The A.V. Club’s guide to Milwaukee ethnic festivals, 2013 edition
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It’s no secret that Milwaukee has its act together in terms of ethnic festivals. However, there’s always some confusion as to how many of these fests there actually are, when they are, which ones are on the Henry Maier Festival Grounds, and if there’s one for Scandinavians or Australians. First, you can tell your friends that no, we don’t have an Australia Fest. After that, you can show them this mostly comprehensive list of Milwaukee ethnic festivals, some of which are the biggest in the world.
Polish Fest (June 14-16, Henry Maier Festival Park)
To an outsider, Milwaukee’s Polish presence may seem to be little more than the very hip Polish racing sausage. To those of us inside the city, we know that nearly 10 percent of our residents are of Polish ancestry, and that we have the 4th largest Polish population in America. So, it’s very appropriate that we’ve had a Polish Fest for 32 years. As always, this year you can expect polka, Sobieski, pierogi, Tyskie, sausage, ham, and “The Big Boomski” fireworks. Expect a lot of things that don’t normally end in “ski” to end in “ski” at this festival, too.
Greek Fest (June 21-23, State Fair Park)
Greek Fest has been around for 48 years, with a history that involves Frank Lloyd Wright, relocations, and lots and lots of lamb meat. While it never quite gets the press that its contemporaries get, it still delivers a very Greek event jammed full of saganaki, gyros, kebabs, and pistachio.
Festa Italiana (July 19-21, Henry Maier Festival Park)
Just merely hearing the words “Festa Italiana” in Milwaukee should probably be enough to create immediate salivation. Meatballs and cheese, marinara and pasta, and cannoli! In addition to the food, you’ve got puppets, accordions, and guys with striped shirts on little gondolas waving at you and singing. And it wouldn’t be a Milwaukee summer festival without a fireworks show, and Festa’s are some of the most lauded. This is one of the more established fests for a reason, and it seldom disappoints.
Latino Carnaval and Grand Parade (July 22-27, various locations)
Latino Carnaval is by far the youngest of Milwaukee’s ethnic festivals, having just been announced on June 10. Aiming to celebrate all of Central and South America, Latino Carnaval will have no shortage of tequila, masks, puppets, parades, and all the bright colors you can imagine over the course of five days. Don’t believe us? Check out the glitzy website, which seems to have much of the same things a typical Mardi Gras celebration would have—other than a beads-for-breasts economy.
German Fest (July 25-28, Henry Maier Festival Park)
While Milwaukee is assuredly one of America’s great cultural melting pots, it is still primarily about as German as Fritz Lang and pretzels. As a city whose veins run with the most golden lager, German Fest allows for a three-day period of social drinking, dancing, and eating of frankfurters, strudel, sauerkraut, sauerbraten, and lots and lots of wurst. Prost!
African World Festival (August 3-4, Henry Maier Festival Park)
As one of the newer festivals in Milwaukee (having only been established in 1982), African World once looked as if it wasn’t going to make it. But then came the new bosses, and thanks to their attention to professionalism, African World has quickly re-earned its keep. Since this is a late summer festival, concrete details for what to expect are sparse, but it’s certainly an experience worth checking out.
Irish Fest (August 15-18, Henry Maier Festival Park)
What can we say about Irish Fest? It could easily be called “St. Patrick’s Day: The Festival.” Kidding aside, Irish Fest is a celebration of all things in Milwaukee that are Celtic, or wear green and have red beards. Most importantly, it makes sure the streets run amber with beer and potatoes. Surprisingly, it doesn’t look like Pat McCurdy will be playing this year, but The Red Hot Chili Pipers certainly will be.
Mexican Fiesta (August 23-24, Henry Maier Festival Park)
You know that any ethnicity represented by one of the racing sausages is among Milwaukee’s most valued cultures, and the world of all things Mexico is no exception. Beginning in 1977 as Wisconsin’s largest Mexican festival, Mexican Fiesta is a surefire way to get your hands on some enchiladas and burritos, as well as hear at least one rendition of “La Cucaracha” if you look hard enough.
Indian Summer Festival (September 6-8, Henry Maier Festival Park)
Indian Summer is perhaps most notable for being Milwaukee’s last vestige of summer before a descent into cold hopelessness. But exhaustion from a long summer of partaking in festivals and the fear of a bite from an encroaching chill in the air shouldn’t keep you from Indian Summer. You should welcome these final plates of delicious wild rice and Indian Tacos and listen to the music of this year’s headliner, Brule, as a poignant ushering in to the rest of the year of work and coats—until the next summer rolls around and you can do it all again.