In Festival Guide Commentary

DJ Paris Hilton was not so hot when she hit Summerfest. (PHOTO: Abe Van Dyke)

Our worst Summerfest shows of all time

We've already reminisced about the finest concerts Summerfest had to offer, a difficult choice to narrow down for many of us. But now – and maybe it's because we're in a cranky mood because the Big Gig is almost already done, and that makes us sad – let's talk about the bad. Because there must be the bad with the good, the excrement with the exemplary, the drunken midnight shuttle ride to go with the finding a free parking spot right outside the gate.

It wasn't easy to pick, but for the opposite reason of our favs: We really haven't seen too many miserable Big Gig shows. But after a while, we found them, tucked in the darkest corner of our memories next to watching a whole Saz's sampler platter fall to the beer-soaked pavement and the image of that one festival-goer wearing alarmingly too little.

So here are the shows that oh-so-briefly turned Summerfest into a bummer fest.

Matt Mueller
Culture Editor

I think it says a lot for Summerfest that, in my years of reviewing or merely taking in Big Gig shows, I've seen very few real bad shows – much less one that I could classify as "the worst." There have been a few disappointments: X Ambassadors' headliner set in 2016 at the Miller Oasis was a bummer – but only because they barely played eight songs and well under an hour, not because of the music, which was great. MGMT in 2013 was a downer, too, as the electronic pop duo has probably shown more life at dentist appointments than they did at the Harley-Davidson Roadhouse. Then there was Hollywood Vampires in 2016, which depressingly found rock legends Alice Cooper and Joe Perry degrading themselves into a cover band to play with a mid-career death spiral, mid-domestic abuse allegations Johnny Depp.

But the obvious winner, the creme de la crap, is DJ P Hilty herself, DJ Paris Hilton, a show so predictably vacant, so monotonously dull and so obviously an exercise in bored ego that when the audio committed ritualistic suicide and cut out for a few minutes in the middle of the show, I truly believed in the presence of a higher power and divine intervention. Then the music turned back on, and the existence of god was confirmed – except it clearly is a wrathful, Old Testament deity.

Molly Snyder
Senior Writer/Editorial Manager

As a life-long Bob Dylan fan, I was not surprised when he barely spoke to the audience during his Marcus Amphitheater performance on July 1, 2009. Dylan is known for his lukewarm stage presence, and I had witnessed it before during one of his concerts. However, during this show, I was particularly miffed by his chilly demeanor because it was 40 degrees and the only time in my longstanding Summerfest history that I wore my winter jacket to the Big Gig. In short, I was really cold during the show, and his frosty disposition only made it worse.

Then there was the time my partner and I were, ahem, escorted to "Summerfest jail" for taking a photo of Neil Diamond, but y'all have to wait for the OnMilwaukee nonfiction novel for that ridiculous tale ...

Bobby Tanzilo
Senior Editor/Writer

While I've seen some Summerfest shows that I've found underwhelming, surely the biggest debacle was Milli Vanilli's 1989 performance at the then Marcus Amphitheater as part of a package tour that included of-the-moment acts like Paula Abdul, Tone Loc, Lisa Lisa & Cult Jam and Was (Not Was). When it was Rob and Fab's turn, the duo hit the stage to perform to pre-recorded tracks but flubbed the cues, making it absolutely clear that they were lip-syncing. Cutting their losses, they headed back into the wings and re-did the entire beginning. As you can imagine, the crowd had a field day.

(PHOTO: WikiCommons/Alan Light)

Andy Tarnoff
Publisher

In the dozens upon dozens Summerfest shows I've seen, not many stand out as horrible. I mean, Cheap Trick was really bad, but not because they performed badly … just because they are a really, really bad band.

One really bad set comes to mind if I think of the worst of the worst, and that was my beloved Digital Underground in 2006. Shock G et al took the stage an hour late and played for 40 minutes, although they played some deep cuts like "Gut Fest '89." During a tribute to Tupac, the keyboard he used was so distorted that Humpty pouted his way through the set. I remember a lot of banter and jumping around, but not much music. At the time, I said I hoped they'd be better when they come back next time, but given that their last show here was 13 years ago, I'm not terribly optimistic.


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