Summerfest canceled over coronavirus concerns, Dave Matthews Band and others to play in 2021

Piet Levy
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

For the first time in 53 years, summer in Milwaukee won't have a Summerfest. 

The crown jewel for the City of Festivals, and one of the largest music festival in the United States, was canceled for the first time, because of the coronavirus pandemic. The announcement followed a unanimous vote Thursday by the board of Summerfest's parent company, Milwaukee World Festival Inc. 

"Given the information available today, and the uncertainty surrounding very large gatherings, we cannot in good conscience proceed with the festival this year," Don Smiley, Milwaukee World Festival CEO, said in a statement. "The immediate future presents multiple levels of risk for our fans, and we choose the side of safety."

Refunds for Summerfest general-admission tickets are available at Summerfest officials said dates for 2021 will be announced in the coming weeks.  

Some headliners scheduled to play this year have already confirmed they'll be at Summerfest next year. Dave Matthews Band, originally booked for July 2, will now play Summerfest's American Family Insurance Amphitheater on July 1, 2021. Halsey was supposed to play the Summerfest amphitheater on July 3 this year; she'll instead headline the 23,000-person-capacity venue on July 3, 2021.

Chris Stapleton and Sheryl Crow will now play the amphitheater July 8, 2021, instead of on June 30 this year. Justin Bieber and Guns 'N Roses are rescheduling their tours but have yet to announce new Summerfest dates. 

Nine amphitheater shows and seven shows at the BMO Harris Pavilion had been announced for the 2020 festival. Amphitheater headliner Sam Hunt and pavilion headliner Charlie Wilson were the only artists who announced moves to Summerfest's September 2020 window before the festival canceled. There's no word yet if they'll reschedule, or if any other confirmed acts for 2020 – including Luke Bryan, Blink-182 and Khalid – will play Summerfest next year. 

Mayor Tom Barrett spoke Thursday morning with Smiley before the festival was canceled.

"The uncertainties from the COVID-19 crisis are very daunting, and I understand the decision and I support the decision, and it's an unfortunate decision," Barrett told the Journal Sentinel, part of the USA TODAY Network. "I think everybody would love to see Summerfest. It creates a lot of jobs for young people, and that's something that we need right now."

The public health emergency continues, and the major touring acts Summerfest and other festivals rely on are continuing to remain off the road given the ongoing uncertainty. 

"No one knows how many concerts are canceled globally and tours taken down and tours moved to 2021," Smiley said. "You have to ask yourself at some point when it is not a full throttle Summerfest, when are we compromising to put on the show that people have grown to know and love and expect?"

People attending the last night of Summerfest in Milwaukee on Sunday, July 7, 2019.  Attendance figures - Photo by Mike De Sisti/Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Contact Piet at (414) 223-5162 or Follow him on Twitter at @pietlevy or Facebook at

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.