Summer in Milwaukee: 20 chances to get your outdoor public intoxication groove on
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Comedian Lewis Black once told the people of Wisconsin, “You are not alcoholics. You—and my hat is off to you—are professionals.” He wasn’t kidding—we love drinking, and there’s almost nothing more glorious than drinking outside. (Even better: drinking outside during the day.) So, instead of overwhelming your beer-soaked brain with 14 different lists of outdoor festivals, outdoor patios, and outdoor pog pick-up games, The A.V. Club has decided to roll all the open-air goodness up into one monster list. Looking to catch a nice 2:30 p.m. buzz in the great outdoors this summer? Look no further.
1. Chill On The Hill (June 5 through Aug. 28)
Entering its eighth year, this free, weekly Bay View festival will once again feature food and music every Tuesday night at the band shell in Humboldt Park. The lineup is all over the map, and includes rock, blues, alt-country, polka, and the Milwaukee American Legion Band. (Why not?) And even if a particular style or group doesn’t tickle your fancy, let’s face it: Is there anything better than drinking outside on a Tuesday night?
2. Jazz In The Park (June 7 through Sept. 6)
What would summer be without Cathedral Square’s annual Jazz In The Park concert series? And what would Jazz In The Park be without hordes of tipsy yuppies with lawn chairs in tow? Even if you’re stuck paying top dollar for fest-approved drinks (carry-ins are strongly discouraged), there are still plenty of great people-watching opportunities, and some decent-to-good music to boot. Some local highlights this year include The Erotic Adventures Of The Static Chicken, making a rare appearance outside the cozy confines of The Jazz Estate.
3. PrideFest (June 8-10)
Even though it’s held on the Summerfest grounds, PrideFest is far from your average picnic-table-dancing drunk-a-thon; instead, it’s one of the most enjoyable, flamboyant, and easygoing parties of the summer. This year, the LGBT-celebrating fest goes back to the ’80s with headliners like Belinda Carlisle, Taylor Dayne, and Berlin.
4. Patio break: Hamburger Mary’s
5. Locust Street Festival Of Music & Art (June 10)
The “best fest in Riverwest” celebrates its 36th year this summer, and it promises to be a doozy. Featuring the ever-popular 1.8-mile beer run/walk in the morning and a terrific lineup of local music throughout the afternoon, it’s a nice reminder of why Riverwest remains one of the city’s most vibrant neighborhoods. (Just give the always-present drum circles a wide berth.) And if you’re worried about getting sunburnt, duck into Linneman’s, where you can enjoy free entertainment—and one of the city’s best sound systems—all day long.
6. River Rhythms (June 13 through Aug. 29)
River Rhythms claim to be “downtown’s fastest growing music festival,” a bold statement more or less backed up by its lineup. The free, Wednesday-night series will feature Fresh Cut Collective, The Crooked Keys, Trapper Schoepp And The Shades, and plenty of other acts taking to the stage at Pere Marquette Park. And hey, the whole thing is sponsored by Miller Lite, which guarantees there’ll be plenty of semi-drinkable beer on hand.
7. Summer Soulstice (June 23)
The East Side’s annual summer shindig features two stages on opposite ends of North Avenue and an impressive number of ways to get jiggled. On the East Stage, you’ll find Herman Astro, Hugh Bob And The Hustle, Trapper Schoepp And The Shades, and more. Over on the West Stage, Maritime, I’m Not A Pilot, The Celebrated Workingman, John The Savage, and more will set up shop. Come for the music and the beer, and stop by the next morning to see just how trashed North Avenue can get.
8. Patio break: Red Rock Saloon
9. Summerfest (June 27-July 1, July 3-8)
Hey, have you heard about Summerfest? We hear it’s kind of a thing. But seriously: With huge Marcus Amphitheater headliners (The Beach Boys, Iron Maiden) and incredible festival-grounds acts (The Promise Ring, Bob Mould, everything at the A.V. Club-sponsored Cascio stage), this is one of the best Summerfest lineups in years. As for beer, getting good and loaded at the Big Gig has never been a problem, though it can get pricey. (Not that we’d endorse the old “flask-of-rum-duct-taped-to-your-thigh” trick.)
10. Bastille Days (July 12-15)
It’s no secret that Milwaukee is absolutely choked with festivals celebrating every culture known to man, but the French-themed Bastille Days remains one of the best. Held downtown in Cathedral Square, it features tons of great food, a 5k “Storming The Bastille” run, pleasant music, and plenty of chances to get plowed. Just don’t get too plowed and try to scale the inflatable Eiffel Tower. (Not that we’ve ever tried it ourselves...)
11. Milwaukee Firkin Craft Beer Festival (July 21)
Is there a better place to enjoy drinking beer in the open air than an actual festival devoted to, well, drinking beer in the open air? (Answer: No.) More than 100 craft beers will be available for sampling at the Cathedral Square fest, which aims to celebrate Milwaukee’s unique brewing heritage. Expect plenty of awards, beer-inspired arts and crafts, and a presentation from renowned beer historian Len Jurgensen.
12. Patio break: Lo-Cash Live
13. Brady Street Festival (July 28)
Though far from the bohemian utopia it once was (nothing says “the times they are a-changing” quite like a Walgreens), Brady Street remains one of Milwaukee’s most eclectic neighborhoods. Its annual street fest is similarly zany, and includes three stages of music, BMX bike demos, a wrestling ring, and an ever-popular drag show. The usual assortment of hippie vendors/dancers will also be on hand—luckily, there are plenty of beer and alcohol options to keep you distracted.
14. Milwaukee Brew Fest (July 28)
Need proof that craft beer is all the rage these days? Check out the Third Annual Milwaukee Brew Fest, which comes just a week after the Milwaukee Firkin Craft Beer Festival. This relatively new fest takes over the Coast Guard Pavilion in McKinley Park for an afternoon of music, beer, games, beer, and beer. Oh, and there’s the crowning of the 2012 Milwaukee Brewfest Queen, of course.
15. Wisconsin State Fair (Aug. 2-12)
No other Milwaukee-area festival packs a more gloriously absurd, deep-fried punch than the State Fair. Want to take in an afternoon pig race? Eat some unlikely crap on a stick? Risk your life on some rickety carny rides? Enjoy a bodybuilding competition? Renew your hunting or fishing license? No problem, the State Fair has you covered. And then there’s the music, which is always deliciously left-field. Neon Trees, STYX, Cracker, Tesla, and Micky Dolenz in one fest? Why not?
16. Patio break: Riverfront Pizzeria Bar & Grill
17. Rockerbox (Aug. 4)
You know you’re dealing with a particularly awesome fest when one of its rules is “NO BURNOUTS!!!” Once again, Rockerbox will take over five blocks of Center Street in Riverwest for its annual celebration of souped-up motorcycles and the men and women who love them. Nowhere will you find a more potent mix of people-watching and exhaust-huffing opportunities.
18. Summer Sizzle (Aug. 6)
If Jazz In The Park isn’t, you know, “jazzy” enough for you, then there’s always Summer Sizzle, which drops tons of local and regional jazz artists in the Historic Third Ward. The free fest will feature Latin, swing, Dixieland, and just plain vanilla jazz, as well as the requisite food and beer vendors.
19. Global Union (Sept. 15)
Alverno’s annual world music festival may be closer to fall than summer, but it’s still a terrific chance to enjoy some outdoor inebriation in lovely Humboldt Park. Expect a diverse and eclectic lineup that will melt the heart of even the ugliest of ugly Americans, and plenty of food and spirits.
20. Patio break: The Tonic Tavern