Graham Kilmer

Summerfest Will Keep 3-Weekend Format

Festival says format will return in 2023 and survey shows attendee prefer it.

By - Aug 30th, 2022 01:17 pm
Summerfest 2021. Photo taken September 16, 2021 by Mariiana Tzotcheva.

Summerfest 2021. Photo taken September 16, 2021 by Mariiana Tzotcheva.

The non-profit that runs Summerfest announced the annual festival will return in 2023 with another three-weekend schedule for what will be its 55th anniversary.

Milwaukee World Festival, Inc. (MWF) announced Tuesday that the Big Gig is scheduled for June 22-24, June 29-July 1, and July 6-8 in 2023. Summerfest used to run as an 11 day festival over a period of less than two weeks.

The organization is backing up its decision with data from a survey of patrons conducted by two market research companies: Virginia-based SimpsonScarborough and LEGENDS, which has offices across the U.S. and Europe. The survey found that 80% of respondents preferred attending the festival on Fridays and Saturdays, MWF said in the announcement, adding “hosting the festival over three consecutive weekends will allow more Friday and Saturday event days.”

“As we celebrate our 55th anniversary, we feel fortunate to have a passionate fanbase,” said Don Smiley, the CEO of MWF “It is important to be responsive to fans’ interests by providing more opportunities to attend on weekends, bringing more national touring artists, and offering an enhanced Summerfest experience.”

Smiley announced earlier this year he will be stepping down from his post at the end of 2023, after leading the organization since 2004.

The survey also found that 85% of respondents “identified headlining entertainment and a lineup featuring a variety of music genres as reasons for why they attend the festival.” MWF said the three-weekend schedule allows them an “extended booking window” to add more national acts to the lineup.

A vast majority of survey respondents said they value the festival, agree that it has an economic impact, that it is a valuable tradition they look forward to each year and that it is part of Milwaukee’s community fabric and culture.

Major changes to the schedule of Summerfest first went into play during the COVID-19 pandemic. The festival was cancelled in 2020. Then in 2021, the schedule moved to the fall and a three-weekend schedule.

Festival attendance has been declining for years, but the cause of this was not clearly attributable to any one thing, until the COVID-19 pandemic hit and attendance dropped through the floor. Attendance was down 43% in 2021 compared to 2019. And while it rose in 2022, it didn’t come near pre-pandemic levels.

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