By Matt Mueller Culture Editor Published Sep 22, 2021 at 7:36 PM Photography: Dan Garcia

While our ears and vocal chords still recover from a howlingly good three weekends of music, Summerfest announced its attendance numbers for its 2021 edition. And as expected considering (*gestures at everything*), the Big Gig was nowhere near as big as past years.  

Summerfest reports that 409,386 fans went through the gates during the festival's nine-day, three-weekend run. It's a significant decline from 2019, when 718,144 patrons attended the fesival – which was already a six percent drop from the previous year and the lowest attendance numbers since 1986. 

"While the results were not what the organization anticipated, it was significant to be able to operate Summerfest in September, during the pandemic," reads a press release from World Music Festival, Inc. "MWF would like to thank the fans, vendors, and sponsors for their support this year, and look forward to seeing them next summer."

Again, none of this should come as a surprise considering the plethora of unpredecented hurdles this year's Big Gig – starting, of course, with trying to stage a safe gigantic music festival in the midst of growing concerns over the ongoing surge of COVID-19 cases, which understandably kept some from coming down to the festival (and that's before mentioning the resulting vaccination requirement/testing protocols that may have limited crowds as well).

Then add in the unusual transportation situation, with several shuttle options unavailable this year. Then there's the fact that it was two days shorter than the typical 11-day festival. (It would not appear, judging by the release's wording, that the three Wednesday bonus concerts were included in the Big Gig's attendance tally.) If that wasn't enough, there was also a brand-new three-weekend format, and it took place in September when school's in session and folks in general aren't in the habit of thinking about Summerfest. Oh, and one of the weekends was Labor Day – a vacation and grill-out weekend, not one for events.

Add all that up, and you get these predictably low numbers.

But you know what? 409,386 may be a low number – but it's 409,386 more than last year. 

And for those 409,386 people in attendance, Summerfest threw a tremendous party. The concerts almost across the board were great and memorable, with musicians and artists thrilled to be in front of equally ecstatic crowds again. In a year unlike any other, Summerfest gave us a music festival that reminded us of the carefree before times – sure, maybe with a few less people, but if there was ever a year for comfort to rule over crowds, for there to be a little more space than usual, this pandemic-shadowed one would be it.

The numbers may be "bad," but all we're going to remember is the good times we had – good times we were completely robbed of last year and could've easily been robbed of again this year (just ask Coachella.)

So here's to a miracle of a Big Gig – no matter what the numbers say – and here's to seeing everyone again next year when Summerfest returns to June and July with its next three-weekend run. I can already feel the ringing in my ears and taste the Saz's sampler platters.

Matt Mueller Culture Editor

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.