The Wisconsin State Fair is full sensory experience – from your taste buds experiencing all things deep fried and on a stick, to the thrills of jetting down the Giant Slide or zipping around one of the rides in SpinCity, and the way your heart smiles walking through the barns and seeing all the sweet Sconnie animals all dressed up and dolled up.
The State Fair sensory experience wouldn't be complete, of course, without all the music jam-packed throughout the Fair Park. There's always the star-studded shows playing at the State Fair Main Stage presented by Potawatomi Hotel & Casino and the Associated Bank Amphitheater – but there's also the equally potent performances, both local and from across the Midwest, scattered across the streets of the Fair. But how is one to decide which of the dozens of acts to see?
We've made it easy with this genre guide to the many stages of the State Fair about to blast sweet sounds into your ears like little sonic cream puffs for your cochlea. From rock to reggae, polka to country, you're bound to find something worth a boogie.
If you like country music ...
Country music is well-represented on the State Fair Main Stage with both Chris Young, Hank Williams Jr. and Brothers Osborne – but that's not the only place you can hear some terrific twang. While there's country scattered across the stages of State Fair, the best place to find it on the regular would be Big Sky Country Bar & Grill, which lives up to its name with Tim Castle performing a tribute to the genre's legends Aug. 5-11, Amileigha and Jeremy from Rebel Grace coming to Big Sky on Thursday, Aug. 12 and many more taking the stage.
- Big Sky Country Bar & Grill – on Central Avenue and Third Street
If you like polka ...
It wouldn't be a proper Wisconsin State Fair without a healthy dose of polka, so make sure to visit the bandstand at Cracovia, where you'll find the aptly named Polka Mania performing with Still Stormin' every day of the fest at 4 p.m. (3 p.m. on Sundays). Bonus points if you bust out a proper polka dance, as well! (Do not ask what the points do; the points are arbitrary because I just made them up now.)
- Cracovia – on Sue Wetley Court and Second Street
If you like rock of all kinds ...
The worst people will tell you that rock is dead. They are unsurprisingly wrong – especially when it comes to the Wisconsin State Fair, where a trot down any block can find you a live band blasting out their particular brand of rock. Charcoal Grill runs the full spectrum of rock – from hard rock and metal with Metal Men performing multiple nights, to local favorites Bad Boy, to Southern rock rapscallions The Sociables, and cover acts playing The Beatles, Heart, Foreigner and more. For more rock, Leadfoots will aptly put the pedal to the metal when it comes to jamming out with several sets from the likes of Hurricane Express and Milwaukee Blues Rock Collective – who will also make their way to Robert's stage as well. And that's all just scratching the surface of all the ways you can rock out at State Fair.
- Charcoal Grill Roadhouse – found on Main Street across from the Big Backyard
- Leadfoots Race Bar & Grill – between Second Street and Benno's Micro Alley on Grandstand Avenue
- Robert's – on Second Street and Benno's Micro Alley on Grandstand Avenue
If you like reggae ...
The Tropics stand is already known as a stealthy spot to relax during the Wisconsin State Fair. But R&R at Tropics doesn't simply stand for rest and relaxation; it's reggae and relaxation thanks to its stage's lineup headlined by the roots reggae-inspired Natty Nation – not to mention the swampy Southern blend of Yard Dog Charlie. With all of the acts hitting the stage at the Tropics, this vendor spot truly feels like a warm weather vacation in the middle of West Allis.
- Tropics – between Center Street and First Street on Wetley Way
If you like nightly staples ...
Sometimes trying to hit all the awesome stuff to eat, see and do at the Wisconsin State Fair can be overwhelming, so it can be nice to have some regular entertainment to stabilize your schedule. And that's why we direct your attention to Apollo's, Double K's Ranch Grub & Suds, Rupena's and Saz's Miller High Life Pavilion, where they've booked staples like Bobby Friss, The Dirty Deuce, Bobby D., Jerry and Nora, Bobby Way and the Wayouts, and more set on the schedule for multiple nights, and in some cases every night, of the State Fair. So if you love one of the bands playing, you'll only have to wait until the next day – not the next Fair – to hear them again.
