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Dinner and a Show: Music Festival Edition

By Paul Smirl
Special to TravelWisconsin.com

Wisconsin has become a music festival hub. In addition to Milwaukee's Summerfest—the world's largest music festival—Appleton, and Eau Claire have gotten into the big-time festival game, creating niche weekend fests that bring in audiences from across the country. Throw in Madison's booming east side festivals that sport some of the most eclectic and talented lineups anywhere, and you've got a summer full of world-class music all in Wisconsin.

From city, to small town, to wide-open pastures, Wisconsin's premier fests present many different opportunities when you're not enjoying the music. And no matter where you go, there's plenty of food, beer, and local culture to enjoy.

Summerfest - Milwaukee

Sounds: Top 40, Classic Rock, Country, Alternative, Hip Hop

Sights: Pop hitmakers and rock legends headlining the Marcus Amphitheater, bustling crowds, families, Lake Michigan, cover bands during the day, hit acts from the 70s to today, 11 stages.

Vibe: Party, throwback, lakefront, fair

Food/Drink Nearby:
Milwaukee Brewing: Small brewery with big-time beers. Tours are quick, their beers demand repeated tasting.
Downtown Kitchen: Modern spot to grab a fresh lunch or breakfast, with a menu spanning world cuisines.
Lakefront Brewing: Popular brewery tours and regional staple beers. Be happy and try a Fixed Gear.

Mile of Music - Appleton

Sounds: Folk, Americana, Roots, Singer-songwriter

Sights: Local establishments and public spaces flooded with hundreds of musical acts; educational music events; bands playing in bars, restaurants, at the Lawrence Memorial Chapel, or on the bus.

Vibe: Small town, bar crawl, local, independent

Food/Drink Nearby:
Appleton Beer Factory: No-frills craft brewery with diverse, outstanding beers.
Home Burger Bar: One-of-a-kind burgers topped with PB&J, cheese curds, crab rangoon dip, and more.
Old Bavarian Brewing Company and Restaurant: Authentic German restaurant with a classic feel and wide-ranging menu.

Eaux Claires - Eau Claire

Sounds: Indie Rock, Folk, Classical, Jazz, Hip Hop

Sights: Hip bands, experimental instrumental music, songwriting luminaries performing and collaborating, camping, art installations, Northwest Wisconsin’s beautiful scenery

Vibe: Communal, artistic, concentrated crowds

Food/Drink Nearby:
Lazy Monk Brewing: Unique Bohemian beers and a bier hall with a community vibe.
Tokyo Japanese Restaurant: Fresh restaurant serving traditional Japanese lunches and Teppanyaki-style dinners.
Autumn Harvest Winery and Orchard: Regional gem selling small-batch wines made with home-grown apples

Madison East Side Fests - Madison

Sounds: Roots, World, Pop, Soul, Bluegrass. Every one of Madison’s summer festivals does it a little different. Check out Waterfront Festival, La Fête de Marquette, Orton Park Fest, Yum Yum Fest, Central Park Sessions, Willy Street Fair, Atwood Fest

Sights: Lawn chairs and grass, families, neighbors, eclectic artists, community organizations

Vibe: Neighborhood fest, local, worldly, friendly

Food/Drink Nearby:
Old Sugar Distillery: Local spirits with spacious tasting room and available outdoor seating.
Jamerica Caribbean Restaurant: Delicious, rich Jamaican and Caribbean cuisine in a bright and homey atmosphere.
Lao Laan-Xang: Excellent Laotian food with two neighborhood locations and a food cart.

Looking for more Wisconsin music festivals? Check out these Top Notch Fests, or plan your next music festival trip here!