Huh … Farm Aid never makes it to Wisconsin

Back in 1995, friends and I hopped on a plane to Louisville for the 10th annual Farm Aid concert, a sold-out event that brought 47,000 farm advocates and music fans to Cardinal Stadium.

It was a fun getaway with an amazing lineup. And as the daughter of a dairy farmer, it was satisfying to know that my concert dollars were being used to help rural America as well as to help me get a nice music fix from Neil Young, John Mellencamp and Willie Nelson – Farm Aid’s founders – plus guest artists, David Matthews to Hootie and the Blowfish. Such collaborations were more unusual back then.

I’ve since been on the Farm Aid mailing list and have been patiently waiting for this annual fund-raiser for family farmers to come to Wisconsin. This month came word that the 2004 location is Seattle, a wonderful city but not really what you’d describe as a part of the nation’s Farm Belt.

So I shot off a quick e-mail to Farm Aid, asking why America’s Dairyland hasn’t ever been selected as the concert site. “Some of us are beginning to take it personally,” I added.

Within a couple of hours, I got a note from Mark Smith, Farm Aid’s campaign director.

“Farm Aid has been staging our concerts in amphitheaters, which seem to be the right size for us. We have not done a stadium show since 1996,” he wrote. “We have been interested in Alpine Valley, of course, and have done a site visit, but due to logistics it hasn’t yet worked out. We would love to go there sometime.”

Patrice Harris at Summerfest says Farm Aid staff also have scoped out Milwaukee’s lakefront concert grounds.

“Yes, we’ve talked to them in recent years, they have visited the site, and we’ve come close a couple times to having it here but for one reason or another it has ended up taking place somewhere else,” Patrice wrote.

If you’d like to see the event in Wisconsin, send a quick e-mail to Mark at mark@farmaid.org. Maybe it’ll help nudge this in our direction.

And if you can go to Seattle, that’s great. Farm Aid is Sept. 18 this year and tickets are $35-90; to learn more, go to www.ticketmaster.com, www.farmaid.org or call (800) 327-6243. Don’t go without having tickets; the event is known for selling out quickly.

Speaking of the Summerfest grounds, we mentioned a while back that a mini version of the event would be staged during Labor Day weekend.

Called The Encore, you can expect music from 4 p.m. to midnight on Sept. 2-4. There will be five entertainment stages, each with three performance time slots, and the Marcus Amphitheatre won’t be used.

Most of the music has been announced. Headliners include Cheap Trick, LL Cool J, The Gufs, Jimmy Eat World, Los Lonely Boys and America. Other diversions include a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame presentation of music history and artifacts.

For more, go to www.summerfest.com. Admission is $6 ($5 in advance), $3 for ages 3-10 and those 60 or older.

What else do the Summerfest folks have up their sleeve? Probaby not a lot else this year, but other ideas to pull visitors toward the grounds are being weighed.

“We’re really at the mercy of the weather,” says Robert Gosse, design and planning director at Milwaukee World Festival Inc., which maintains and manages the grounds.

Gosse says it takes a lot of muscle, time and planning to set up the temporary buildings on the grounds, That is partly why events are not scheduled routinely after the summer festival season ends.

He muses that Halloween holds potential for new event planning, but there’s been no movement that way, so far. Work to establish Lakeshore State Park, 20 acres along the Lake Michigan shore in Milwaukee, eventually may increase visitor traffic during winter and other cold-weather times of the year.

The new park, the state’s first in a couple of decades, will be adjacent to the Summerfest grounds and include a 17-foot-wide lake walk.

“With the opening of Lakeshore, we may be able to use the grounds for candlelight cross country skiing, or bring back an ice skating rink,” Gosse says.

But, at the peak of summer, the World’s Largest Music Festival will have a hard time growing. “We’re just about maxed out,” Gosse says. “We couldn’t get much bigger, in attendance, without extending the number of Summerfest days.”

Attendance at the first Summerfest, in 1983, was 657,429. Thanks to rain, this year’s total was 867,754 – noticeably below the peak of over 1 million in 2001 and 2002.

Staff keep track of a lot of other things, too. For example, about 13 percent of the people who attended this year had free admission because of various promotions.

Mader’s sold a ton of brats, Saz’s sold 7 tons of cheese (mozzarella marinara orders) and the Venice Club dished out 36,000 orders of eggplant strips. It’s not a great place to diet.