- Apollo's – on the corner of Wetley Way and Center Street
- Double K's Ranch Grub & Suds – on Wetley Way and Second Street
- Rupena's – on the west side of Central Mall on Central Avenue and Center Street
- Saz's Miller High Life Pavilion – on Central Avenue and Second Street
If you like Sconnie acts ...
It's the Wisconsin State Fair, so you bet your deep fried butt on a stick there's going to be local acts on local acts hitting the fair's stages. And if you want to snag the most Sconnie sounds as possible, you'll want to park yourself at the Bud Pavilion, Saz's BBQ, the Miller Lite Sports Bar & Grill and Tavern at the Park where you'll find beloved Brew City and Badger State acts like The Love Monkeys, Bella Cain, The Toys, Cherry Pie, The Now Band, 33 RPM, Cold Sweat and the Brew City Horns, and many more.
- Bud Pavilion – between Benno's Micro Alley and Main Street on Central Avenue
- Miller Lite Sports Bar & Grill – on Grandstand Avenue and Second Street
- Saz's BBQ – on Badger Avenue and Second Street
- Tavern at the Park – between Benno's Micro Alley and Main Street on Grandstand Avenue
If you like games ...
If you're at the Wisconsin State Fair, you're already a winner – you're drinking, you're eating, you're shopping and most importantly, you're not working. But you can be an even bigger winner at these three stages with their fun trivia, games and activities.
If you're feeling the luck of the Irish – or just lucky in general – drop by Slim McGinn's Irish Pub and play trivia with America's Pub Quiz, hosted everyday at the popular Fair locale. Or try your luck at Drag Queen Bingo, hosted by Ester Flonaze just about every day at Slim's Lakefront Brew Pub & Eatery. Tired of the professional musicians having all the fun? Spin by Pitch's BBQ and Miss Katie's Diner for moonlight karaoke on either Friday, Aug. 6 or Tuesday, Aug. 10 – even if your singing voice sounds more like something from the barnyard exhibits.
- Pitch's BBQ and Miss Katie's Diner – on the west side of Central Mall on Central Avenue and First Street
- Slim's Lakefrront Brew Pub & Eatery – on First Street in the Big Backyard
- Slim McGinn's Irish Pub – on Grandstand Avenue and Second Street
If you like a bit of everything ...
Much like the event as a whole, you can find just about anything on the stages of the Wisconsin State Fair – in particular, however, at Knucklehead, Pistol Pete's, Major Goolsby's Heartland and Water Street Brewery.
Knucklehead features everything from singer-songwriter tunes (Catelyn Picco) to stomping country covers (Gin Mill Dogs, Road Crew) and beloved tunes for everyone (The Decade, Smart Mouth, Dirty Boogie). Meanwhile, Major Goolsby's might have the widest range of tunes on the entire grounds, ranging from local country (The WhiskeyBelles) to powerful polka (The Squeezettes) to blues (Reverend Raven) and just plain party music (Big Spoon). Elsewhere, Pistol Pete's will fire off all sorts of music genres (Top 40 hits! '80s MTV tributes! Southern-fried rock! Funk and R&B!) over the next week and a half, while Water Street Brewery's lineup is filled with unpredictable cover bands from the area with setlists spanning everything and anything from the past half-century.
If you like music – and we'd hope you do – you'll find something to jam out to while knocking back a beer and noshing your latest State Fair stick food.
- Knucklehead – on the west side of Central Mall on Central Avenue and Center Street
- Major Goolsby's Heartland – between First Street and Center Street on Badger Avenue
- Pistol Pete's – on Grandstand Avenue between Second Street and Benno's Micro Alley
- Water Street Brewery – on the west side of Central Mall on Central Avenue and Second Street
As much as it is a gigantic cliché to say that one has always had a passion for film, Matt Mueller has always had a passion for film. Whether it was bringing in the latest movie reviews for his first grade show-and-tell or writing film reviews for the St. Norbert College Times as a high school student, Matt is way too obsessed with movies for his own good.
When he's not writing about the latest blockbuster or talking much too glowingly about "Piranha 3D," Matt can probably be found watching literally any sport (minus cricket) or working at - get this - a local movie theater. Or watching a movie. Yeah, he's probably watching a movie.