Piet Levy Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Published 7:00 AM EDT May 19, 2019
AEG’s hard rock fest Northern Invasion retreated from Wisconsin in 2019, Justin Vernon’s Eaux Claires is taking the year off, and the once-traveling Vans Warped Tour has scaled back to a handful of events, none in Wisconsin.
Following the ends of two other large festivals last year, you might think the Wisconsin festival landscape is in dire straits.
But nothing could be further from the truth.
The music festival boom that started a decade ago across America has run its course, but in Wisconsin, a haven for country music festivals for decades, there’s still room for a new player. The Badger State is also home to one-of-a-kind events like the Los Dells Latin music festival and the largely free Mile of Music bonanza in Appleton. And let’s not forget about the world’s largest music festival, Summerfest, returning for its 52nd year.
Of several large festivals happening across Wisconsin this summer, these are some of the best, listed in order of occurrence.
Blue Ox Music Festival
When and where: June 13 to 15, Whispering Pines Campground, 5024 Crescent Ave., Eau Claire
The scene: Wisconsin has a passionate and loyal bluegrass fan base, providing a foundation for superb home state acts like Horseshoes & Hand Grenades, Them Coulee Boys and Chicken Wire Empire to thrive, and for the Blue Ox festival to prosper. The festival will feature those three groups for its fifth year.
Headliners: Pert Near Sandstone (performing two nights), The Infamous Stringdusters, Trampled by Turtles and Railroad Earth
Don’t miss: Bluegrass legend Del McCoury, 26-year-old rising star Billy Strings, the critically acclaimed Sarah Shook and the Disarmers, and the fest-closing “Blue Ox Superjam” featuring a variety of artists.
Price: $105 for single-day general admission passes; $185 for two-day; $205 for three-day. Find general admission tickets and camping passes at blueoxmusicfestival.com.
When and where: June 26 to June 30 and July 2 to 7; Maier Festival Park, 200 N. Harbor Drive, Milwaukee
The scene: From a 17-year-old pop star to a music legend in his ’80s, the world’s largest music festival offers a wider range of acts than practically any event on the planet. More than 800 acts will perform across 11 days for the festival’s 52nd annual edition.
Headliners: Summerfest’s largest venue – the 23,000 capacity American Family Insurance Amphitheater — hosts Thomas Rhett; the 10-hour, seven-act Outlaw Music Festival (headlined by Willie Nelson); Jason Aldean; Bon Iver; Zac Brown Band; Lionel Richie (playing his first Milwaukee show in 19 years); Jennifer Lopez (playing her first Milwaukee show ever); the Killers; Billie Eilish; and a Lil Wayne, Snoop Dogg and Schoolboy Q triple-bill.
Don’t miss: Headliners on Summerfest’s seven other main grounds stages include infectious live act Lizzo; compelling indie rocker Courtney Barnett; R&B legend Chaka Khan; seminal rapper and recent “Masked Singer” winner T-Pain; singing and songwriting powerhouse Brandi Carlile; and Andy Samberg’s hilarious comedy pop trio the Lonely Island.
Price: $15 to $23 for single-day general admission; $57 for three-day general admission; $120 for 11-day general admission. Does not include American Family Insurance Amphitheater concerts. Amphitheater tickets cover Summerfest general admission on the applicable date. Tickets, parking passes and more at summerfest.com.
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When and where: June 27 to 29, 24447 County Highway S, Cadott
The scene: Wisconsin has been a country music mecca for decades now, starting with Country Fest, which launched in 1987. In terms of the lineup, it’s still consistently one of the best.
Headliners: A few years back you could see Luke Bryan at multiple Wisconsin festivals each summer, but he’s gotten choosier, and Country Fest is the only place in the state to see the country superstar this summer. Same goes for fellow headliners Little Big Town and the recently reunited Sugarland.
Don’t miss: Surging country pop artists Lauren Alaina and Brett Young. It really feels like a question of when, not if, they’ll be headlining Country Fest themselves.
Price: General admission starts at $95 for a single-day to $159 for a three-day, with prices increasing on June 6. For tickets and other ticket pricing info (including VIP and camping passes), visit countryfest.com.
When and where: July 11 to 13, W4142 County Highway B, West Salem
The scene: Wisconsin has country festivals in practically every corner of the state, but there’s evidently room for one more, with Country Boom returning for its second year at the site of a former golf course outside La Crosse.
Headliners: Joe Diffie, Kip Moore, and Kane Brown, inarguably one of the fastest-rising new stars in Nashville (who’ll likely have a longer set than the one at Summerfest opening for Jason Aldean).
