Summerfest Is Canceled for the First Time Ever Because of Coronavirus
(Photo by Jonathon Sadowski)

Summer just won’t be the same in the Brew City.

Wisconsin’s largest city will go without the “World’s Largest Music Festival” this summer for the first time in more than 50 years.

Summerfest president and CEO Don Smiley announced Thursday that the annual 11-day music festival in downtown Milwaukee has been canceled for 2020 due to ongoing concerns with the coronavirus pandemic. Summerfest had previously been delayed until September.

“Given the information available today, and the uncertainty surrounding very large gatherings, we cannot in good conscience proceed with the festival this year,” Smiley said in a statement. “The immediate future presents multiple levels of risk for our fans, and we choose the side of safety.”

Coupled with other cancellations in Milwaukee, Summerfest’s absence stands to deliver a huge blow to the city’s typically lively summer. Dates for Summerfest’s presumptive 2021 return will be announced “in the coming weeks,” Smiley said.

“We hope you will carry the spirit of Summerfest with you until we can be together again,” he said. “May the magic of music fill your life with joy and memories.”

More than 800,000 people attend Summerfest annually. Visitors generate an estimated $186 million in economic activity each year, according to the festival’s press release.

That’s just the tip of the iceberg; Milwaukee isn’t nicknamed the City of Festivals for nothing. 

The announcement comes on the heels of the Wisconsin State Fair, hosted just beyond Milwaukee city limits in West Allis, being canceled for the first time in 75 years and as uncertainty swirls around the likelihood of an in-person Democratic National Convention.

The convention, expected to hand the party’s Democratic nomination to former Vice President Joe Biden, was already pushed back from July to Aug. 17-20. And now organizers have begun moving portions of the convention online.

And the Milwaukee Bucks, who play home games at the Fiserv Forum, the site of the DNC, were leading the NBA before the league suspended its season as coronavirus reached the U.S. 

“This was supposed to be Milwaukee’s signature summer, the culmination of a years-long pursuit of a real, meaningful breakthrough moment for the city,” wrote Dan Shafer, a longtime Milwaukee journalist-turned-independent-columnist, in his column the Recombobulation Area. “It’s not going to happen now.”