T-Pain’s mansion somewhere in Wiscansin… the festival

The historic Rave/Eagles Club in Milwaukee was transformed into T-Pain’s Mansion in Wiscansin Fest — and everyone was welcome. For the third consecutive year, the iconic venue was packed to the brim, filled with hip hop lovers of the 2000s-2010s ready for a legendary lineup.

From the moment the doors opened, fans were treated to a specially curated experience.

The festival, named after T-Pain’s fictional university from the viral hit “I’m in Love with a Stripper”, was a tactful nod to T-Pain’s penchant for blending humor with his unmistakable musical style.

The Rave, built in 1926, is a multi-storied complex and — quite honestly — the perfect spot to host such a gathering. Wiscansin Fest boasted two stages: the main stage in the incredibly awe-inspiring ballroom and a stage in a tight-knit room that left little space for festival-goers to do much else than jump up and down to thundering bass lines.

To set the scene for the festival, The Rave hosted food trucks, coffee trucks, and even dessert trucks! Everyone was covered, no matter what your food and beverage vice may be. The talent had their merch tents outside near the food trucks, where you could outfit yourself in the latest ‘Wiscansin University’ swag, a hat from Akon’s collection, or a shirt honoring the infamous Ying Yang Twins.

There were even baseball jerseys, in case you want to simultaneously sport your love of T-Pain and America’s favorite past-time.

And inside is where the magic happened (so to speak). Picture yourself moving floor to floor, story to story, with music and mania pulling you every which way. Fans packed the steamy and dark venue all while trying to get the best view of their favorite performers. For the more fortunate, there was a penthouse VIP landing on the top of the venue where you could overlook Milwaukee and even catch the sunset if you wished! The hype started to build to an existential level once Waka Flocka Flame started his set. Waka was one of the most animated and entertaining acts of the entire evening; after six songs, Waka Flocka jumped into the crowd and spent roughly 10 to 15 minutes signing face-to-face with fans. A truly incredible moment.

After Waka’s set, the festival rolled on with DJay Mando and a team of athletic entertainers flipping, jumping, and running around to keep the vibes high. Soulja Boy was up next, with loyal fans sang along to all of his songs, including “Crank That” (which practically made the roof of The Rave blow off). Unfortunately, Dillon Francis had to cancel his performance due to personal issues and you could tell there was a sense of anxiety throughout the crowd for a moment.

All was right when the fest announced the two headliners were filling the gap by moving up their set times.

Akon was extremely impressive throughout his time on the main stage. Decked out in a sherpa trucker jacket and a heavy amount of ice that could cool down Texas in their strongest heatwave, Akon jumped into the crowd with extreme vigor. Taking fans cellphones for once-in-a-lifetime selfies and he even showing the crowd with water, he was splashing around with the hot and sweaty crowd.

And finally, T-Pain himself arrived on a completely empty stage, if you overlooked a row of fancy looking fake bushes… the kind you might find outside of a well-manicured estate. An incredibly massive video board was next to show itself; fans immediately recognized its significance.

We were standing in awe of T-Pain’s quasi life-sized mansion, somewhere in Wiscansin.

T-Pain brought his hits and charismatic stage presence, performing classics like “Buy U a Drank” and “Bartender” in an over-the-top top hat. He then proceeded to deliver a performance Milwaukee will not soon forget, culminating in a catharsis with all festival acts joining T-Pain back onstage for the closing songs. It was a masterclass of showmanship.

As a first-time attendee of this ever-growing festival, I had mixed expectations going in. Would the hip hop icons that I grew up listening to during parties, school dances, and other events hold steady in their performances? Would T-Pain’s headlining act take me back to the days where I drove around in cars with friends listening to his music on our way to our friend’s parents’ house to utterly destroy it while they were out of town? All of my skepticism was shattered beyond belief as this festival produced memory after memory while in the moment. With a sense of satisfied nostalgia, I waved goodbye to Wiscansin Fest — til next year!

Photography by John Bender

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