By Allen Halas OnMilwaukee Staff Writer Published Jun 23, 2024 at 8:26 AM Photography: Dan Garcia

The Great Milwaukee Summer is HERE! Your guide to what you'll be doing, where you'll be drinking, who you'll be hearing and how you'll be getting a sweet tan this summer is on OnMilwaukee. The Great Milwaukee Summer guide is brought to you by Geis Garage Doors and Peoples State Bank

Considering that Summerfest has a vast history dating back more than half of a century, it’s hard to say when certain nights at the festival become truly infamous. That being said, it is also very safe to say that SZA’s Saturday night show to close out the opening weekend of this year’s festival will certainly go down as one of the most memorable nights of recent Summerfest history, if not of all time. It was a night full of weather delays, celebrity sightings and also a crowning moment for one of the new queens of contemporary R&B. 

The night started off innocently enough, with an opening set from Milwaukee’s own DJ Gemini Gilly, before she gave way for Amine to take the stage. Showing much more energy than his previous visit to the festival in 2018, he bounced from one side of the stage to another, hyping up the crowd as the skies darkened around the American Family Insurance Amphitheater. About 15 minutes into his set, however, production alerted his DJ that the show would need to be paused. That would unceremoniously end his set.

What followed was an hour delay, which saw fans being told to move from the lawn seats and metal bleachers to shelter in the lower concourse of the Amphitheater. Initially, an evacuation notice had been put on the screens at the festival, before they were quickly reduced to a shelter in place order over the public address system.What was about to be a tense situation quickly erupted into a massive cheer as soon as the evacuation notices were changed to just another delay.The crowd would sit in the seating bowls until 9:30 p.m. before any sort of music returned.

Then, around 10 p.m, the Kardashians showed up.

With a DJ already well into a set of just about any twerk-friendly track from the last decade that could be found, there was pandemonium as Kim Kardashian and SKIMS marketing head Tracy Romulus were spotted walking from the side of the Amphitheater stage through the crowd to a spot at the soundboard to watch the show. Kardashian’s daughter North West was also pointed out at the front barricade by the stage, where she’d stay (under heavy security detail) for the rest of the night. It almost seemed as though the Kardashians might have further delayed the show, as once Kim and Romulus got to their seats, a sea of fans and phones were turned inward on the pair. SZA may have been the star, but it was all eyes on Kim for a solid 20-plus minutes of pure celebrity fanfare.

The house lights would finally drop around 10:30 p.m., as SZA would emerge atop of a set that featured LED screens positioned to look like a ship, in full “SOS” theme to go with her latest album. SZA, alongside a crew of backup dancers and flanked by a live band on either side of the ship, would stay elevated for “Seek & Destroy,” and she wouldn’t touch the actual stage floor until about halfway through the show. Any and every word she sang reverberated throughout the Amphitheater, thanks to more than 20,000 fans singing along at full voice. As it would turn out, she would reveal that she needed every last one of them.

“I almost canceled tonight, full disclosure” she told the crowd more than halfway through the show. She mentioned that she had been getting over a nasty cold, and was unsure of her voice. Thankfully, just about everyone in the Amphitheater was there to pick up any shortcomings she might have, of which there actually seemed to be none. Her voice radiated, even as she joined in with backup choreography and shined on songs like “Ghost In The Machine” and the Kendrick Lamar-assisted “All The Stars.” 

SZA performs at Dreamville Festival
SZA performs at Dreamville Festival

The weather delay ultimately wouldn’t detract SZA from performing her full show on Saturday night, which never faltered once it was able to get going. Every song was met with an all-fan singalong, and at any point you could look out into the crowd to witness a sea of phone lights out for her. 

There was a slight sense of urgency, though; while we got a few costume changes, there was only one interlude, featuring risque snapshots of SZA on the riser screens to 2022’s “Awkward” before she re-emerged on stage, ready to give the back half of her show her full effort. That included the hits, starting with the Doja Cat-feature on “Kiss Me More” that sent the Amphitheater into another stratosphere. From there, the newest hit “Snooze,” followed by “I Hate U” and “Kill Bill,” would flow easily from one into another. The crowd even got to twerk one last time, this time along with SZA for a snippet of the Drake track “Rich Baby Daddy,” which ended with the singer hitting the splits before things mellowed out for closer “Good Days.” Screens around the Amphitheater read “The End” at the conclusion of that song, but the night wasn’t over.

“I’m gonna break curfew so I have to do this quickly” SZA explained before rushing back onstage for an intimate version of “20 Something” to truly cap off the night. She thanked the crowd for their patience, informed us all that it was the last time she was performing with the “SOS” set, and that she would keep showing up for Milwaukee as much as they showed up for her on Saturday. 

Saturday night was already one of the brightest spotlights in the 2024 Summerfest lineup, but everything surrounding the actual concert made the night even more memorable. Fortunately for everyone involved, SZA was more than worth the wait, delivering as a top-tier headliner for what is sure to be one of the most legendary nights of recent Summerfest history.