Summerfest, the world’s largest free outdoor music festival is underway along Milwaukee’s lakefront. From now through July 8, an estimated 1 million visitors will flow into the food, beer and endless free music filling Henry Maier Festival Park.
It’s a simple transaction that works like any amusement park. You pay at the gate, and pay for food and drink. But the music and entertainment attractions are free. Since the so-called “Big Gig” books a flow of top international artists from across the genre range, there may be no better deal this side of Coachella. We’ll be serving up coverage and reviews from the event throughout its run.
The only exceptions are the day-ending main stage events at the adjacent 25,000 seat Marcus Amphitheater. Summerfest visitors can watch the main stage show for free from the grassy hillside surrounding the venue. But they have to pay a separate reserved seat ticket fee to sit under cover closer to the stage.
Acts appear throughout the day on 16 stages, including the Summerfest Rock Stage, Miller Lite Oasis, Briggs and Stratton Big Backyard and the Harley-Davidson Roadhouse.
That last venue played host to our first review. You put the name of America’s oldest motorcycle maker alongside “Roadhouse” and you’re bound to imagine the vibe of a twangy honky-tonk full of rough, middle-aged white guys flexing their tattoos. But Harley-Davidson is always working to expand its brand and its appeal by reaching out to new demographics.
That attitude brought Lupe Fiasco to the Harley-Davidson stage for a capacity crowd. The successful rapper and fashion designer served up an hour-plus long, upbeat set to a swaying dancing fan contingent.
At Summerfest’s side stages, seating is limited – inviting the passing crowd to find an SRO spot where spontaneous dancing can erupt. There was plenty of happy swaying and bouncing as Lupe Fiasco spun his unique mix of rap fused with R&B. He’s got a band behind him that can riff away with a funky, grieving sound all night, if need be.
That band drove the rhythm behind Lupe Fiasco’s emerging brand of socially conscious rap. There’s a reason he’s often compared to the likes of Rhymefest and Common with the emergent themes of inner-city suffering and international injustice.
Fest opening gremlins disrupted the start of the show when Lupe Fiasco’s mike lived up to the rapper’s call sign. Once the stage crew fixed the sound problems, the crowd got to enjoy "Kick, Push," "Hip Hop Saved My Life," "Touch the Sky," "I Gotcha," "The Show Goes On" and "Superstar."
Before the show concluded for the night, Lupe Fiasco announced his new album will roll out of Chicago on September 25.