Face it, Summerfest can be expensive and annoying. Short of avoiding it altogether, there’s no hope of fully evading the soul-dulling pang that flanks the (arguably) worthwhile enjoyment the massive Milwaukee festival brings to hundreds of thousands of attendees each year. That said, there are some ways to minimize your torment while boosting your enjoyment of this cool-yet-trying annual undertaking. As evidenced by our underlying sense of dread on this Summerfest Eve, we’re far from experts on “Life Hacking” [gags] Summerfest. Still, we’ve picked up a few tricks over the years. Here’s hoping your Summerfest is as pleasant as possible.
The bar shuttle can be your best friend or your worst enemy. However, with the rare attendance anomaly, you can pretty much choose your own adventure. If you’re just going for a bit and plan to leave in the evening, opt for a distinct and small shuttle from a neighborhood bar near your house. For example, if you’re leaving by 8 or 9 p.m., The Stone’s “Rolling Stone” is fine transport to bring you back to Bay View. If you’re sticking around for the headliner, make sure your trip home is in the hands of a larger, multi-bus fleet that’s more likely to abide by the nobody-left-behind mantra. In that case, Steny’s many logos will be a sight for sore eyes—preceding the Lord Of The Flies-like fight for a spot back to Walker’s Point.
Also, don’t shy away from getting an additional beer at your shuttling bar before you depart for the Fest. There’s no shame in double-fisting on a school bus, then finishing a $4 craft beer in front of the gates. Shit, you could eat a rotisserie chicken or tapas on the front lawn if you want and nobody can do a thing about it. Once you go through those turnstiles, though, prices are regulated. So take advantage of rampant exterior undercutting beforehand.
Get there early/leave early
Even better than scalping (which you should totally do if you plan on only attending at night) is showing up before 4 p.m. The difference in weekday admission between 3:59 and 4:01 p.m. is $7 ($11 compared to $18). Even better, get your ass there by 3 p.m. for the chance to get in FREE by bringing in three canned food items (6/25 and 6/29), wearing red (6/27), just showing up (7/1 and 7/4), bringing a Boston Store receipt (7/3), being active-duty military (7/4), or bringing $10 worth of gently used children’s books (7/5). Bands like Whips and Midnight Reruns play at 4:15 p.m. on select days, and the dude from Live plays at 3 p.m. one day. Chill out and enjoy a Pizza Cone with the money you saved while waiting for a decent act.
Eat shitty SMARTER
There’s no getting around the fact that Summerfest food is going to be expensive and it’s going to be unhealthy. Still, at least the former concern can be partially addressed with some creativity. Why wait in line to blow $8 on a sundae or a frozen banana elsewhere when you can pay (comparably) bargain basement prices for a Frosty to reward Wendy’s corporate presence on the festival outskirts? In a more locally centric move, build you own nachos at Botanas with a makeshift amalgam of chips, salsa, rice, and beans for less than the traditional chips/fake cheese/neon green peppers nachos rendition you’ll get elsewhere. There are dozens of vendors, which gives you flexibility. Don’t spread your lips for the first sandwich that appeals to you.
Take a load off
On the whole, standing is pretty much a Summerfest requisite. Whether it’s on bleachers, around a crowd waiting for a beer, or in line for a bathroom (or even waiting for the zip-line), it’s pretty much inevitable. Still, if you’re in it for the long haul, you need to sit down for at least part of the day. Seating is at a premium, but if you want to rest those gams, you don’t need to risk feeling like a poser on the goth rocks by the lake; instead, take in a Comedy Sportz performance at the (enclosed!) Kohl’s Captivation Station. Otherwise, take advantage of the KNE New Music Stage seemingly wanting to fail via inept booking and take a load off while watching some poor girl from Missouri play a 2 p.m. set to nobody else. Please clap, at least.
Leave your fucking kids at home
As much as the general Summerfest attendee hates navigating his or her way around the grounds with your kids clogging the main drags—beautiful, smart, and talented as we’re aware those kids are!—we can guarantee your kids hate being at Summerfest even more. With all due respect to Wayne & Wingnut and the other kid’s entertainers, “The World’s Largest Music Festival” isn’t exactly built with children in mind. At best, tikes are an afterthought behind adult-friendly tunes, giving sophomores a place to try their first cigar, and serving as a concrete pass-out pad for drunks to spoon a fresh pile of self-produced Saz’s-inspired vomit. Do us, your offspring, and yourself a favor, and leave the little ones with grandma when you catch that O.A.R. show.
Minimize beer lines and maximize ABV
If you were to attend all 12 hours of all 11 days of Summerfest, you’d spend approximately 719 hours waiting in line for beer. Maybe that math doesn’t check out, but it’s still a significant portion of the usual Fest experience. So why not drink more efficiently? Either you can reduce your wait time by frequenting the oft-underutilized beer stand between the KNE Stage and Uline Warehouse, or you can take advantage of small lines plus maximize drunkenness at the secluded Water Street Brewery stand at the southeast side of the grounds (keep going east after the one you’re thinking of) and enjoy a small line before imbibing in a tasty Water Street IBA (6.7% ABV), an on-par IPA (6.5% ABV), or, if they have it, a straight-up decent doppelbock (8.1% ABV!).
die pay/wait more
If you can, there’s no better way to evade the Big Gig’s biggest problem—transportation—than taking to two wheels. If you can bike, there are select racks available nearby—or get creative…fences and small trees work fine. Otherwise, there are a limited number of free cherry parking spots near Henry Maier Theater for cycles each and every day. Finally, riding a motorcycle is cool.
Get your head out of your ass and bring some sundries, already
Yeah, there are stands with shit like sunscreen, gum, cigarettes, and disposable cameras. But why waste that sweet Water Street IBA/shuttle tip cash on overpriced sunblock and Juicy Fruit? Come equipped, people. And if you spend money on a disposable camera in the year 2014, you deserve all the bad things that are bound to happen to you.