To paraphrase a great band that played Summerfest in 1983: it’s the end of Summerfest 2024 and I feel fine.

Of Summerfest 2024’s nine days—divided into three consecutive Thursday-Friday-Saturday chunks—I attended five of them. Two of those days were all-day deals; the other three were roughly six-hour visits. Mostly eschewing any attempts to “review” Summerfest, I simply went when I felt like it. I saw some bands and artists I wanted to see and missed others. I saw some bands and artists that were new to me and became an instant fan of one of them. I ate a bunch of food. I ordered three Saz’s sampler platters and had one stolen out of my hands. I rode the Skyglider twice. I hung out with some dear friends and made some new ones. I got a free fanny pack but neglected to wait in the four-hour line for an M&M’s bucket hat. I forgot to check out that trippy corn maze. I bumped into that Viking guy on the first day.

And dammit, I had fun! Summerfest remains a big, bold, and delightfully idiosyncratic Milwaukee institution. Where else can you see The All-American Rejects, REO Speedwagon, a local ska group, and 72 cover bands in a single day, plus eat a locally famous plate of sides and maybe get a good deal on some new siding for your house? I enjoy Summerfest for what it is, and no longer get bent out of shape about what it isn’t. There are bigger fish to fry than worrying about overpriced beer.

And yet there are certain aspects of Summerfest that everyone still seems to complain about (including overpriced beer). Surely I have some Summerfest opinions? Okay, I guess I do. Here are some semi-deep thoughts…

Three-weekend format

I’ve been neutral on Summerfest’s pandemic-era decision to ditch its mostly continuous 11-day run and go with the nine-day, three-weekend thing.

Until this year.

There are multiple reasons to grouse about the format change, but my reason is simple: summer weekends are precious in Milwaukee/Wisconsin, and Summerfest hogging three of them—as opposed to two—is practically unconscionable. There are other festivals and other shows! There are camping trips and out-of-town excursions! As much as I enjoy Summerfest, there’s simply too much to do in June and July. We need that third weekend! I don’t know why this finally bugged me this year, but it did.

Do I expect Summerfest to magically revert back to its old format? No. Would I love it if Summerfest shaved its run down to eight days, and did two Thursday-Friday-Saturday-Sunday chunks instead? YES. Wouldn’t that be great! (And no, I don’t expect them to do that, either.)


Perhaps you’ve noticed that everything is kind of expensive these days. Perhaps you’ve noticed that, despite the digital droolings of burner Facebook accounts, everything has been getting more expensive since time immemorial, no matter who happens to be in the White House. Well guess what? Things at Summerfest have gotten more expensive, too.

And yet hear me out: when stacked up against other experiences, Summerfest ain’t bad! In 2024, a 16 oz. can of Miller Lite was $9—same as last year, and comparable to a beer at American Family Field. Cocktails are pricey—$16 and $18, same as last year—but come on, who’s getting a cocktail at Summerfest? Water and Red Bull were $5.75—up $.50 from last year.

As for the famed Saz’s sampler platter (it’s technically called the Sampler Combo; just change the name already, Saz’s!) it was $13 this year—up $1 from 2023, and up $4.50 from 2019. Okay, that is kind of steep, and they did seem to skimp on the cheese curds this year. Still, if you’re looking for something to fill you up for the afternoon with no muss and no fuss, the platter remains a solid option.

Oh, and if you’re paying full price for a Summerfest general admission ticket ($28 this year), or if you’re paying at all, you’re not really trying. Getting in cheap or free with a daily admission deal is the rule, not the exception.


The quality of a Summerfest lineup is always in the eye of the beholder. See a bunch of acts aimed squarely at your tastes? “This lineup is good!” See a bunch of acts you don’t recognize that appeal to other folks’ tastes? “This lineup sucks!”

For me, Summerfest’s 2024 lineup was on par with previous years: a handful of stuff I was somewhat excited to see, spread out over nine days and multiple stages; a few more things I was somewhat excited to see, lumped together on a single stage in a loose theme; most of it in the middle of the afternoon, betraying the age of the performers, as well as my own.

And yet I was heartened, not grumpy, when I saw oodles of folks enjoying acts I had never heard of. I was delighted, not dismayed, when unknown-to-me acts drew tons of people and beloved-by-me acts drew modest numbers. That’s the natural way of things, after all, and the fact that Summerfest still has something for everyone is commendable.

And yes, Summerfest will always have the BoDeans.


Part of the annual Summerfest Discourse is finding out—and arguing about—how many people showed up to the thing. Low attendance is proof that Summerfest “isn’t what it used to be,” and that it should go back to 11 days and book nothing but rock or whatever. High attendance is still held up to numbers from back in the day when the fest hovered near—or even topped—1 million.

When it’s likely announced later this week, I expect the 2024 attendance to be up slightly from 2023 (624,407, up 40% from 2022). As for the elusive million-person mark (Summerfest hit 1,000,563 in 2001), let’s be honest: it’s never going to happen. I believe that has more to do with the increasingly fragmented and niche-driven music industry, and less to do with Summerfest-specific format changes, prices, and lineups.

And hey! Not being absolutely stuffed into the grounds every night is kind of nice! You can actually move around! And beer and bathroom lines are manageable! The horror!

“It hasn’t been the same since [insert years when person leaving comment was 18-30]!”

Look, I get it. For the last few years we’ve run a column called “Take Me Back To Summerfest XXXX.” In it, we reminisce about a particular Summerfest we attended years ago, or a Summerfest we wish we had attended. It’s fun to look back on old lineups and shows. It’s fun to remember when everything seemed to be aimed directly at you. It’s easy to think that everything magically started to suck the year you got your first gray hair.

But don’t do that! To paraphrase a band that never played Summerfest, the Big Gig goes on within and without you. Even if you weren’t blown away by Summerfest this year, that doesn’t mean someone else didn’t have a Summerfest that will stick with them forever. I look forward to editing a “Take Me Back To Summerfest 2024” article 15 years from now. Probably while complaining about my aching joints and/or whittling from my porch.

And hell, maybe I’ll write that article. Despite being relatively cool on the lineup this year, I still had a blast. Hanging out with oodles of friends. Bumping into people I hadn’t seen in years. Watching the opening night fireworks. Laughing about that stolen Saz’s sampler platter. Biking home each night, the warm summer wind at my back, open to all the things the city has to offer.

Like I said up top, it’s the end of Summerfest 2024 and I feel fine. Love you, Summerfest! Love you, Milwaukee!

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Take me back to Summerfest 1991: Club MTV (Bel Biv DeVoe, C+C Music Factory, Color Me Badd, more)

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Take me back to Summerfest 2017: Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers at Summerfest amphitheater

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Take me back to Summerfest 1992: Bobcat Goldthwait at the Comedy Stage

Take me back to Summerfest 1984: “Weird Al” Yankovic at the Rock Stage

Take me back to Summerfest 1990: Depeche Mode at Marcus Amphitheater