2016 Milwaukee Festival Guide

Your chronological guide to dozens of Milwaukee area festivals, from Milwaukee Day to Summerfest to Jazz in the Park to the Milwaukee Film Festival and everything in between.

Note: this guide was updated on May 24 to include even more festivals! Something we missed? Email us!

Milwaukee Day

While a somewhat silly concept (the date April 14 mirrors Milwaukee’s area code: 414), the city has latched onto the manufactured civic pride holiday in full force. It certainly helps that the Milwaukee Day organizers keenly embrace the ridiculousness while also booking a worthy celebration. There are multiple parties throughout the day, but the big draw is the always stellar showcase at Turner Hall Ballroom, which this year includes performances from Jaill, Def Harmonic, Midnight Reruns, Lex Allen, Space Raft and Skai Academy. Proceeds from the show benefit Trans-Center for Youth’s Escuela Verde.

  • Date/Time: April 14, 5:30 p.m.
  • Location: Turner Hall Ballroom, 1040 N. 4th St.

Arte Para Todos

The massive four-day music festival gathers more than 100 local bands on 25 different stages across four neighborhoods (Walkers Point, Bay View, Riverwest and the East Side). Arte Para Todos (or “art for everyone”) started as a response to the defunding of Milwaukee Public Schools. All the proceeds will be donated to arts programs at four MPS schools. Last year’s inaugural event was an outstanding success, raising more than $20,000. Tickets are $7 per show; one day passes range from $10-$17 and weekend passes cost $25.

  • Date: April 21-24
  • Location: Various establishments in Walkers Point (April 21), Bay View (April 22), Riverwest (April 23) and the East Side (April 24)

Milwaukee Psych Fest

Over the past four years, Milwaukee Psych Fest has brought together the city’s most avante garde performers with some nationally recognized psychedelic acts. This year the three-day festival features performances by Nest Egg, Riley Walker, Klaus Johann Grobe, Tapebenders, Calliope, Moss Folk, Slow Walker and many more.

  • Date: May 6-8
  • Location: Cactus Club, 2496 S. Wentworth Ave.

Bay View Art in The Park

This monthly series (the second Saturday of every month) features handmade items made by local artists for sale in Humboldt Park. Just grab a quick peak by strolling through the park or stop and participate in one of the community workshops.

  • Date/Time: Second Saturday of month between May-September, 11 a.m.-3 p.m.
  • Location: Humboldt Park, 3000 S. Howell Ave.

Gloss Weekend

Gloss Records celebrates its one-year anniversary with two nights of shows featuring the bands that have released albums on the local boutique record label including GGOOLLDD, Rio Turbo, (ORB), Soup Moat, Hello Death and D’Amato on Friday, May 27 at Cactus Club and Soul Low, Lorde Fredd33, NO/NO, Piles and Iron Pizza on Saturday, May 28 at Mad Planet.

  • Date/Time: May 27-28, 8 p.m.
  • Location: Cactus Club, 2496 S. Wentworth Ave. (5/27) and Mad Planet, 533 E. Center St. (5/28)

Jazz in the Park*

Get to Cathedral Square early to find a comfortable spot amongst the hordes, but once you’ve parked your lawn chair safely, crack a beverage and take in the bustling atmosphere at the weekly Thursday night series Jazz in the Park, which celebrates its 25th anniversary this summer. There are rows of food and beer vendors to satisfy any craving and, of course, there’s the musical entertainment, which offers more variety than the title suggests. Acts this year include Sonny Knight & The Lakers (June 9), Blair Crimmins & The Hookers (July 21) and Paul Cebar Tomorrow Sound (August 25)

  • Date/Time: Thursdays between June 2-September 1, 5 p.m.-9 p.m.
  • Location: Cathedral Square Park, 520 E. Wells St.

Tasty Fest

The inaugural celebration of local boutique label Tasty Tapes, Tasty Fest rounds up 23 local bands (including The Rashita Joneses, NO/NO, Surgeons in Heat, The Bang Bang, Klassik, Body Futures and Tigernite) for a four-day festival in the Riverwest neighborhood.

  • Date: June 2-5
  • Location: Riverwest Public House (June 2), Linneman’s Riverwest Inn (June 3), Mad Planet (June 4-5)

Milwaukee Scottish Fest and Highland Games

Immerse yourself in Scottish culture this summer during the annual Milwaukee Scottish Fest and Highland Games. The traditional bagpipe music, Highland dancing, the parade of the Tartans and seeing sheepdogs herding a flock of sheep may just have you researching where to purchase a wool kilt.

