‘Big Gig’ stage expands

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  • Summerfest plans to expand one of its main stages to accommodate more people.
  • Plans to increase from 7,000 to 9,300 people in main space.
  • The stage is not permanent to allow for easy transportation.

Summerfest is revamping one of its main stages to accommodate enough people to rock out at this year's "Big Gig."

On Thursday, both the Summerfest board of directors and Milwaukee World Festival President and CEO Don Smiley confirmed that the M&I Classic Rock Stage will be expanded to allow room for more dancing and partying.

Kristin Chuckel, marketing and public relations manager for World Festival Productions, a division of Milwaukee World Festival said the stage's previous capacity accommodated roughly 7,000 people in a 35,700-square-foot area.

The expansion will allow about 9,300 people with more than 10,000 square feet added. The new area is roughly 46,500 square feet, Chuckel said.

John Boler, vice president of sales and marketing for Milwaukee World Festival, explained the reasons behind the change.

"As the M&I Classic Rock Stage has grown in popularity year after year, it was time to reassess how to best utilize the available real estate to accommodate the larger number of attendees in the area while providing a high-quality experience for everyone," Boler said via e-mail.

According to the Summerfest Web site, the stage is not permanent and can therefore be moved easily.

It was originally situated on the south side of the facility, adjacent to the Marcus Ampitheater, but will be moved to the east, closer to the walk along Lake Michigan.

"This re-positioning will occur by relocating and erecting the temporary stage structure further east and changing the angle it is positioned at in order to create a larger space for the audience," Boler said.

Milwaukee World Festival organizes Summerfest and other summer festivals that take place on the Summerfest grounds, located at 200 N. Harbor Dr., just off the lakefront and adjacent to Interstate-794.

Boler said despite concerns over ticket sales with the economic effects of increased unemployment and reductions in consumer spending, numbers have been tracking similar to 2008.

"We are pleasantly surprised at the solid ticket sales for the acts in the Marcus Amphitheater thus far," Boler said. "Summerfest's general admission ticket pricing represents an amazing value for music fans at only $15 or $8 per ticket."

At last year's Earth, Wind & Fire concert, there were more people than available capacity at the stage.

"The expansion should allow for more room and more people," Chuckel said. "We hope these changes will allow for the necessary demand for some of our events."

M&I Bank is in its fourth year as title sponsor of the Classic Rock Stage, having taken over prior to the 2006 music festival, said Sara Schmitz, a spokeswoman for M&I Bank.

"Although M&I had no role in either decision or expense, it's good to have our presence increased at the event," Schmitz said. "This was a Summerfest decision and a Summerfest expense."

The Summerfest Web site said the grounds are spread over 75 acres parallel to Lake Michigan. The expansion was available to the east along Lake Michigan since the previous setup had a lot of unused land while concert-goers went elsewhere on the premises.

According to the 2009 Summerfest schedule, Earth, Wind & Fire will repeat their performance at this year's event, playing with Chicago on June 30. The entire event runs June 25 through July 9.

Ron Hutcheson, a spokesman for Live Nation, a business that produces, markets and sells live concerts, said although Live Nation is not affiliated with Summerfest, it was still positive to hear of an increase in awareness for these shows.

"The summer is the time to be out and enjoying all these shows, and that's why we do what we do," Hutcheson said. "Although we're not affiliated with Summerfest, it's still good to hear there is renewed interest both in Milwaukee and the rest of the Midwest."

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