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Summerfest's 45th year bring 'stunning' new stage

CREATED Jun 26, 2012

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Click here to listen to Summerfest Executive Director Don Smiley talk about the 45th anniversary festival on Newsradio 620 WTMJ "Jeff Wagner Show."

MILWAUKEE - The world's largest music festival unveils a new, 10,000-capacity stage as it enters its 45th year of bringing Milwaukee some of the planet's best music.

Summerfest starts Wednesday with not just hundreds of musical artists, but the new BMO Harris Pavilion itself as a headlining attraction.

"It's not even a stage.  It's a building.  It's just stunning," said Summerfest Executive Director Don Smiley on Newsradio 620 WTMJ's "Jeff Wagner" Show.

"When we put the BMO Harris Pavilion at the intersection of water and water, it's a stunning view."

The festival will use a combination of free reserved seating and general admission for acts at that stage "to maintain some type of order," according to Smiley.

"There are 2,500 seats, and there's 2,500 benches, and there's 5,000 standing-room only spots, for a grand total of 10,000-ish at that stage."

Smiley said the chairback seats are free, unless you want to purchase in advance.  That will bring a $3 Ticketmaster service fee.

"We want people to have a section, a row and a seat when they show up.  We get to control the fact that every seat will be used, and we'll get the greatest amount of our capacity."

Smiley also touted the stage's 17-foot television screen at its back end.

He described how the BMO Harris Pavilion is the latest capital expenditure over the past few years that has dramatically improved the grounds.

"We rebuilt the Miller Lite Oasis, the Harley-Davidson Roadhouse, the Briggs and Stratton Big Backyard and now the BMO Harris Pavilion," explained Smiley.

"We've been hard at it since 2005.  I think when you present the grounds like that, people feel better about the festival they're going to, and I believe they conduct themselves differently when they see an effort has been made to upgrade the festival."

Smiley also said that in his tenure running the festival, he did not want to focus on a seven-figure attendance goal that Summerfest has reached in the past.

"I don't really believe it's about that.  I don't believe that if you draw 1 million people, you're automatically successful.  If you have too many people here, the service levels are going to go down...It's a little misleading.  Here, you're just walking through the gate."

"The only significance is the per-cap spending...it's not tied to that magic number of 1 million."