5 Milwaukee pop-culture institutions that failed to outlive the Leonard Bearstein Orchestra
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The Shops Of Grand Avenue, in addition to being a poor zombie stronghold, have one major distinguishing feature: the Leonard Bearstein Symphony Orchestra. The collection of robotic bears that sing Christmas carols to children, homeless folks, and bewildered tourists celebrates its 10th anniversary at Grand Ave. this holiday. In those 10 years, Bearstein and his long-suffering orchestra have managed to outlast companies, dance crazes, and hundreds of celebrity marriages. Before the holiday season hits a fever pitch, The A.V. Club dusts off the DeLorean and travels back in time to visit some local, high-profile institutions that failed to outlast the Grand Avenue’s Christmas-themed Showbiz Pizza-esque animatronics.
97.3 The Brew
Even though it was modeled after other Clear Channel stations, The Brew seemed like a uniquely good fit for Milwaukee. It ran with its beer imagery as far as it could go. It used a fat guy jiggling for its commercials (and then used a pretty lady also jiggling with the fat guy). It played a decent mix of music from the ’80s, back when ’80s nostalgia was still on an upswing. It challenged longtime stalwarts like WKLH and WLZR, and triggered a few format changes. But then its format got picked apart. The Lake started playing ’80s new-wave hits, and The Hog picked up the hair-metal side of the playlist. After struggling for a few months, the station boldly rechristened itself as Radio Now.
Steak ’N Shake
Milwaukee loves burgers, and Milwaukee loves frozen dairy products, so the expansion of the national Steak ’N Shake chain into the area seemed like a no-brainer. Two restaurants opened up in seemingly good locations in the Milwaukee area: One staked out turf near a tourist-filled Harley destination, and the other landed between the two halves of Bluemound Road. And yet, both locations only stayed open not more than a couple of years. Perhaps custard loyalties were too hard to break, or devotees of 24-hour restaurants mate for life. Folks hooked on side-by-side shakes now have to bootleg them across the border from Gurnee, Illinois.
Yes, yes. Technically, Prince Fielder hasn’t signed with anyone else yet. But let’s face it: It would take a miracle that would make Bedford Falls look like a minor coincidence to get him to stay in Milwaukee. Even if he returns to Miller Park next year wearing a different uniform, Fielder can claim one major accomplishment: Most Brewers players of his stature and talent were either snatched up or traded away for lesser beings. Fielder himself was often the source of such speculation as the Brewers scraped along the ’00s, and he weathered it all to give fans one hell of a season on his way out.
This Is My Milwaukee
Remember ARGs? Alternate Reality Games were a big marketing buzz from a few years ago. People spent hours digging around websites looking for e-mail addresses, telephone numbers, and other clues to things that supposedly linked into big mysteries like Lost and Cloverfield, but were usually just made up by marketing departments to keep people on the hook. Milwaukee had its own ARG, and, true to form, the makers really had nothing to do with Milwaukee. The game itself wasn’t linked to anything, either. Is that really meta or just dumb?
The World’s Largest Music Festival has been trying to extend its buzz for years now. Last year’s day off on July 4th seemed to have appeased both fans and organizers. Summerfest Encore, however, lasted just one year. The encore appeared over Labor Day of 2004, and featured three-word bands like Fall Out Boy and Jimmy Eat World playing the weekend. But attendance numbers didn’t justify the expense of hosing down the drunk buses and skimming the medical waste off of the rocks. Summerfest even tried spinning the idea into an “alternative” festival with 2010’s Verge. It was an attempt to create a Bonaroo for Milwaukee, but most local fans treated it like seeing their boss at a Turner Hall show. Verge may be back in 2012, as long as the Mayans were wrong.