There is one man who is keeping a unique Summerfest streak going. He’s the only person who’s performed all 52 years of the Big Gig.
Warren Wiegratz is a familiar face in Milwaukee’s music scene. He plays the saxophone and keyboard, and has put together a variety of well-known bands over the years.
One of his best memories at Summerfest happened in 1969. He was playing on stage the night Neil Armstrong and Bus Aldrin first walked on the moon.
“It was a really clear, beautiful night and I looked over at my band and looked up at the moon and thought wow, there are men walking on that right now,” Wiegratz said. “It’s just a moment in time that I’ll never forget.”
Another memorable moment happened when Wiegratz opened up for Sly and the Family Stone in the 1970’s. The crowd was so huge that Sly couldn’t get to the only stage.
“We played our 45 minute opening set, and thanked the crowd and walked off stage and the stage manager said get back out there. Sly can’t get through the crowds,” Wiegratz said. “So, we played another 45 minutes and thanked the crowd and walked off. Again, he told us to get back out there. We played a third, and it was 90 degrees. We were exhausted. We had to repeat songs. Finally they were able to get Sly and his band in through the lake. They used a police boat to bring him in.”
In those beginning years, there were not multiple stages or vendors.
“There was a guy selling beer and a guy selling hot dogs, “Wiegratz said. “There weren’t enough portable toilets either. It was bare bones.”
There was also no seating or concrete.
“You can imagine how messy it got,” Wiegratz said. “People would trample down the grass and it would become dust and mud.”
It’s been an interesting ride over these past 52 years to say the least, but Wiegratz wouldn’t have it any other way.
“Just to see how it’s changed, and how far it’s come, is quite amazing,” he said. “I love it. I thank God every day that he’s allowed me to make my living doing what I love.”
Wiegratz can’t stress enough what a great opportunity Summerfest is for local musicians like him. To play a big festival, in front of big crowds, alongside big-name stars, is incredibly rare and valuable.