  • Date/Time: June 4, 9 a.m.-10 p.m.
  • Location: Hart Park, 7300 W. Chestnut St., Wauwatosa

Beer Barons’ World Of Beer Festival

Does the 60-beer tap list at Sugar Maple somehow seem unimpressive? Then check out the 13th annual Beer Barons’ World of Beer Festival at Schwabenhof Pavilion in Menomonee Falls, where there are more than 350 beers available from breweries like O’so, Central Waters, Evil Twin, Rogue, Karben 4, Lakefront, Unibroue and Surly along with special mead and homebrew sections.

  • Date/Time: June 4, 1 p.m.-5 p.m.
  • Location: Schwabenhof Pavilion, N56 W14750 Silver Spring Dr., Menomonee Falls

UPAF Ride for the Arts

While the plan to build a bike lane on the Hoan Bridge was nixed by the state in 2011, you can see what that experience would have been like by entering the United Performing Arts Fund’s Ride for the Arts. Each of the 70-mile, 45-mile and 25-mile routes travel over the bridge (the 10-mile family route is much more manageable for those with a fear of heights). But don’t forget to bring a helmet, as they are required, and you should probably remember a camera to capture the experience, too.

  • Date/Time: June 5, 7 a.m.
  • Location: Henry W. Maier Festival Park, 200 N. Harbor Dr.

Chill on the Hill*

While Jazz in the Park can get a little sloppy as the night wears on, the Tuesday night music series Chill on the Hill in Bayview offers more open space and a more kid-friendly atmosphere for parents, who can watch their offspring prance in front of the stage while they casually sip on a bottle of wine.

  • Date/Time: Tuesdays between June and September, 6:30 p.m.-8 p.m.
  • Location: Humboldt Park, 3000 S. Howell Ave.

River Rhythms*

For its prime downtown riverside location, Pere Marquette Park is a mostly underutilized space—usually a shortcut to/from Old World Third Street or the launching point for booze cruises—but on Wednesday nights during the summer the park is resurrected with delicious aromas of diverse food vendors and the rhythmic sounds of live entertainment.

  • Date/Time: Wednesdays between June 8-August 31, 6:30 p.m.-9 p.m.
  • Location: Pere Marquette Park, Old World Third Street between State Street and Kilbourn Avenue


Festival season kicks into full gear with the opening of Henry W. Maier Festival Park for the annual Pridefest. The world’s biggest LGBT+ celebration with permanent festival grounds welcomes a diverse group of performers this year, including comedian Sarah Silverman on Friday night, singers Deborah Cox and Crystal Waters on Saturday and a closing night set from seminal new wave band Blondie with an opening performance by local synth-pop group GGOOLLDD.

  • Date: June 10-12
  • Location: Henry W. Maier Festival Park, 200 N. Harbor Dr.

Filth Fest 4

Self-described as “Milwaukee’s Queer Punk Fest,” Filth Fest celebrates its fourth year with a three-day art and music festival in Riverwest, heralding the community’s LGBTQ+ voices. Every show is all-ages and all the proceeds go to supporting GSAFE Wisconsin.

Summerfest Rock ‘n Sole Run

Burn off the excess calories gained from the fistfuls of pizza cones and unending stream of beer during the festival season with the Summerfest Rock ‘n Sole Run, where registrants can compete in half marathon, quarter marathon and 5K races.

  • Date: June 11
  • Location: Henry W. Maier Festival Park, 200 N. Harbor Dr.

The 40th Annual Locust Street Festival of Music and Art

The block party season commences every year with a 1.8-mile beer run through the Riverwest neighborhood. After the boozy race concludes, the party really gets started with indoor/outdoor stages of music, craft tents, food vendors, and, of course, beer for sale. But what seems underrated is the great opportunity to people watch while walking up and down Locust Street. Riverwest is truly filled with some interesting characters and they all tend to come out for the annual block party.

  • Date/Time: June 12, 11 a.m.-8 p.m.
  • Location: Locust Street between Humboldt and Holton avenues.

Polish Fest

Celebrate the city’s ethnic heritage at the 35th annual Polish Fest. You can participate in a vodka tasting, purchase Polish souvenirs and knickknacks in the Sukiennice Marketplace, gaze at and pet some fluffy Polish sheepdogs, check out some authentic Polish music and even take a cooking class to learn the intricacies of Polish cooking.

  • Date: June 17-19
  • Location: Henry W. Maier Festival Park, 200 N. Harbor Dr.

Lakefront Festival of the Arts

The annual Lakefront Festival of the Arts serves a dual purpose—to champion great artists while also acting as a fundraiser for the Milwaukee Art Museum. The festival has been doing so for more than 50 years.

