Jeramey Jannene

The Return of Rainbow Summer

17 years after it ended, revived version of outdoor entertainment series returns to Marcus Center.

By - Jun 23rd, 2021 05:10 pm
Marcus Center before Rainbow Summer. Photo by Angeline Terry.

Marcus Center before Rainbow Summer. Photo by Angeline Terry.

A downtown tradition is returning for the first time in 17 years.

Rainbow Summer, the venerable outdoor entertainment series, is coming back to the Marcus Performing Arts Center.

A predecessor to Jazz in the Park, River Rhythms and Chill on the Hill, Rainbow Summer, in its latest interation, will alternate between weeks of free movies and ticketed concerts.

The 2021 installment will run on Thursday evenings starting July 15th and conclude September 16th. The first version of the series ran in 1975, with the Rainbow Summer brand being introduced in 1981, and the series continuing into a new century before it ended.

Rainbow Summer redux is the first event slated for the center’s reworked outdoor campus. The controversial removal of the Kiley tree grove has given way to a new lawn that effectively expands the footprint of the Peck Pavilion. The fountain near N. Water St. was removed in favor of what is currently a large tent.

A nine-by-16-foot video wall was installed alongside a new speaker system to allow those on the lawn to see and hear the shows taking place on the pavilion stage.

The new layout accommodates multiple ticket types. There are reserved seats in the stadium-style seating bowl as well as reserved pods in the lawn.

Chairs and blankets can be carried in for the lawn, but no carry-in food or beverage items are permitted.

The music lineup includes a mix of local performers and national acts.

Rainbow Summer will join Chill on the Hill as two of the only music series taking place in 2021. The pandemic drastically altered the festival landscape. Jazz in the Park and River Rhythms are currently postponed for the second straight year.

“We could not be more excited to be among the first to bring back free and discounted, live outdoor entertainment to the Milwaukee community this season,” said Marcus Center president and CEO Kendra Whitlock Ingram in a June 16th statement. “Rainbow Summer Reimagined gives us a sense of nostalgia — both for those who remember Rainbow Summer from decades ago, as well as those who have been craving this return to normal over the past 16 months.”

The Marcus Performing Arts Center website has more details on ticket pricing, reservations and COVID-19 safety procedures.


  • July 15 — Movie: Cinderella – Free
  • July 22 — Marc Broussard – $15
  • July 25 (Sunday) — Kids from Wisconsin – Free
  • July 29 — Movie: Center Stage – Free
  • August 5 — Chicken Wire Empire – $5
  • August 12 — Movie: Footloose – Free
  • August 19 — Billy and the Downliners
  • August 26 — KLASS & The Student Body present “Back 2 Skool”: (KLASSIK) – $5
  • September 2 — De La Buena – $5
  • September 9 — DLC Dance – $5
  • September 16 — Terrance Simien and The Zydeco Experience – $15


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2 thoughts on “The Return of Rainbow Summer”

  1. says:

    Does this mean that the trees will never be replaced, as had been promised in the plan when the original trees were removed?

  2. Virginia Small says:

    Re: “Chairs and blankets can be carried in for the lawn, but no carry-in food or beverage items are permitted.”

    Unlike at the popular community-welcoming “Chill on the Hill,” individuals and families coming to fee-based or free outdoor events at the Marcus Center’s plaza will be forced to either forgo hydration or pay for pricey beverages in plastic containers from a monopolistic vendor. It appears that this will complete the anti-environmental shift of this former public space now being “reimagined” as corporate space.

    The fact that Milwaukee County taxpayers technically “own” and partially fund this plaza now means little beyond the fact that people may sometimes walk through the space, just as people may do through any corporate plaza or parking lot.

    In any case, there are indeed many free outdoor concert series being offered this summer, including Jazz in the Park just down the street. No others noted in this round-up appear to outlaw bringing planet-friendly water bottles and favorite snacks.

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