We're now entering weekend two of Summerfest's grand return to June, and by now, you've almost certainly made your Big Gig battle plans and set a course for your favorite performers and concerts of choice. But one of the great joys of Summerfest is the unplanned stuff, when you're just meandering around the grounds with a Saz's sampler platter and suddenly hear a song that you totally recognize coming from a band you totally don't.
It happened to me years ago with Coleman Hell, a seemingly anonymous mid-day performer suddenly and joyously turning into a party after I (and many others) realized they knew this guy from his plucky hit "2 Heads." And even since then, I've made it my goal to find, and share, more of these sneaky Summerfest hidden gems. So here are eight more Big Gig acts you may not have heard of, but you've almost certainly heard.
Where you know her from: While it may not have originally been the case, with Willow having to drop out of the Summerfest lineup, Gayle is now a featured Summerfest headliner – where she belongs considering she's got a bonified monster hit with Tik Tok's favorite tell-off anthem "abcdefu." You may not have known the specific artist until now, but you've almost certainly heard Gayle's smash-hit song – and hopefully haven't been on the receiving end of it.
Where and when she's playing: Thursday, June 30 at 9:30 p.m. at the Generac Power Stage
Where you know him from: Machine Gun Kelly and Avril Lavigne may be the eye-catching big names on the American Family Insurance Amphitheater marquee on Friday night – but be sure to arrive early for Iann Dior as well. You may not recognize the name, but you almost certainly recognize his work with a featured role on 24kGoldn's recent summery hit "Mood." So even the first act on the bill Friday night has got a number-one song.
Where and when he's playing: Friday, July 1 at 7:30 p.m. opening for Machine Gun Kelly at the American Family Insurance Amphitheater
Where you know him from: Dean Lewis may not be a hugely popular name in America, but on the other side of the Pacific, he'd be nowhere near this list. In his native Australia, the singer-songwriter's released two multi-platinum, award-nominated smash hits with 2016's "Waves" (more than 400 million Spotify streams) and 2018's "Be Alright," which is well over a billion Spotify streams. Still, he's no slouch in America either, with scoring a double platinum release with the latter song and placing the former one in hit TV shows like "Riverdale," "Grey's Anatomy" and more.
Where and when he's playing: Friday, July 1 at 6 p.m. at the Miller Lite Oasis
Where you know him from: You may not recall the name Scarypoolparty, but if you're a fan of "American Idol," you likely remember the name Alejandro Aranda, who finished as the reality show's season 17 runner-up behind Laine Hardy in 2019. It's an even more impressive feat when you discover Aranda made it that far performing a remarkable amount of original songs rather than recognizable covers that get people cheering easily. So while his stage name may now be Scarypoolparty, people shouldn't be scared of checking out this reality show success story.
Where and when he's playing: Friday, July 1 at 4:15 p.m. at the Miller Lite Oasis
Where you know him from: Remember during the pandemic quarantine whe ... oh, you don't because you've pushed that moment in time entirely out of your memory? Fair enough – but maybe you remember this rare bright spot: those videos of a friendly guy rapping Dr. Seuss books over sick hip-hop beats? That was Wes Tank, a very familiar face in the Milwaukee music scene and an increasingly familiar face even beyond thanks to those charming (and much-needed) clips. And while we may not be in quite as desperate times for light-hearted distraction due to once-in-a-lifetime global health emergencies, they – and Tank's duo of live Summerfest shows – are still a delight worth checking out.
Where and when he's playing: On Friday, July 1 at both 3:15 p.m. and 4:45 p.m. at the Northwestern Mutual Community Park as well as Saturday, July 2 at both 4:45 p.m. and 8:30 p.m.
Where you know them from: OK, boomers, you all get to make fun of this silly ol' millennial for not knowing who the band War was. In fairness, many around 30 and younger probably can't place this band – but we can definitely recall their biggest song: the laid-back deep-voiced iconic hit "Low Rider." And if that wasn't enough, they also did the getting-along anthem "Why Can't We Be Friends," my preferred ironic song choice at sporting events when a tussle's breaking out. So War: What is it good for? Apparently time-defying hits that have endured across generations!
Where and when they're playing: Saturday, July 2 at 3:30 p.m. at the Uline Warehouse stage
Where you know them from: Of course The Dairy State would have no problem welcoming a band with the word "milk" in the name – but in case that wasn't enough, the German music duo hit it big almost a decade ago with their hypnotic dream pop smash "Stolen Dance." The song's earned almost a billion Spotify streams and more than 800 million YouTube plays, making them easily one of the most famous acts on this list – even if you hadn't heard their actual name until just now. Milky Chance: maybe not a good source of calcium, but definitely a good source of music.
Where and when they're playing: Thursday, July 7 at 6:15 p.m. at the Miller Lite Oasis
Where you know them from: Oh, the '90s and early 2000s. Just a treasure trove of earwormy, iconic one-hit wonders that are still jams. Fastball. Tal Bachman. Chumbawamba. Eagle-Eye Cherry. And then there's Sister Hazel, whose immensely catchy song "All for You" was all over top 40 radio with that signature '90s pop rock sound. And while their heyday may have been 20 years ago, the song still rules – and the band's still together, helping end Summerfest on a terrific throwback note.
Where and when they're playing: Saturday, July 9 at 4 p.m. at the Briggs & Stratton Big Backyard
As much as it is a gigantic cliché to say that one has always had a passion for film, Matt Mueller has always had a passion for film. Whether it was bringing in the latest movie reviews for his first grade show-and-tell or writing film reviews for the St. Norbert College Times as a high school student, Matt is way too obsessed with movies for his own good.
When he's not writing about the latest blockbuster or talking much too glowingly about "Piranha 3D," Matt can probably be found watching literally any sport (minus cricket) or working at - get this - a local movie theater. Or watching a movie. Yeah, he's probably watching a movie.