The A.V. Club’s publicly intoxicated guide to Milwaukee summer festivals, 2013 edition
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.) We also tend to enjoy music with our brews ’n’ booze, which is why The A.V. Club has once again assembled a monster list of Milwaukee’s ever-popular summer festivals. Looking to catch a nice 2:30 p.m. buzz in the great outdoors while listening to an equally buzzed band? Look no further.
Chill On The Hill (Tuesdays, June 4-August 27, Humboldt Park)
Entering its ninth year, this free, weekly Bay View festival features 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, funk, and, of course, the American Legion Band.
Jazz In The Park (Thursdays, June 6-September 5, Cathedral Square Park)
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. A local highlight this year is summer-festival mainstay De La Buena, who will close out the series September 5.
PrideFest (June 7-9, Maier Festival Park)
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 serves up headliners like Amanda Palmer, Sophie B. Hawkins, and Indigo Girls.
Locust Street Festival Of Music And Art (June 9, Locust St. between Humboldt and Holton)
The “best fest in Riverwest” celebrates its 37th 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 sunburned, duck into Linneman’s, where you can enjoy free entertainment—and one of the city’s best sound systems—all day long.
River Rhythms (Wednesdays, June 12-August 30, Pere Marquette Park)
River Rhythms claims 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 The Fatty Acids, The Delta Routine, De La Buena (again), and plenty of other acts taking to the stage at Pere Marquette Park.
Lakefront Festival Of Art (June 21-23, Milwaukee Art Museum)
The state of Milwaukee’s art scene is a hot topic these days, and the typically middlebrow and living-room-friendly Lakefront Festival Of Art is unlikely to boost our city’s artistic stature. Still, the 50-year-old fest is a good excuse to hang around and support the Milwaukee Art Museum, which directly benefits from the event.
Summer Soulstice (June 22, E. North Ave. and Murray Ave.)
The East Side’s 13th-annual summer shindig features three stages and an impressive number of ways to get drunk. Bands like Kane Place Record Club, Hugh Bob And The Hustle, I’m Not A Pilot, and De La Buena (again!) will set up shop on and around North Avenue. Come for the music and the beer, and stop by the next morning to see just how trashed North Avenue (and its denizens) can get.
Summerfest (June 26-30, July 2-7, Maier Festival Park)
Hey, have you heard about Summerfest? We hear it’s kind of a thing. But seriously: With some reliable Marcus Amphitheater headliners (Violent Femmes, Rush, Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers) and some great festival-grounds acts (Yeah Yeah Yeahs, MGMT, Silversun Pickups), this is another solid entry in the behemoth fest. 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.)
ISCorp Downer Classic (June 29, Downer Ave.)
Spandex-clad cyclists may be the worst spokespeople for everyday, non-competitive biking, but damn if they aren’t fun to watch. The annual Downer Classic is hands down the city’s most enjoyable and storied all-day cycling race, and includes a popular children’s race, a beer fest, and food from nearby Café Hollander.
Bastille Days (July 11-14, Cathedral Square Park)
It’s no secret that Milwaukee is absolutely choked with ethnic festivals (see our separate list for ethnic fests at Henry Maier Festival Park this summer), 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...)
South Shore Frolics (July 12-14, South Shore Park)
Bay View’s venerable South Shore Frolics fell on hard times in 2012, when a lack of funding and sponsorship led to the cancellation of the fest’s parade. Happily, things are back on track for 2013. The 64th-annual Frolics will include the beloved parade, a classic car show, fireworks, bands, and plenty of food and drink.
Milwaukee Firkin Craft Beer Festival (July 20, Cathedral Square Park)
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 this 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.
Brady Street Festival (July 27, Brady St. between Van Buren and Farwell)
Though it’s 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, and a wrestling ring. 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.
Milwaukee Brewfest (July 27, McKinley Park)
Need proof that craft beer is all the rage these days? Check out the Fourth Annual Milwaukee Brewfest, 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 2013 Milwaukee Brewfest Queen, of course.
Wisconsin State Fair (August 1-11, State Fair Park)
No other Milwaukee-area festival packs a more gloriously absurd, deep-fried punch than the Wisconsin 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. Vince Neil, Miranda Lambert, Heart, and “Weird Al” Yankovic (!!!) all in one fest? Of course.
Rockerbox (August 3, 818 E. Center St.)
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. This year’s fest also coincides with Fuel Café’s 20th anniversary, so expect a potent mix of people-watching and exhaust-huffing.
Lebowski Fest (August 16, Cathedral Square Park)
Beginning as a relatively small gathering of Louisville, Kentucky super-fans of the 1998 Coen Brothers film The Big Lebowski, the travelling Lebowski Fest has grown into a jellies-and-bathrobe-clad phenomenon. The celebration of all things “Dude” and “Walter” (and, to a lesser extent, “Donny”) is a three-day event where attendees (or “Achievers,” in the film’s parlance) can match wits over Lebowski trivia, dress as their favorite characters or props, and throw a few rocks at a local bowling alley. While not strictly a Milwaukee summer festival, the fest drew one of its biggest crowds in Milwaukee last year, so expect another blowout for 2013.
Harley-Davidson 110th Anniversary Celebration (August 29-Sept. 1, Harley-Davidson Museum, Maier Festival Park)
Anyone who has lived in Milwaukee for more than a decade will surely remember the great Harley-Davidson debacle of 2003, in which the Milwaukee-based bike dealer decided to celebrate its 100th birthday with certified badass Elton John. (Other groups like The Rolling Stones and Bruce Springsteen were rumored to play.) Ten years later, Harley is playing its 110th shindig safe with headliners like Toby Keith, Aerosmith, and Kid Rock. Oh, and Lupe Fiasco, who is required to play the Summerfest grounds at least once a year.
Center Street Daze Festival (September 7, Center St.)
Like the Locust Street Fest earlier in the summer, Center Street Daze is a good reminder of what a terrific neighborhood Riverwest is—the occasional bad press and Riverwest Confessions notwithstanding. Expect the usual assortment of music, food, drinks, and colorful local characters.
Bay View Bash (September 21, Kinnickinnic Ave. between Potter and Clement)
The Bay View Bash celebrates its 10th anniversary this year with plenty of food, art, music, crafts, and family-friendly events. The fest will once again strive to be “near-zero waste,” so leave your Styrofoam cups and disposable diapers at home.
Global Union (September 21, Humboldt Park)
Alverno Presents’ 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, plus plenty of food and spirits.