'The responsible decision:' Summerfest 2020 CANCELED due to COVID-19 pandemic

MILWAUKEE -- The lakeside festival that draws hundreds of thousands of people to downtown Milwaukee each summer has been canceled for the first time in 53 years after it was earlier moved to September.

Summerfest officials said Thursday, June 4 that out of an “abundance of caution” for fans, artists, vendors and staff, the event will not take place this year.

Summerfest CEO Don Smiley says staff explored numerous options to operate the festival in a safe manner in light of the coronavirus outbreak, but could not find acceptable alternatives.

"It was a difficult decision," said Smiley. "It's painful. We know hundreds of thousands of people will miss Summerfest this year, but it was the only decision. It was the responsible decision. No one has a crystal ball. We really don't know what's going to happen regarding COVID-19 come September."

FOX6 News spoke with a food vendor who's been at Summerfest since the 70s, who called the decision devastating.

Mader's Restaurant typically sees a lot of business at Summerfest and German Fest -- providing food and entertainment at the festival since the 70s.

"I'm just going to miss seeing all the people that come our for Summerfest and German Fest," said Auben Mader, owner.

"I'll miss the magic of the music, and all the people that come flooding through those gates," said Smiley.

Summerfest, which bills itself as the world's largest music festival, said it has a $186 million economic impact annually. Organizers were to unveil the new $53 million American Family Insurance Amphitheater during the festival this year.

Summerfest, which began in 1968, is held at Henry Maier Festival Park, adjacent to Lake Michigan. It draws 800,000 to 900,000 people each summer.

A statement from Don Smiley, president & CEO of Milwaukee World Festival, Inc. surrounding the cancellation:

"After careful, diligent, and thoughtful consideration and out of an abundance of caution for the health and safety of our community - including artists, fans, vendors, participants and staff – Summerfest presented by American Family Insurance will not take place in September 2020, as previously announced.

It is our honor to be responsible for such a storied tradition.  With five decades of festivals, countless legendary performances and millions of memories, Milwaukee World Festival, Inc. explored numerous options to ensure the Summerfest tradition could continue in 2020, in a safe and healthy manner.

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

This announcement comes after our staff, sponsors and vendors have worked tirelessly over the past two months to reformulate the festival for the rescheduled 2020 dates.  Our commitment to doing everything possible to preserve the social and economic impact of $186 million, which Summerfest generates annually is paramount, yet the uncertainties are too great.

Our present situation is especially disheartening, given that the new $53 million American Family Insurance Amphitheater was scheduled to open on June 24, ready to host over 20 superstars during and after Summerfest.  We are grateful to American Family Insurance and all the donors who made this new venue possible, and look forward to welcoming artists and fans in 2021.

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 or the BMO Harris Pavilion can be found at Summerfest.com.

As we all face a challenging and unusual summer and fall ahead, we sincerely appreciate all the support demonstrated by our fans and sponsors and encourage you to support your favorite musicians in the months to come.  We hope you will carry the spirit of Summerfest with you until we can be together again. May the magic of music fill your life with joy and memories."