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Change of Tune
Milwaukee has its go-tos for free outdoor music in the summer months. But look beyond the staples, and lesser-known but equally fantastic options emerge.

Chill on the Hill photo by Adam Ryan Morris

Thousands flock to Bay View every Tuesday night in the summer for its beloved Chill on the Hill concert series. With plenty of room to spread out in Humboldt Park, people lay down blankets and bring along picnic food, kids and pets.

Head Downtown on summer Thursdays, and you’ll spy jazz fanatics – and the not-so-fanatical – squeezing into Cathedral Square Park for the aptly named Jazz in the Park. The sounds of saxophones and trumpets drift through the windows of the adjoining businesses and apartments while attendees set up dinner party-worthy displays.

These may be Milwaukee’s favorite, or at least best-known, outdoor concert series. But as you consider returning to them, take a look at this selection of less-familiar options. We’ve got you covered every day of the week (except Saturday) – often a few times over.


Musical Mondays

➸ This low-key concert series in Lake Park has a “neighborly picnic atmosphere,” says Jim Cope, vice president of recreation for the Lake Park Friends board of directors. “I think a big part of the draw of this series is the fact that it’s in Lake Park, in a beautiful setting,” he says. Last year, Lake Park Friends debuted a new stage with a concrete base and roof, and saw up to 500 attendees on the busiest night. Cope stresses the variety of acts the series draws, but says he’s most excited about booking Bill Bonifas and Milwaukee songstress Robin Pluer. Mainly, he says, it’s about the atmosphere. “It’s quiet and calm, almost like you’re out of the city.”

Musical Mondays (July 1-Aug. 26). Lake Park Summer Stage. 3233 E. Kenwood Blvd., 414-962-1680, lakeparkfriends.org.


Skyline Music Series

➸ In 2003, COA Youth and Family Centers signed a 25-year lease with the city of Milwaukee to revive then-named Kilbourn Park, a green space that sits at the southern edge of Milwaukee’s Riverwest neighborhood. Four years later, COA held the first Skyline Music Series at the renamed Kadish Park, and crowds have been growing since, bringing in a record 4,500 people in 2012. But this year, they’ll unveil the crown jewel: the Selig-Joseph-Folz Amphitheater. The 2013 series will start with a grand opening July 9 with De La Buena and welcome Paul Cebar, Leroy Airmaster and others throughout the summer. There’s no alcohol allowed, but the food trucks will be back, says Mara Duckens, the associate executive director of COA Youth & Family Centers.

Skyline Music Series (July 9-Aug. 20). Kadish Park. 308 E. Lloyd St., 414-263-8383, coa-yfc.org/skyline-music.


August Nights (Aug. 6-27). Jackson Park. 3500 W. Forest Home Ave., 414-672-5052, countyparks.com.

Chill on the Hill (June 4-Aug. 27). Humboldt Park. 3000 S. Howell Ave., 414-482-4270, bayviewneighborhood.org.


River Rhythms

➸ This year’s River Rhythms opens with a bang – of piano keys. The Westown Association’s series hosts an interactive dueling piano concert titled Piano Brew June 12. “You don’t see that thing at a lot of concert series,” says Stacie Callies, the association’s executive director. “I’m excited that we’re able to mix the lineup with some new up-and-coming bands.” Exhibit A: the Fatty Acids. Exhibit B: the Delta Routine. But the series isn’t forgetting its roots. Namely, the down-under roots of Australian band Brother. “We try not to book the same bands year to year, but this is an exception we make,” Callies says. The band has made the trek for five years, and fans come up from Chicago to get a listen of their didgeridoo and bagpipes.

River Rhythms (June 12-Aug. 28; no concert July 3; special concert Aug. 30 for Harley-Davidson anniversary). Pere Marquette Park. 900 N. Plankinton Ave., 414-276-6696, westown.org.


Live @ The Lakefront (July 10-Aug. 28). Discovery World. 500 N. Harbor Dr., 414-765-9966, liveatthelakefront.com.

Music in the Glen (July 17, 24; Aug. 7). Bayshore Town Center. 5800 N. Bayshore Dr., Glendale, 414-228-1706, musicintheglen.org.

