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, 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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
In 1984, John Denver performed on the main stage. So did Huey Lewis and the News.
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.
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.
In 1992, Summerfest kicked off with Ringo Star & His All-Starr Band.
Pearl Jam was the biggest act in 1995, playing back-to-back shows at the amphitheater.
Jimmy Page and The Allman Brothers helped kick off the new millennium with a nod to the past.
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.
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.
American Folk Rock band, The Avett Brothers, played Summerfest in 2015. So did Neil Young and Stevie Wonder.
2016 brought a musical powerhouse in Sting and Peter Gabriel.
Also, it was a packed amphitheater for The Beatles front man, Paul McCartney.