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In Festival Guide

Get ready for your Big Gig debut with a few tips.

Insider info for first-time Summerfesters


Never been to Summerfest before? Well, full disclosure: most Milwaukeeans will find this suspicious. Hopefully, however, you're committed to completing this Brew City rite of passage by attending this year, and when you do, here are a few pointers so you can work the grounds like a Big Gig big shot.

  • Consider taking a bike, bus, park and ride or shuttle. Parking in the lots at Summerfest is pricey. Plus, the lots fill up and if you get a spot it can take a long time to exit, especially following an amphitheater show or at closing time (midnight). Although you might get lucky with street parking, you're competing with thousands of other fest goers for the same few spots. Lots of bars offer shuttles, including Hooligan's, Hi-Hat Lounge, Nomad, O'Lydia's and more. If you live close enough to bike to the Big Gig, there's ample free bicycle parking near the Main Gate.
  • To get from one end of the Summerfest grounds to the other, take the paved lakeside path, not the "main drag" in the middle. The lake path is usually less congested and allows you to check out the ever changing and beautiful Lake Michigan. And if you must walk the main path, do not walk under the SkyGlider. Reports of flip flops and spitballs falling on walkers' heads may or may not be lore.
  • Don't do anything illegal on the rocks. Of course, OnMilwaukee.com suggests you keep it legal everywhere on the Summerfest grounds, but plenty of under-aged drinkers and pot smokers have made the mistake of thinking that sitting on the rocks next to the lake is a private place when in reality, undercover security has been onto this "secret spot" for decades. Just don't do it.
  • Walk around and make a mental note of all the food options before digging in. The Big Gig is loaded with great food items, but you need to pace yourself so you don't stuff yourself silly and then are unable to dance with wild abandon on the bleachers at one of the side stages later on. Don't stuff your face with pizza and egg rolls and eggplant strips before you recognize there's ribs, taco plates, subs, cheesecake and more.
  • Ladies, don't wait for the last second to use the bathroom. The lines are usually long. The bathrooms just south of the children's play area are sometimes less crowded. And be sure to complain to the gal behind you that the guys never have to wait.
  • Try a red and a white wine cooler. Summerfest wine coolers are the signature adult beverage and as an experienced fest-goer, you need to have a preference. So try them both. For the record, we prefer the red, but hey, that's just us. Also, want to drink a non-MillerCoors beer? Local Lakefront Brewery is on the grounds, just south of the U.S. Cellular Stage.
  • Attend on a day with free admission. There are plenty of options to choose from that will save you the $15 admission fee.
  • The Marcus Amphitheater shows are the only performances to require a separate ticket. Ticket prices for shows range in price depending on the artist. Limited grass seats are available to all shows on a first-come, first-serve basis. Once you get into Summerfest, head to the Marcus Amphitheater to get a bracelet to ensure entrance. You will want to do this early in the day for popular shows. You can leave and come back, as long as you get a hand stamp on the way out.
  • Get to a side show early if you want a good seat. If a show starts at 10 p.m., go as early as 7 and check out the opening band or two. Even going that early does not guarantee a great spot on the bleachers, but if you pay attention and are assertive (but, please, don't be pushy and obnoxious) you can gingerly move your way up closer to the stage.
  • Drink plenty of water and wear sunscreen if it's hot. It's easy to have so much fun that you forget to hydrate or protect yourself and wind up not feeling well with a bad burn.
  • Tip your bartenders. The bartenders at the Big Gig are working their butts off, many have 11-days of 12-hour shifts. They are tapping as fast as they can for you. Show 'em some love.
  • The stacking of empty beer cups (and then drinking from the one on the top) is popular with the party-hardy crowd. Try to find the person with the tallest stack. It's a game; it's fun.
  • Don't wear open-toed shoes or flip flops, unless you don't mind a little beer between the toes.

Talkbacks

microbrew3 | June 14, 2012 at 4:32 p.m. (report)

First-timer mistake: paying admission for Summerfest. Lot's of promotions offered. You can even donate blood at a BloodCenter of Wisconsin donor center and get a ticket www.bcw.edu/summer

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Wez | June 4, 2012 at 1:10 p.m. (report)

Wow, I seriously thought the first post was a joke... And $15 isn't a rip off for admission. There needs to be more places to get Lakefront beer! You wouldn't recommend wearing open toed shoes or flip flops?!? Well I wouldn't want to see people in socks and black high tops! That's what State Fair is for.

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Aardvark | June 4, 2012 at 10:27 a.m. (report)

For $15, the amount of music and bands (including well-known national acts) is well worth it. That's not expensive IMO. Food, beer, etc is typical price of any sporting event or normal concert. I think you get a lot for your money.

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mikeyp3 | June 4, 2012 at 8:50 a.m. (report)

"The Marcus Amphitheater shows are the only performances to require a separate ticket." That was true up until this year -- BUT the brand new BMO Harris Pavilion now has RESERVED seats for the front sections (about 2,500 seats) starting at 7:30 p.m. each evening. They gave the reserved tickets away to fans over the past few weeks at the Summerfest box office -- they're probably all gone at this point. I think this is a FANTASTIC idea and have tickets to a couple of the shows at this stage (Chicago & Scorpions). But it should be really interesting to see how people react when they clear out the lower sections at 7 p.m. to allow for ticketholders to take their seats for the headliners... People tend to be pretty oblivious to changes like this -- so I'm sure it will take quite a bit of diplomacy along with some beefy security guards to make it go smoothly... I'll be there to watch the fun.

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tbecks | June 4, 2012 at 8:33 a.m. (report)

I pretty much have to agree with the above post on that Summerfest is overly priced and over crowded. Unless you have money to burn, are in the 20-30 year old bracket who likes to party hard and doesn't mind the roaming self-absorbed idiots bumping into you, peeing on you, spilling their alcohol on you or smoking, well then it's not for you. The place is much to small for the number of people who show up every year, parking sucks and there's not enough to do for families with kids. Who wants to bring their small children into this mess? This is of course my personal opinion from my past experiences at Summerfest. ROCK ON!

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