By Andre Burnett
They have one of the tallest buildings in the world, and we have the tallest building in Wisconsin. They house famous landmarks such as Navy Pier and the Magnificent Mile. We have Bradford Beach and Mayfair Mall. They’re home to Oprah, and we’re home to…well, you get the idea.
But when it comes to the rival summer festivals that run directly adjacent to each other, our neighbors to the south, Chicago has nothing on Milwaukee . This year, I attended bot the Taste of Chicago, known by locals as simply “the Taste”, held in Grant Park, in the heart of downtown Chicago, as well as our Summerfest, held at the Maier Festival grounds in the heart of downtown Milwaukee.
For those of you who’ve never been to the Taste, it’s an event that brings many of Chicago’s restaurants to Grant Park. Although the event is free to attend, you purchase tickets used to sample either a portion or a full dish of food offered by those restaurants.
Celebrating its 30-year anniversary this year, the Taste also has daily performances, but compared to Summerfest, the amount is meager, with enough stages to count on one or two hands, including one major artist a day at the Petrillo Music Shell, by fences that separate the audience for a time as they wait in line. In 2008, despite my very early arrival, due to “VIP’s”, I watched Stevie Wonder perform from the grass, exhausting my zoom on the camera to get a half-decent photo of him on stage. I can only imagine what waiting for the R&B singer Trey Songs’ performance was like.
In between performances from local artists at the Best Buy stage, the DJ played a few obvious songs that captured the audience’s attention, songs like the “Cupid Shuffle”, “Cha-Cha Slide”, and some tunes from Michael Jackson. The live performances, however, mostly catered to rock and Chicago blues fans. So when the DJ returned the equipment back to the gaming area nearby, I found myself trying to drown out the music by attempting to mix music on the “ones and twos”.
I was impressed by the street performers, including saxophone players, bucket drummers, and a silver statue who are usually there despite the Taste.
Summerfest, on the other hand, featured local and national talent, every single day. Summerfest offered, as it does every year, opportunities to attend at a free or discounted price. People from all around the world, many from Chicago, I’m sure, were looking forward to this event.
B.B. King, Cameo, The Roots, Average White Band, amidst many other performances, could be enjoyed at no extra cost to attendees. Usher’s and Justin Beiber’s separate performances at the Marcus Amphitheater, neither of which I attended, was-well received by those who did. Many of Milwaukee’s famous restaurants and well-known regulars such as Robby’s Roasted Corn were found there. No looking for a spot to trade your money in for meal tickets like the Taste! All the places accepted cash and/or credit and debit.
Let’s not forget the time: the Taste opened daily at 11am and closed at or near 9 pm, except the last day, closing at 6pm, whereas Summerfest ran from 12 noon to 12 midnight, every night.
I was surprised by the diversity, young ones, older ones. By 10 the last night, thousands of people were walking through the festival grounds, either in conversation, eating, listening to music, or doing all three at the same time. Believe me, it’s possible at Summerfest. It reminded me a bit of African World Festival, which is returning for a 1-day run this year. It was tough to see it go, but I’m sure it was even tougher for those who weren’t from Milwaukee.
As you may know by the length of this article, I could have gone on and on about what makes Summerfest more desirable, but I think you catch my drift. Don’t get me wrong, I like the Windy City and had a nice time at the Taste, but Summerfest can’t be touched! Despite our simultaneous runs, and though it may be hard to swallow, always remember this fact, Chicago : we were first and we’re the best!