Bruce Sullivan is the man behind the music at State Fair.
Bruce Sullivan is the man behind the music at State Fair.

Milwaukee Talks: State Fair's Bruce Sullivan, 2007

State Fair is no secret and people around the state and around the Midwest know all about the cream puffs, the pig races and the Giant Slide. But for a lot of people State Fair hasn’t been about the music in the same way they perceive Summerfest to be.

Enter Bruce Sullivan, a life-long Milwaukee guy with an impressive music business resume. Even better, he’s managed to stay at home and work in the biz.

Now he’s the man behind many of the stages at State Fair and with another Big Gig behind us, we decided to ask Sullivan about the Fair and his plans for it.

OMC: Bruce, tell us a little about what you do at State Fair.

BS: I am the Entertainment and Events Director. I supply the entertainment for our Miller Lite Main Stage, Cousins Subs Amphitheater, Funjet Fun Stage, Family Variety Stage, World Café Stage, BMX Park and our Street Entertainment. I coordinate, with the help of my talented staff, over 100 events during the Fair that include our daily sponsor events in Central Mall, Racing Pigs, Marching Band Competition and the Daily Parade. I also like to help the other 25 stages on the grounds with any questions that they may have regarding entertainment.
OMC: And you have a background in the music business in Milwaukee, don't you?

BS: Yes I do. I have worked in Milwaukee radio for over 25 years. I also worked as a product manager for eight years with Narada/Back Porch Records, which was an EMI label, based in Milwaukee. I worked with some great events in town such as Jazz in the Park, Jazz on the Vine and the Third Ward jazz festival (Summer Sizzle).
OMC: With renovated grounds and all, music seems like the main area in which the Fair can make a jump in quality. Did you take a different approach to booking the Fair this year as compared to how it was done in the past?
BS: I feel that we have made great strides in many areas to make it the quality family event that is the Wisconsin State Fair. Music is just one of those components. The approach was a little different this year because I wanted to establish our Miller Lite Main Stage as a true music venue. More high profile artists, addition of video screens, improved track seating layout and family affordable ticket prices will all help with our vision. The upgrade to national headliners on our Cousins Subs Amphitheater, which is the largest free stage on the grounds, will give our Fairgoers another choice among our other 28 free stages to enjoy quality entertainment and enhance their Fair experience. It’s a great compliment to hear people ask me how to buy tickets for a show and tell them it is on one of our free stages.
OMC: Do you have some leeway to take some chances and make some unusual choices? Is that something you'll do?

BS: Yes and Yes. With the variety of stages on the grounds, it gives me the opportunity to try new things and share them with the Fairgoers. Some of the venues at the Fair are intimate and audience friendly so you can take a chance and bring in a singer/songwriter or instrumentalist that might be obscure to most but fits in the family friendly environment. People walk away with the appreciation of a new experience and it came while attending the Fair. That is what it is all about at the Wisconsin State Fair.
OMC: What's your long-term goal for music at the Fair?

BS: My long-term goal is to continue to improve and bring the best and most diverse entertainment to the Wisconsin State Fair, both on our ticketed stage and our free ground stages, while keeping ticket prices at a family affordable price. This year you can see great entertainment on the Miller Lite Main Stage such as Doobie Brothers/Kansas, Lonestar/John Anderson/Jake Owen and BoDeans/The Gufs for as low as $10! Or see Shooter Jennings, Craig Chaquico, Daryl Stuermer, 10,000 Maniacs, Colin Hay of Men At Work, Young Dubliners and Mitch Ryder and The Detroit Wheels on the free Cousins Subs Amphitheater. 


OMC: Will there still be a place at the Fair for the kind of cover bands that had become de rigueur there in the past?

BS: There will always be a place for cover bands at the Fair. With 30 free stages at the Wisconsin State Fair, there is plenty of room to highlight the best of what the State of Wisconsin and the Midwest have to offer. There is a great variety of cover bands in the area that play the fair and when you walk through the grounds you have the pleasure of hearing a different genre of music practically every 20 feet!
OMC: Do you run into difficulties trying to book music for an August fair when Summerfest and a lot of other music-intensive events have already come and gone?

BS: Yes, you do, but I look at it as a challenge more than a difficulty. Now that we are looking at a higher level of artists for the Fair we are running into that more.
OMC: What are some of the difficulties you run into booking bands, especially, bigger national bands?

BS: There are a variety of obstacles that you run into booking any band no matter where they fall on the popularity ladder. Cost, routing, late confirmations, limited availability, travel issues and even the artist changing their minds … if you can believe that.
OMC: I think people think it looks easy; there's a lot of armchair entertainment bookers out there isn't there?

BS: The backseat bookers or armchair talent buyers will be around forever. Everyone has a wish list like I do. Unfortunately that is not reality. Santa does not always bring everything that is on my list every year. That’s fine because when next year rolls around, I can put another wish list together.
OMC: Do you have any fond memories of seeing bands at the Fair?

BS: I remember in the early '70s, my parents taking me to see The Osmond Brothers and thinking how cool that was. I am sure I was not screaming! This past year was my first year working at the Fair. I remember watching Peter Frampton and seeing how he has matured as a guitar player. I had the honor of meeting Aaron Neville. I hope there will be many more memories to come.
OMC: What's your Fair favorite? Cream puffs? Pig races? Giant slide?

BS: I love the Giant Slide. I have lived in the area my entire life and attended the Fair every year. One of my stops through the Fair was to go on the Giant Slide. Now my kids think it’s cool that their dad works where the Giant Slide is located. I had a chance this past December to meet Mr. Giant Slide. It was great to talk to him.
OMC: What's on the schedule this year that you're most excited about?

BS: I am actually excited about a few things this year. First thing is our great lineup on the Miller Lite Main Stage where we will introduce two 15x20-ft. video screens to enhance your concert experience.

The Main Stage will also feature, for the first time, an authentic Hispanic show featuring Lupillo Rivera and Ana Barbara. I worked with El Charro Promotions, based in Milwaukee, to bring a true multicultural show to the Fair and our community. The World Café Stage is also on that list. This stage is a lot of fun to program because I can showcase great entertainment from all cultures and most of them reside in Wisconsin.

Last but not least, I am very excited about our lineup on the Cousins Subs Amphitheater. We really needed to raise the profile of entertainment on our largest ground stage in the Park and with the response I have been getting regarding the acts, I believe we are on the right track.

State Fair takes place Aug. 2-12, 2007. 


Neidhart | July 9, 2007 at 11:26 a.m. (report)

Not just talented but ONE HOT STUD!!!! Woooohoooo!!!!!!

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lynn158 | July 4, 2007 at 3:27 p.m. (report)

Milwaukee is very fortunate to have the high caliber employee of Mr Bruce Sullivan with his experience to be involved in Wisconsin State Fair and other venues. I look forward to seeing his abilities at work and the enjoyment of the public who come to see and listen to what Wisconsin State Fair has to offer under the guidance of Mr Bruce Sullivan.

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