Don’t miss: Viral, 12-year-old country crooning sensation Mason Ramsey; Mitchell Tenpenny, poised to be the next star in the mold of Chris Stapleton and Luke Combs; and Granger Smith, who is bringing along his tongue-in-cheek alter ego, Earl Dibbles Jr.
Price: Single-day general admission tickets range from $20 to $55, with three-day passes for $85. Additional ticketing and camping pass options available at countryboom.com.
When and where: July 18 to 20, 3443 Crescent Ave., Eau Claire.
The scene: Country Jam is celebrating its 30th anniversary in 2019, a run that included setting the literal foundation for Vernon’s Eaux Claires to set up camp.
Headliners: The two big “Keith”s in country music — Toby Keith and Keith Urban — plus Jake Owen.
Don’t miss: Stick around for the headliners, but Country Jam’s sweet spot this year is the names lower on the bill, including country-pop star Maren Morris (who honestly deserves headliner status, but whatever), plus old-school country artists Travis Tritt and the Charlie Daniels Band, and Wisconsin’s own Chris Kroeze, the impressive country singer and guitarist from Barron who placed second on NBC’s “The Voice” in December.
RELATED: He finished second on ‘The Voice.’ Now Wisconsin country rocker Chris Kroeze is living the dream.
Price: Single-day general admission is $99, with three-day general passes for $149. Get tickets and find other add-on options, VIP packages, camping passes and more at countryjamwi.com.
When and where: July 18 to 21, 2305 Lance Drive, Twin Lakes
The scene: One of Wisconsin’s premier country festivals — it won the Academy of Country Music’s inaugural Festival of the Year award in 2015 – is also one of the longest with four days of acts.
Headliners: Country Thunder also features Jake Owen, but the other three top names are really exciting: Tim McGraw, Luke Combs and Chris Stapleton.
Don’t miss: Up-and-comer Jimmie Allen, the first black artist to have his debut single hit No. 1 on the country charts; Ashley McBryde, a terrific songwriter who is deservedly picking up accolades and industry attention without offering an inch of compromise; plus Marty Stuart and Trace Adkins, who influenced several other artists on the bill.
Price: $75 for single-day general admission, and $160 for standard four-day passes. Country Thunder offers other add-ons — including a personal port-a-potty and “glamping” packages — at countrythunder.com/wi.
When and where: July 18 to 20, 4125 Washburn St., Oshkosh
The scene: If you think the lineups for Country Boom and Country Thunder don’t have enough, consider this nine-year-old rock festival instead that same weekend.
Headliners: There’ll be mosh pits aplenty for Five Finger Death Punch, Rob Zombie and Disturbed.
Don’t miss: Marilyn Manson has a spotty live show reputation, but fingers crossed he’s there on a good night. Mastodon is a metal band even music snobs can get behind. And for a festival that’s struggled to feature women, it’s nice to see female-led acts In This Moment, Lacuna Coil and Madame Mayhem on the bill.
Price: Single-day passes are $79, and three-day passes for $129, with prices set to go up. Find more admission and camping options at rockusaoshkosh.com.
Mile of Music
When and where: Aug. 1 to 4 at 70 venues in downtown Appleton
The scene: You think 70 venues is a lot? Here are some other big numbers: Mile of Music in its seventh year will feature more than 200 artists and more than 900 sets of music. And here’s one equally startling, but significantly smaller, number: zero, as in most of the shows don’t cost a thing to attend.
Who’s playing: The 2019 performers have yet to be announced as of deadline, but the lineup generally leans toward Americana, with Wisconsin artists often in the mix (although performers last year hailed from across North America).
When and where: Aug. 31 and Sept. 1, 4217 W. 50th St., Mauston
The scene: Los Dells was ahead of its time when it started in 2017 — a Coachella-inspired music festival featuring a range of Latin music, from bachata to mariachi to reggaeton, in the middle of Wisconsin farm country. But Latin music’s popularity continues to surge in the U.S. and across the world, and in its short lifespan, Los Dells can boast of A-listers who’ve played on its stages.
Who’s playing: The lineup has yet to be announced for 2019, but past performers have included Mana, the all-time biggest rock band hailing from Mexico; Daddy Yankee, who claims “Despacito” among his many hits; and superstar Latin trap pioneer Bad Bunny.
Price: TBD for 2019.
Contact Piet at (414) 223-5162 or [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at @pietlevy or Facebook at facebook.com/PietLevyMJS.
Piet also talks concerts, local music and more on “TAP’d In” with Jordan Lee. Hear it at 8 a.m. Thursdays on WYMS-FM (88.9), or wherever you get your podcasts.
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