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Wisconsin might be the unsung hero of the Midwest as far as music is concerned. With abundant music history in polka and folk, competitive and thriving artistry, and overall resilient festival life, the state has much to offer listeners. Whether a Wisconsin native or out of town visitor, do not overlook what this place has to offer the ears. Read below to discover more.

Wisconsin has a standout music history that is continued and cherished today

From Rutgers to Detroit Public Television to University of Wisconsin—Madison, historic organizations have documented the musical traditions of Wisconsin. Field notes, transcriptions, and recordings contribute to these treasured archives of music history.

As far back at the 1800s, European immigrants arrived in Wisconsin, inspiring an amalgamation of sounds. Although German settlers dominated in Wisconsin, other immigrants from placed like France and Sweden contributed to this tradition. Polk, folk, and brass bands roused dance parties, carried ethnic histories, and documented political and social upheavals. As such, the music of Wisconsin is an unmistakable part of Americana. Shortly after World War II, this fusion genre—heavy on polka—entered pop culture once again, before rock pushed it out of mainstream fashion. Still, in ethnic enclaves of the Polish and in cultural organizations, the music continues to play. Today, concert-goers can appreciate these traditional sounds. Musicians like David HB Drake combine elements of folk music, stories, and histories of Wisconsin to educate and entertain audiences.

Despite the dwindling success of music festivals nationally, festivals in Wisconsin remain intact

Broadly, the international and national music festival industry has taken some hits in recent years. Lollapalooza’s ticket sales have declined. Indie festivals like Bonnaroo have transitioned into corporate concerts. And, a number of festivals have shut down, such as FYF Festival and Sasquatch. Although these shifts in festival trends do not seem fatal for the music industry, changes are happening.

Wisconsin appears to be resilient against this phenomenon. While other states are facing drastic declines in interest and engagement in their festivals, Wisconsin carries on. The state is still home to Summer Fest, which has occurred since the 1970s, spanning eleven days in late June and early July. Summer Fest brings in nearly a million live listeners annually. Called “The World’s Largest Music Festival” by organizations like the Guinness World Records, it hosts over 800 bands. Artists include Arcade Fire, Imagine Dragons, James Taylor, Halsey, Logic, Dave Matthews Band, J. Cole, Journey, Def Leppard, Blake Shelton, The Weekend, Shawn Mendes, Bonnie Raitt, and literally countless others. Every genre, every taste, every listener will find something of interest here.

This is just one of many prospering music festivals in Wisconsin. Blue Ox Music Festival beckons attendees to the campgrounds on Eau Claire, offering a more intimate but still ambitious listening experience in bluegrass, folk, and country. Eaux Claire markets itself as a musical retreat, incorporating the concert experience of a festival with enriching collaborations and presentations. Think of Bon Iver, Pail Simon, Sufjan Stevens, the National, and Francis and the Lights. Rock Fest ranges from rock to metal to punk; see the likes of Godsmack, Disturbed, Ace Frehley, A Day to Remember, Rise Against, and Dee Snider (Twisted Sister’s front man). Lifest is another larger than life festival, at least in the world of Christian music. Reaching its twentieth anniversary, the festival is experiencing newfound growth. Even though Wisconsin is not impervious to changes in the festival market with Country USA preparing to close, other festivals continue to push through, like Country Thunder, which featured Luke Bryan, Sam Hunt, Toby Keither, Midland, and Ashley McBryde this year.

Wisconsin's musicians are simply good

Every music enthusiast has been to a concert that did not quite hit the mark. Maybe the band’s sound was not tight enough. Maybe the band drank a little too much. Maybe the sound technicians botched the quality. A group can be fantastic in the recording studio but drop the ball on stage. According to those involved in Wisconsin’s music landscape, this is not an issue, especially in urban parts of the state. Wisconsin has relatively few venues and opportunities for musicians for a community of its size. Because of this, artists who do not perform well fade away.

For people itching to see some live music, there is a real upside to the situation. Just about every major genre has at least one—and sometimes several—quality artists or bands to represent it. Even niche genres like alternative hip-hop can rally behind WebsterX, while more mainstream hip-hop listeners can appreciate IshDARR. Electric and techno fans can throw a dance party to GGOOLLDD. Alternative rock is held down by Soul Low. Although competitive, Wisconsin fosters a truly eclectic sound that delivers on stage. Check out the performances of Cory Chisel & The Wandering Sons, Blessed Feathers, Jail, Phox, or Volcano Choir.

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