From Jackson 5 to Paul McCartney: History of headliners at Summerfest through the decades

MILWAUKEE -- Think of all the legends that have graced the “main stage” at Summerfest during the 49 years of the Big Gig.

The first few years of Summerfest performances were quite different than the festival we know today.

Jackson 5 at Summerfest

In 1971, Jackson 5 took to the main stage. Michael Jackson was just 12 years old.

The range of music really became a hallmark of the festival in the early 70s.

Summerfest 1972

Summerfest 1972

Summerfest 1972, for example, featured Glen Campbell, Arlo Guthrie, Dionne Warwick and Aretha Franklin and The Doors, one year after the death of Jim Morrison.

Summerfest’s reputation had begun to attract bands at the peak of their success.

Summerfest 1973

Summerfest 1973

Steve Miller returned to his native Milwaukee in 1973 as his album, “The Joker,” was #1.

Gladys Knight and the Pips performed the following year with their new #1 signature song, “Midnight Train.”

Summerfest 1974

Summerfest 1975

On July 6, 1975, Canadian crooner Gordon Lightfoot graced the main stage. Four months later, the S.S. Edmund Fitzgerald sank in Lake Superior. It’s an event which was to become memorialized by his most famous song.

S.S. Edmund Fitzgerald

Coast to coast, the nation was celebrating the big bicentennial on July 4, 1976. Helen Reddy was on the main stage that night at Summerfest. She was another star celebrating the pinnacle of her career. She must have been a hit because two years later she was again the main stage headliner on the Fourth of July.

Summerfest 1976

That year must have been a real drag for “Dead Heads.” The Grateful Dead was scheduled to headline two nights before Reddy, but the show was canceled because of rain.

Summerfest 1978

1983 saw the first Summerfest show for the Milwaukee-born band, Violent Femmes. It was the first of their many appearances at the Big Gig.

Summerfest 1983

In 1984, John Denver performed on the main stage. So did Huey Lewis and the News.

Summerfest 1984

Summerfest 1984

1987 saw the opening of the American Family Insurance Amphitheater, which was then called the Marcus Amphitheater. The Beach Boys were the first band to headline there.

Summerfest 1987

Summerfest 1987

1990 brought a blossoming new type of music at the amphitheater, MC Hammer. He was one of the first hip-hop performers at Summerfest. The amazing Whitney Houston opened the festival the following year.

Summerfest 1990

In 1992, Summerfest kicked off with Ringo Star & His All-Starr Band.

Summerfest 1992

Pearl Jam was the biggest act in 1995, playing back-to-back shows at the amphitheater.

Summerfest 1995

Jimmy Page and The Allman Brothers helped kick off the new millennium with a nod to the past.

Summerfest 2000

Summerfest 2001

Prince opened the next year of Summerfest. He’d be back in 2004 to kick things off at the fest.

Pearl Jam performed back-to-back shows again in 2006, alongside Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers.

Summerfest 2006

Tom Petty would repeat the back-to-back shows in 2010.

2011 brought up Britney Spears, who also headlined back in 2000.

The following year, rockers Aerosmith and Foo Fighters took the stage.

In 2014, Dave Matthews Band made its second fest appearance.

Summerfest 2015

American Folk Rock band, The Avett Brothers, played Summerfest in 2015. So did Neil Young and Stevie Wonder.

Summerfest 2016

2016 brought a musical powerhouse in Sting and Peter Gabriel.

Also, it was a packed amphitheater for The Beatles front man, Paul McCartney.