairie du Chien, have canceled their festivals.

But there's no shortage of other events — including the 25th anniversary of Rock Fest, the 20th anniversary of Lifest, and, of course, Summerfest.

These are the eight best Wisconsin music festivals to check out this year, listed in order of occurrence.

Blue Ox Music Festival

When and where: June 14-16; Whispering Pines Campground, 5024 Crescent Ave., Eau Claire

The scene: With most major festivals touting themselves as big events, Blue Ox opts for something intimate, but no less ambitious, focusing on bluegrass, folk and traditional country music, and booking genre stars and locals alike to fill the lineup. 

Headliners: Greensky Bluegrass is back after headlining last year, along with the Devil Makes Three and Sam Bush.

Don't miss: Del McCoury, likely an idol for every artist on this lineup; Margo Price, who is making waves in the alternative country world; home state talent Horseshoes & Hand Grenades, Buffalo Gospel and Chicken Wire Empire.

Price: $69 to $94 for single-day passes; $169 for two-day; $189 for three-day. Find general admission tickets and camping passes at

Country USA

When and where: June 19-23; Ford Festival Park, 4125 Washburn St., Oshkosh

The scene: The 22-year-old fest is scaling back to three days starting in 2019, without, organizers promise, skimping on the talent, making this the festival's final year with a five-day run.

Headliners: Keith Urban, Maren Morris, Brett Eldredge, Jason Aldean, Dierks Bentley

Don'tmiss: The versatile Morris, great with a gospel-kissed anthem or an EDM banger, plus up-and-comers Lauren Alaina and Lindsay Ell.

Price: General admission ranges from $69 (single-day advance) to $200 (five-day general admission at the gate). Tickets and passes — plus a variety of camping and VIP passes — available at

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When and where: June 27-July 1 and July 3-8; Maier Festival Park, 200 N. Harbor Drive, Milwaukee

The scene: With 800 bands playing across 11 days, the World's Largest Music Festival once again offers anything and everything, although the lineup's a bit hipper than usual for its 51st edition.

Headliners: Imagine Dragons, James Taylor, Bonnie Raitt, Halsey, Logic, Florida Georgia Line, Dave Matthews Band, J. Cole, Journey, Def Leppard, Shawn Mendes, Blake Shelton, The Weeknd, Arcade Fire — all playing Summerfest's American Family Insurance Amphitheater.

Don't miss: The Weeknd is a great get, an A-lister making his Milwaukee debut a month before headlining Lollapalooza. Arcade Fire is playing its first concert in the city in 14 years. This will only be J. Cole's second concert after releasing the year's top-streaming album, "KOD." Highlights on the grounds stages include critically adored, Prince-inspired R&B artist Janelle Monae; comeback pop queen Kesha; and acclaimed singer-songwriter Jason Isbell with his band the 400 Unit.

Price: $14 to $21 for single-day general admission; $51 for three-day general admission; $100 for 11-day general admission, at Does not include access to American Family Insurance Amphitheater concerts. Amphitheater tickets include Summerfest general admission on the applicable concert date. 

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Eaux Claires

When and where: July 6-7; Foster Farms, 3443 Crescent Ave., Eau Claire

The scene: More a musical retreat than a full-blown festival, Eaux Claires (co-founded and co-curated by Bon Iver's Justin Vernon and the National's Aaron Dessner) prides itself on one-of-a-kind collaborations and presentations. In past years that's included a Bon Iver album premiere, guest-filled Grateful Dead and John Prine tributes, and Paul Simon performing with chamber group yMusic.

Who's playing: Your guess is as good as ours; Vernon has vowed to keep the lineup a secret until people show up, a thrilling or aggravating concept depending on whom you ask. Vernon has tossed fans a few bones, more or less confirming through direct Tweets and veiled social media clues that Sufjan Stevens, the National, Francis and the Lights, Noname and Julien Baker are (likely) playing. 

Price: $89 (single-day advance pass) to $350 (two-day VIP pass). Tickets and campsite packages at

Rock Fest

When and where: July 11-14, 24447 County Highway S, Cadott

The scene: For its 25th anniversary, Rock Fest has a special bonus day for three-day pass holders, plus a "Rock N' Relax" hammock park, tattoo artists, even a chapel if you want to get married.

Headliners: Incubus, Godsmack, Disturbed, and Ace Frehley on the bonus preview night for full pass holders July 11.

Don't miss: Unforgettable pop-punk and metalcore hybrid A Day to Remember; raw, hardcore punk band Rise Against; Halestorm, led by powerhouse vocalist Lzzy Hale; Twisted Sister's campy frontman Dee Snider.

Price: $79 to $89 for single-day general admission passes; $109 to $129 for three-day general admission passes. For tickets, plus add-ons, camping passes and more, visit


When and where: July 12-15, Sunnyview Expo Center, 500 E. County Road Y, Oshkosh

The scene: Featuring 150 artists on seven stages, Lifest is one of the largest Christian music festivals in the country. For its 20th anniversary this year, it's installing a new permanent main stage to accommodate its growth.

Headliners: TobyMac, For King & Country, NewsBoys

Don't miss: With an ultra-polished, crowd-pleasing show and a versatile discography, TobyMac is a must. So is folk-and-electronic blending singer-songwriter Crowder.

Price: $66 to $72 at $78 at the gate.

Country Thunder

When and where: July 19-22, 2305 Lance Drive, Twin Lakes

The scene: For the past few years, Luke Bryan has played at least two country festivals in Wisconsin. This year, Country Thunder is the only one that can claim him. 

Headliners: Along with Bryan, Sam Hunt, Dierks Bentley and Toby Keith

Don'tmiss: Midland, a throwback in sound and style to '70s California country; Ashley McBryde, who's getting buzz for her debut album, "Girl Going Nowhere."

Price: $75 (single-day admission) to $160 (four-day pass). Tickets, add-ons, camping passes and more at

Mile of Music

When and where: Aug. 2 -5 at more than 70 venues in downtown Appleton

The scene: A festival like no other, Mile of Music in its sixth year will welcome more than 200 artists (leaning a bit toward Americana) performing more than 900 sets of music on a mile-long stretch in the city.

Who's playing: So far just the first 50 acts, hailing from 24 states and Canada, have been announced, including fest newbies like Milwaukee soul rocker Abby Jeanne, and returning players like Grammy-nominated Mile of Music co-founder Cory Chisel.

Price: Hard to believe, but its all free. A "Music-Maker Badge," which includes various festival perks and other benefits, is $150 at

More on Music 

Find out about the week's must-see shows, concert tickets and more in the newsletter "Piet Levy's Music Picks." Subscribe at

Piet talks about concerts, local music and more on "TAP'd In" with Jordan Lee, 8 a.m. Thursdays on WYMS-FM (88.9). 


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