From beer to cheese and college football, Wisconsin is good at a lot of things. However, we can’t ignore the Badger State’s bustling festival scene. After all, it’s home to Summerfest, the world’s largest music festival, which hosts more than 1000 musical performances spanning 11 days. If the sheer size of this behemoth doesn’t sway you, then let’s explore the hidden gem of the festival universe even further.
The Midwest is well-known for corn fields, college sports, and Chicago. It’s easy to ignore an oceanless region in the United States, but the Midwest is packed with excitement if you’re willing to shuffle through bone-chilling weather half the year. Bordering the western shore of Lake Michigan, Wisconsin puts the heart in America’s Heartland with all kinds of amazing festivals. Whether it’s cheese, music, alcohol, snow or any other cultural staple, Wisconsinites are spoiled with numerous festivals in each area.
A Cheese Head’s Paradise
In Wisconsin, there is perhaps no better way to kick off national dairy month than gorging yourself on the finest cheeses in America’s Dairyland. Because Wisconsin produces more than three billion pounds of cheese a year, you can expect a plethora of cheese-themed festivals taking place throughout the state. The Great Wisconsin Cheese Festival, while simply named, is probably the grandest of them all with three days’ worth of cheesy fun including curd-eating contests, carving demonstrations, grilling competitions and, you guessed it, loads of cheese samples. You also can’t miss out on the Wisconsin Grilled Cheese Championship, where the most creative, mouth-watering grilled cheese sandwiches are made. Think lobster, Texas toast, pineapple, and Canadian bacon getting smothered in melted cheese. Need we say more?
We already mentioned the gigantic Summerfest that takes place in Milwaukee, but Wisconsin boasts many other extraordinary music festivals throughout the year. Summer Set Music & Camping Festival in Somerset, Wisconsin, is stacked with a diverse lineup of acts that rocks the outdoor venue for three straight days. The locals love their bluegrass and country music, so it should come as no surprise that thousands of Wisconsinites (and beyond) come to Country Fest, the largest country music and camping festival in the United States, for twangy jams at the Amphitheater Venue in Cadott, Wisconsin. Don’t leave yet if you’re a rock ‘n’ roll fan; Cadott busts out heavy guitar anthems just a few short weeks later in the same venue at Rock Fest.
Beer Festivals: Prost!
Despite a comfortable average of 80 degrees Fahrenheit, Wisconsin is no stranger to brutal heat waves and unforgiving Midwestern humidity. It goes without saying that having a cold one (or two, or twelve) is important to Wisconsin’s culture; even the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the largest newspaper in the state, has a series called “Wasted in Wisconsin.” Life is too short to drink cheap beer, so do yourself a favor and belly up to the Great Taste of the Midwest, Isthmus Beer and Cheese Fest, and the Lake Geneva Beer & Spirits Festival. No need to worry about succumbing to cabin fever because there are plenty of beer festivals happening in Wisconsin during the winter, which means you’ll always have something fresh to sip on. If boozing were officially recognized as a national sport, the state of Wisconsin would own nothing but trophies.
Winter Festivals: Frozen Fun
Wisconsinites know how to make the most of harsh winters; negative wind chills and two feet of snow won’t scare them away from all the festival fun. Roughly 20 miles north of Milwaukee you’ll find the Cedarburg Winter Festival, a wildly popular winter-themed event that’s just as fun as it is cold. From traditional winter activities like sledding and frozen pond hockey to ice sculpting and snowball dodgeball, you’ll stay warm just by keeping your body moving. The U.S. National Snow Sculpting Competition in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, will expose you to all kinds of frosty creations you never thought were possible from playing with frozen water. Why wait for agreeable temperatures and abundant sunshine when you have all these frigid adventures at your disposal?
During the 1800s, a large influx of European immigrants–-primarily Germans and Scandinavians–-settled all throughout Wisconsin. The largest ancestry group in the state by far is German, and there are many festivals that celebrate German culture including Lion’s Tail Oktoberfest and German Fest Milwaukee. The latter is one of the biggest of its kind in North America, featuring authentic cuisine and steins full of tasty suds to kick off the popular Oktoberfest season. Beyond German culture, the Silver City International Festival dishes out delectable flavors and stunning artwork from around the world. You’ll notice how Wisconsin effortlessly weaves local culture into its international celebrations by including its core assets into the mix: cheese and alcohol.
Wisconsin has everything you could want in a festival scene. Even if you’re lactose intolerant, that shouldn’t stop you from taking full advantage of everything that America’s Dairyland has to offer.