Summerfest moved to September 2021 to give more time for vaccine rollout

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MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- For the second year in a row, COVID-19 has America's largest music festival on the move. Originally set for a trio of three-day weekends in June and July, Summerfest 2021 will now be held on the first three weekends in September. 

Summerfest 2021 will be held September 2-4, 9-11 and 16-18. Festival organizers said this is in effort to give health officials more time to vaccinate the general public.

Don Smiley, president and CEO of Milwaukee World Festival, Inc., said the company lost $10 million, or $19 million after depreciation, by canceling the festival in 202. Smiley said he hopes that it doesn't come to that this year. Right now, he said all he can do is plan. 

"If everything comes to fruition that we're working on right now, we're going to have a stellar lineup in September, starting September 2. And we're optimistic, but there's no guarantees. This is the fourth time we're booking this event," Smiley said.

"What is the likelihood that (Summerfest) gets completely removed from 2021?" CBS 58 Reporter Rose Schmidt asked.

"I don't know," Smiley responded. "If it happens, I think the demand is sky high. People are just looking for live music. They're looking for a concert."

The company TSMGI operates the Summerfest store. Vice President Dan Elias said he supports the decision to move the festival to September.

"A rescheduled Summerfest is better than no Summerfest at all. So we're still very excited," he said.

Elias said the company may have to rethink the apparel it can sell in September and there may be staffing challenges because TSMGI usually hires a number of teachers and high school and college students. But he sees an opportunity with the new weekend format and is optimistic that the festival will go on as scheduled.

"We're starting to see things move on the calendar but this year compared to last year, there's a ray of hope. There's a vision for being able to get back together which didn't exist this time last year," Elias said.

Smiley said he doesn't know whether proof of vaccines or masks will be required this year, or if capacity limits will be imposed.

There's still a lot to work, through, as to how we're going to do this and the percentage of people that have been vaccinated and so on and so forth," Smiley said.

During a briefing on Tuesday with Milwaukee city and county officials, Interim Health Commissioner Marlaina Jackson said Summerfest had not submitted a safety plan with the health department.

Jackson said she is hopeful the city's vaccination numbers will look good by September. Dr. Ben Weston, director of medical services for the Milwaukee County Office of Emergency Management, said that is dependent on vaccine supply and people's willingness to get the vaccines.

Peggy Williams-Smith, president and CEO of VISIT Milwaukee, said Summerfest brings in more than $200 million to the local economy each year. She noted that's almost $1 billion every five years.

"We know that it's going to take longer for business travel and meetings and conventions to come back. So we're really banking on those community events that can drive people into our city," she said.

Williams-Smith also said she knows people are anxious to have live music in their lives again.

"I can literally reflect on my life through concerts. And I think that that's true for most people. You remember your first concert. You remember your best concert. You remember the first concert you went to with your best friend, with your boyfriend with your girlfriend with your significant other," she said.

Three new amenities will be introduced in 2021. That includes the new $51.3 million American Family Insurance Amphitheater, the Northwestern Mutual Community Park and the Generac Power Stage. Festival organizers said all three capital projects will be completed by June 2021 and may be opened prior to Summerfest in September.

Valid Summerfest 2020 and 2021 general admission tickets issued to date may be redeemed during the new September dates. Refunds on Summerfest admission tickets purchased via Summerfest.com or Ticketmaster are available. Information regarding how to get a refund on festival admission tickets, as well as information regarding concert tickets for the American Family Insurance Amphitheater can be found at Summerfest.com.

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