This way to warm beer and fanny packs: 11 Milwaukee festivals worth your time this summer
Milwaukee might be the city of festivals, but here at The A.V. Club, we prefer quality to quantity. So, rather than just tell you about every single outdoor event with a cover band and a beer stand, we present this curated list of 11 local festivals worth strapping on your snazziest shorts and fannypack for. So, check out our choices, and we’ll go fetch us a couple of plastic cups of warm beer.
1. Jazz In The Park (June 3 through Sept. 23)
Downtown’s annual summer music series gets off to a great start with Twin Cities jazz trio The Bad Plus. Nothing else on the schedule is quite as noteworthy, but the true star here is Cathedral Square Park, one of the best places in town to spend a summer night.
2. Chill On The Hill (Every Tuesday, June 8 through Aug. 31)
Speaking of jewels of Milwaukee’s park system, Humboldt Park hosts the South Side’s answer to Jazz In The Park, and arguably boasts even better and more diverse music. This year’s lineup includes Paul Cebar, Juniper Tar, Decibully, 5 Card Studs, and Conrad Plymouth.
3. PrideFest (June 11-13)
Festivals at Maier Festival Park tend to feel a little same-y due to the sterile surroundings, but PrideFest transcends this by being more colorful and, well, fabulous than the venue’s other events. This year, PrideFest welcomes Kathy Griffin (of course), Bruce Vilanch (of course!), and Joan Rivers. (Oops, our gaydar just exploded.)
4. Firkin Craft Beer Festival (June 12)
What is a summer festival if not an excuse to drink beer in the sunshine? The first Firkin Craft Beer Festival removes all non-drinking pretenses to present more than 50 locally made craft beers from breweries like Sprecher, Lakefront, Stonefly, and Horny Goat.
5. Locust Street Festival Of Music And Art (June 13)
For 34 years, the Locust Street Festival Of Music And Art has had one of Milwaukee’s best block parties, offering up attractions that are as diverse as the neighborhood that spawned it. The 1.8-mile beer run/walk is one of the most popular events, drawing hundreds of participants who stumble their way to beer stops in and around Riverwest. This is also one of Milwaukee’s greatest music neighborhoods, so expect the line up to feature many of the city’s best bands.
6. Summerfest (June 24-July 4)
When it comes to entertainment events in Milwaukee, Summerfest is like Megan Fox walking naked down the street while covered in red paint: It is virtually impossible to ignore. Sometimes The Big Gig’s dominance of local entertainment in late June and early July can be a little overbearing, but this year’s lineup looks to us like the festival’s best in years.
7. Pabst Blue Ribbon Festival (July 3)
The Pabst Blue Ribbon Festival might not be Milwaukee’s best-attended street festival, but since it began in 2008, it has ranked among the best festivals, boasting music lineups as varied and impressive as any in the city. Plus, the $2 cans of PBR provide a great social lubricant for a big Independence Day celebration.
8. WMSE Radio Summercamp (July 15-18)
With its casual backyard-barbecue vibe and strong mix of local and national bands performing SXSW-style at clubs all over town, WMSE Radio Summercamp got off to a strong start last year. The Pitchfork Music Festival in Chicago takes place the same weekend this year and poses stiff competition, but WMSE has stepped its game up by booking a great mix of indie favorites (Neon Indian, Liars) and rootsier fare (Southern Culture On The Skids, Carolina Chocolate Drops).
9. Wisconsin State Fair (Aug. 5-15)
Despite the fact that it embodies all of the stereotypes most people hold about Wisconsin (chiefly involving livestock, beer, and dairy products), the annual Wisconsin State Fair is both endearing and entertaining. From the sight of gigantic, prize-winning rabbits and geese to the sheer hedonistic pleasure of eating heart-stopping quantities of sausage, fried cheese, and cream puffs to simply traversing the old-school carny-ness of the midway, the Fair presents an utterly unique experience (especially for city-dwellers).
10. Fish Fry & A Flick (Every Friday, Aug. 6 to Sept. 24)
Usually whenever there’s an outdoor movie series, the fare is of the family-friendly variety. So it was somewhat refreshing that Fish Fry & A Flick explicitly billed itself as “not a kids’ movie series” in its inaugural year in 2009. Expect more of the same this year, as well as the lovely Milwaukee lakefront and delicious fried fish.
11. Cream City Music Festival (Aug. 7)
Milwaukee clearly isn’t wanting for music festivals, but the Cream City Music Festival made an impressive entrance into a crowded scene last year by hosting a solid mix of local and national acts in the Third Ward’s Catalano Square. This year's location is yet to be determined, but we're sure this will be another worthy music showcase.