Tosa Tonight (June 12, 26; July 10, 24; Aug. 14, 28). Rotary Performance Pavilion. 68th and West State streets, Wauwatosa, 414-939-9819, tosatonight.com.

Waterfront Wednesdays (June 5-Aug. 28). Lakefront Park. 222 W. Wisconsin Ave., Pewaukee, 262-695-9735, waterfrontwednesday.com.

Wednesdays at the Shell (July 10-Aug. 28). Washington Park. 1859 N. 40th St., 414-342-0215, countyparks.com.

Wednesday Night Live (June 5, 12, 19, 26; July 10, 17, 24; Aug. 21, 28, 29). Budweiser Pavilion. Wisconsin State Fair Park. 640 S. 84th St., West Allis, budpavilion.com.

Wonderful Wednesdays (June 26; July 10, 17, 24, 31). Lake Park Summer Stage. 3233 E. Kenwood Blvd., 414-962-1680, lakeparkfriends.org.

Jazz in the Park photo by Marissa Miller


Concerts in the Gardens

➸ The daylilies, lilies and roses in bloom at the Boerner Botanical Gardens this summer will be joined by musical instruments for a nature-filled concert-going experience. This music series, more than any other, focuses on the classics, says Jeff Baudry, marketing manager for Milwaukee County Parks. The 2013 installment will see a John Mellencamp tribute band, a Johnny Cash tribute band and local favorite Paul Cebar.

Concerts in the Gardens (June 27-Aug 29; no concert July 4). Boerner Botanical Gardens. Whitnall Park. 9400 Boerner Dr., Hales Corners, 414-525-5650, boernerbotanicalgardens.org.


Ayre in the Square (June 13-Aug. 22). Catalano Square. East Menomonee Street and North Broadway, 414-763-8548, musicinthesquare.org.

Florentine Opera at Alterra (June 20; July 18; Aug. 1, 15). Alterra at the Lake. 1701 N. Lincoln Memorial Dr., 414-223-4551, alterracoffee.com.

Jazz in the Park (June 6-Sept. 5). Cathedral Square Park. 520 E. Wells St., 414-271-1416, easttown.com.

Música del Lago (June 13, 27; July 11, 25; Aug. 8, 22). Alterra at the Lake. 1701 N. Lincoln Memorial Dr., 414-223-4551, alterracoffee.com.

Square Tunes (June 13–Aug. 1). Bayshore Town Center. 5800 N. Bayshore Dr., Glendale, 414-963-8780, bayshoretowncenter.com.


Starry Nights

➸ Before last summer’s Starry Nights concert series, Brookfield’s Wilson Center reshaped the outdoor performance space to improve sight lines and create a more traditional amphitheater. But the drought prevented new grass seed from thriving, and the series set up shop on the south side of the building. This year, the space is ready. Jon Winkle, executive director of the Sharon Lynne Wilson Center for the Arts, is especially looking forward to repeating the Starry Nights Orchestra project that debuted in 2012. “It’s so collaborative,” he says. The musicians have worked with the Florentine Opera to create an Americana and patriotic program for June 28’s installment. Also on the marquee this year: a 14-piece Steely Dan tribute band and Madison-based the Dang-Its for Marquette University Night.

Starry Nights (June 21-July 26). Gerlach Outdoor Theater. Sharon Lynne Wilson Center for the Arts. Mitchell Park. 19805 W. Capitol Dr., Brookfield, 262-781-9470, wilson-center.com.


Summer Sounds (June 14-Aug. 23). Cedar Creek Park. N52 W5925 Portland Rd., Cedarburg, summersounds.net.


Franklin Park Concerts

➸ Offerings are sparse on Sundays, but Franklin hosts four concerts in the summer. The Lions Legend Park Band Shell welcomes a diverse group of acts – polka, orchestra and community bands. “It’s a lawn chair and blankets kind of thing,” says Dale Pforr, director of Franklin Park Concerts. After the July 4 and Aug. 4 concerts, the Franklin Historical Society buildings will be open.


Franklin Park Concerts (June 23; July 21; Aug. 4, 18). Lions Legend Park. 8050 S. Legend Dr., Franklin, 414-425-0244, franklinparkconcerts.webs.com.

This article appears in the City Guide 2013 issue of Milwaukee Magazine.
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