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Summerfest wraps up, reactions mixed over the format

Posted at 5:31 PM, Jul 11, 2022

MILWAUKEE — The Summerfest party wrapped over the weekend following another run without its usual 11-day schedule.

The shows went on despite some performers canceling due to COVID-19 and other health issues.

"It was really fun. The energy was really good," Julia Spilling said after attending the festival on Saturday.

"They haven't announced attendance yet, but it certainly felt like Summerfest was back," said Dan Elias, with The Specialized Marketing Group which operates the Summerfest store and handles merchandise.

This year, organizers scheduled Summerfest to run Thursday through Saturday for three weeks lasting 9 days instead of the usual 11-day stretch.

It had its upsides and downsides.

"I think it's easier on the weekends honestly because I feel like it's a lot easier to get there. It's a lot easier for families to go," Grace Breuchel said.

"The only thing that’s the downside of it is if you wanna go for a few days. It’s only the weekends, but if you're from out of town then it's like not like you can stay the whole week and go every day," Spilling said.

Vendors we talked with were thrilled to see bigger crowds but still prefer the old schedule.

"We would love to see an 11-day festival because it's hard to do the same level of revenue with 9 days versus 11 days. But, I also say having a break in between was great because it gave everybody a chance to recover and rest and then come back strong," Elias explained.

Last year, Summerfest attendance was down almost 50% compared to 2019. However, at the time the fest moved to a few weekends in September as opposed to the summer months. Organizers also added new entry protocols because of the pandemic.

Robby's Roasted Corn has been a vendor here for decades. Owner Speech Thomas said his father began their run 45 years ago.

"They really were energized. You could tell that everybody was ready to be back together," said co-owner Yolanda Thomas.

However, it was challenging. Yolanda and her husband Speech live in Georgia. They had to fly back and forth during the days Summerfest was off. Plus, keeping the best product on hand is tougher with the timing.

"Eleven days straight is better. I think it's better for everybody," Speech said.

Vendors plan to continue working with Summerfest despite the growing pains coming through the pandemic. Speech said for them it is about more than business, they are passionate about it.

Milwaukee World Festival, which operates Summerfest, has not released 2022 attendance numbers yet.

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