This weekend in Milwaukee, Wisconsin through July 5th, a great music festival, Summerfest, is happening and if you are in the area, have the time and money, it is definitely worth a visit. They also claim to be the largest music festival in the world. Having attended Summerfest and other big, music festivals in Chicago, New Orleans, etc., and having a solid basis for comparison, it seemed worth asking if this is Fact or Faked, in the tradition of Ben Hansen.
On July 3rd, 2015 this writer contacted the Summerfest Marketing & Public Relations Coordinator, Sara Peronto, and asked the following:
"What is the basis for your claim that Summerfest is the world's largest music festival? From what I can tell it is unsubstantiated hyperbole. I search Guinness for Summerfest and and it comes back with "No Results Found." With 13 stages, I know it can't be based on that as I have attended other festivals with more stages. More acts? Square miles covered? Days of the festival? Number of attendees? Number of performances? What exactly is your claim based on?
If it is based on number of attendees, is that "Nearly 900,000" unique attendees or total combined attendees (i.e. if they come to all 11 days of the festival are they counted each day?) When I attended the four day French Quarter Festival they had 20 stages and over half a million in attendance. (500,000/4 = 125,000 vs 900,000/11 = 81,818 attendees.) What do you include in your 800 acts? Is that only the stage acts on the 13 stages? When I was there I saw a lot of little performances going on that, in New Orleans, would be considered street busking. Are those included in the 800 acts?"
The response came back:
"Attached is a scanned copy of the Guiness Book of World Records acknowledgment of Summerfest being the 'World’s Largest Music Festival.'
So, without really providing any clarification, she provided a scan out of a 1999 Guinness Book of World Records publication which states:
"Summerfest, held annually since 1967 on the shore of Lake Michigan in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, is billed as the world's largest music festival. In 1998, the "Big Gig" hosted over 1,000 artists on its 12 permanent stages, including Boyz II Men, Phil Collins, James Taylor and Bonnie Raitt."
So in 1999 Guinness said that Summerfest says it is the world's largest music festival with no basis for that claim and Guinness did not confirm that it was. Looking at the Summerfest 2015 site the festival now has "11 stages with over 800 acts", an apparent reduction from 1998.
"The world's largest jazz festival is The Festival International de Jazz de Montreal in Québec, Canada, which attracted 1,913,868 people for its 25th anniversary year in July 2004."
According to the Montreal Jazz Festival 2015 website they will have:
"3,000 artists from 30 countries
More than 1,000 concerts, of which 2/3 will be free outdoor performances
Close to 2 million peaceful festivalgoers, including 26% of tourists and excursionists
400 accredited journalists
10 free outdoor stages
15 concert halls"
From the point of view of this National Music and Tourism Examiner, a Jazz festival is, indeed a music festival, and Montreal, Canada is the place to be if you want to attend the biggest in the world this weekend.
If size isn't important to you, there are many wonderful music festivals around the country. New Orleans has the Jazz and Heritage Festival, the Voodoo Music and Arts Experience, the Satchmo Fest, and the French Quarter Festival. Chicago has the "World's Largest Blues Festival", the Chicago Jazz Festival, and you can catch some good concerts at what is billed as the World's Largest Furry Con, Anthrocon, next weekend in Pittsburgh.
Summerfest really is a good music festival too, worth 4 out of 5 stars. But as to the claim of being the World's Largest Music Festival, the "Big Gig" scores a "Big Faked."