Bob Babisch and the Milwaukee World Festival, Inc. team have planned the entirety of Summerfest 2021 four times. That’s right: They’ve gone through four iterations of the World’s Largest Music Festival: summer 2020, fall 2020, summer 2021 and, finally, the one that’s actually going to happen this month.
Taking a look at the lineup this year, I’d say the chips fell pretty darn well in their favor with acts like Green Day, Fall Out Boy and Weezer all in one show; Chance the Rapper; Twenty One Pilots; Megan Thee Stallion; two very popular Daves (both Chappelle and Matthews); and more joining the bill at the American Family Insurance Amphitheater.
As usual, the grounds stages are packed with talent too, with names like Run the Jewels, Kesha, Ludacris, Fitz and the Tantrums, Rise Against, and DJ Diesel – yes, that’s none other than Shaquille O’Neal – gracing the spotlight.
Summerfest has been pulling big talent to our rad venue on the lake for quite some time now, but it hasn’t always been a cake walk, with the facilities being a limiting factor because of the festival’s growth and popularity. Over the years, we’ve seen the venue change massively to accommodate the varying demands of touring artists and their fans.
In fact, one of this week’s guests on The GoGedders Podcast, Jason Stuewe, has literally made that his job as the Big Gig’s Vice President of Planning and Development for the past 16 years. He and his team have completely redone a number of ground stages to suit a new generation of fest goers, improving guest experiences and upping the festival’s cred along the way.
But when it comes to the big kahuna: the Amphitheater, where the biggest acts play?
“We’ve been talking about it for years ... The building was tired – it was time. If we wanted to get shows of that caliber and that size, we had to change,” Babisch remarked while talking about booking acts like Miley Cyrus and Guns N’ Roses.
One of the main issues they’d run into when trying to book concerts of that magnitude was the ceiling height – something most concert goers probably don’t think about. Typically, modern light shows for stadium acts require ceilings of 60 feet or so, and the old venue wasn’t tall enough to accommodate. Now, they’ve raised the roof almost twice its original height to 65 feet, leaving plenty of space to book just about any act that might want to come through.
The higher ceiling is just the tip of the iceberg, though. With over $51.3 million in upgrades (that’s $51,300,000, just so you can see all those beautiful zeroes), the American Family Insurance Amphitheater is now ready to host some the biggest names in music.
If you’d like to read about all the upgrades, you can check them out here. But in short, it feels like a completely new venue.
We’re talking 25,000 more square feet of concourses. New bars, lounges and restrooms (more than double the previous amount for women). New concession options. Skyline views. An all-new third level concourse. Accessibility upgrades. Traffic and elbow room improvements. New HD video screens and digital displays. Big ol’ ceiling fans. A WAY bigger stage. A big removable front section for shows that need a pit. Nineteen new dressing rooms for talent. The list goes on, and on, and on, and on. (Thanks, Bobby Tanzilo, for the rundown!)
If you’d like to learn more about the project and the process behind it, tune into this week’s episode of The GoGedders Podcast. Host Richie Burke sits down with Babisch and Stuewe to talk all about it. They’ll also cover this year’s guest experience, what folks can expect from other upgrades around the venue, what planning during a pandemic was like for their team, Summerfest’s economic impact on Milwaukee and more.
As always, if you have any topics or guests you’d like to suggest, or if you just have general feedback about the show, please leave a review on iTunes (we really appreciate it; it helps us grow!) or reach out to the show’s host, Richie Burke, directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Gabe is bringing you stories on Milwaukee that matter. Tune in for The GoGedders Podcast every Tuesday.