Summerfest in Milwaukee replacing Johnson Controls stage with new DJ space
When Summerfest revealed more than 100 ground stage headliners for its 55th anniversary Thursday, none of them were scheduled to play at the Johnson Controls World Sound Stage.
That's because the stage is no more.
One of Summerfest's only covered stages, featuring a mix of local and national bands — The Record Company, BoDeans and the Wailers were among the headliners last year — the Johnson Controls World Sound Stage has been rebranded as the Sound Waves Stage and will feature area DJs, Director of Entertainment Scott Ziel confirmed with the Journal Sentinel Thursday.
Milwaukee-based Johnson Controls is no longer sponsoring the stage.
"It gives us a unique opportunity to do something we haven't done for a long time, which is to create a dance stage," Ziel said. "We're going to have really great production when you walk in the area with a lot of video and cool lighting and great audio. It's being presented as a cool, fun atmosphere for people to go and dance and sing along to the music that they love."
Ziel said there will be DJs in the afternoons playing songs catering to the crowds coming out for the American Family Insurance Amphitheater shows each day. Each night, there'll be a different musical theme for the stage's closing DJ.
"One night it'll be Latin and reggaeton, the next night old-school hip-hop jams, the next night '80s and '90s rock or a New Wave night," Ziel offered as possible suggestions. "We're going to tap the best DJs that are in our area." The DJs and theme nights have yet to be announced.
Ziel didn't offer specifics about the end of Johnson Controls' stage sponsorship, which began in 2013. "We loved and appreciated the support of Johnson Controls over the years," he said. "As with anything, things change in terms of sponsorships at the festival."
In a statement issued Friday, Summerfest officials said they were still working with Johnson Controls on sponsorship opportunities for this year.
The new Sound Waves stage is in line with similar dance pavilions at other festivals, Ziel suggested. It also follows a growing trend, in Milwaukee and elsewhere, of themed DJ night bookings, with events at the Rave and Turner Hall Ballroom drawing large crowds for a less-costly night out, which in turn are less expensive to produce than many touring acts.
The last couple of years, the Johnson Controls stage has also scheduled headlining bands for 8 p.m., giving room for a local DJ to do a subsequent set at the stage. Ziel said those bookings have had some success.
But the end of the Johnson Controls stage as a space for bands means one less place for local artists to play at the Big Gig. And when the weather's been hot or stormy, the covering over the crowd area has benefited those acts tremendously. A few years ago, Milwaukee rapper Zed Kenzo played for one of the largest crowds of her career when storms forced other stages to temporarily halt performances.
Ziel insists that the types of bands that have played the Johnson Controls stage in the past will still get to play other stages on the grounds.
"We've got all these stages going with all these great bands performing," Ziel said. "We want to offer different types of experiences at the festival and this is one that hasn't really been offered for quite some time."
Summerfest will celebrate its 55th anniversary June 22 to 24, June 29 to July 1 and July 6 to 8. Additional headliners will be announced in the coming weeks, with the full schedule expected by late May.
Contact Piet at (414) 223-5162 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @pietlevy or Facebook at facebook.com/PietLevyMJS.
Our subscribers make this reporting possible. Please consider supporting local journalism by subscribing to the Journal Sentinel at jsonline.com/deal.
DOWNLOAD THE APP: Get the latest news, sports and more
This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Summerfest in Milwaukee replacing Johnson Controls stage with DJ space