Festival President and CEO Don Smiley says it was important to reopen after last year's Big Gig was canceled
Vendors and fans say, so far, there are fewer people than expected at Summerfest 2021, especially since there was no festival last year.
Summerfest never talks about attendance numbers at this point in the festival, but attendance declined three years in a row through 2019, and then the pandemic shut it down entirely last year.
The opening night of Summerfest is usually wall-to-wall people, but not Thursday night's opening.
"Luke Bryan, the whole row in front of us was empty, and several of the bleacher sections were totally empty," Summerfest guest Robin Venvertioh said.
"I kind of like it. No waits for the bathrooms, no waits for the food, no wait for the beer. People are still happy," Lisa Shepard said.
Saz's Hospitality Group says attendance and sales are lower than expected so far, but they're hoping that changes for the holiday weekend.
"I think we're ready for more. I think going into the weekend, the weather looks really good tomorrow. So we're ready for a big weekend. We have the food. We have the supplies. We were able to find some last-minute staff to join us," said Curt Kluth of Saz's Hospitality Group.
With the festival moved from June to September, college students and teenagers are back in class.
Bob Mittnacht said he's been coming to Summerfest since 1971, and he noticed there aren't as many young people.
"Well, I'm a little disappointed that the crowd's kind of light. But a little chance of rain and things will do that. But it's every bit as good as it was every other year. That's for sure," Mittnacht said.
"Well, it's definitely a little slow for this year. Other years it's been people waiting at the gates," James Hlavachek said.
"How much does this help to reopen?" WISN 12 News reporter Terry Sater asked Summerfest President and CEO Don Smiley.
"Yeah, it's extraordinarily important. We got crushed last year. We lost 99% of our annual revenue," he said.
Smiley said it will take a few years to make up for last year's loss.
The festival has competition in September. There are high school football and college football, and the festival is closed on Sundays.
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