  • Date: June 17-19
  • Location: Milwaukee Art Museum, 700 N. Art Museum Dr.

Juneteenth Day

A remembrance of the day when slavery was abolished throughout the Confederate South more than 150 years ago, Juneteenth Day has been long celebrated in Milwaukee; the city’s annual festival started 45 years ago and is still going strong, with a kick-off parade and a mix of live music and food vendors.

  • Date: June 19
  • Location: Dr. Martin Luther King Drive between Center and Burleigh streets.

Garlic Fest

A bad-breath sanctuary of sorts, Garlic Fest, now in its 5th year, spends an afternoon reveling in all dishes garlic-infused. You’ll be able to taste endless food items that utilize the versatile bulbous plant including a Green Garlic Bloody Mary from Braise. Because this is a Milwaukee festival, there will be beverages from local breweries and distilleries.

  • Date/Time: June 26, noon-4 p.m.
  • Location: Walker’s Point

Summer Soulstice

North Avenue transforms from a bustling, bar-heavy street into an even bigger mass of people watching a few stages of music, various street performers and, oh yeah, experienced riders doing sick tricks on a BMX half pipe. Summer Soulstice separates itself from the glut of annual block parties by the sheer variety of activities they offer, including a dodgeball tournament, a rock wall and a yoga session in North Point Water Tower Park.

  • Date/Time: June 25, 10 a.m. – midnight
  • Location: North Avenue between Oakland and Prospect avenues


While you can easily complain about the irrelevant and tiresome acts, the granddaddy of them all, Summerfest (aka The World’s Largest Music Festival®) truly offers something for everyone, like Selena Gomez (June 29) or Willie Nelson (June 29) or Nelly (July 2) or Jason Derulo (July 5) or Def Leppard (July 6) or Luke Bryan (July 7) or Neil Finn (July 9) or Ryan Adams (July 10).

  • Date: June 29-July 3, July 5-10
  • Location: Henry W. Maier Festival Park, 200 N. Harbor Dr.

Burnhearts’ Pabst Street Party

The cool, older sister to the scrappy winter counterpart Mittenfest, Burnhearts’ annual Pabst Street Party serves as an escape from the chaos surrounding Summerfest. Tucked away in Bay View, the festival, now in its ninth year, offers a stage of local acts, food from local vendors and a great selection of craft beers and cocktails.

  • Date: July 2
  • Location: Outside Burnhearts, 2599 S. Logan Ave.

Wonderful Wednesdays*

Get away from the city without traveling to far with Lake Park’s Wednesday night music series which features one hour performances from Extra Crispy Brass Band, Ms. Jen and the Jellyfish, The Tritonics, Altered Five Blues Band, The Mood Swing Orchestra, Charles Walker Band and Fox and Branch.

  • Date/Time: Wednesdays between July 6-August 17, 7:30 p.m.-8:30 p.m.
  • Location: Lake Park, 3133 E. Newberry Blvd.

Musical Mondays*

Gorgeous Lake Park provides some nice scenery for live music on Monday evenings during the summer. You can catch performances from Avec le Bois, Tim Burr, Harmonious Wail, Collegium Ladyes, Patrick Ball, Grandsons of the Pioneers with the Vintage Mix Quartet and The New South Rampart Street Paraders with Lisa Edgar.

  • Date/Time: Mondays between July 11-August 29, 6:30 p.m.-8 p.m.
  • Location: Lake Park, 3133 E. Newberry Blvd.

Bastille Days

The French holiday, Bastille Day, remembers the 1789 storming of the medieval fortress called the Bastille, which helped set off the French Revolution. Milwaukee honors that historic event with an annual four-day celebration, which kicks off on Thursday, July 14 with the 5K run/2K walk entitled “BMO Harris Bank Storm the Bastille.” The entertainment portion of the festival has certainly seen better days—back in the ‘80s Sun Ra and Camper Van Beethoven performed—but its musical accompaniments are often on par with the other block parties.

  • Date: July 14-17
  • Location: Cathedral Square Park, 520 E. Wells St.

Ayre in the Square*

Spend a relaxing Thursday evening in the urban chic Third Ward neighborhood for this laid-back weekly music series. The line-up is pretty legit, boasting bands like Trapper Schoepp, Devil Met Contention, Space Raft, Dead Horses and The Whiskeybelles.

  • Date/Time: Thursdays between July 14-September 1, 6:30 p.m.
  • Location: Catalano Square, 147 N. Broadway Ave.

South Shore Frolics (CANCELLED)

While Bay View remains a hip destination for trendy restaurants and bars, there’s a throwback feel to the South Shore Frolics festival. The three-day event in South Shore Park seems more geared towards kids. For instance, Saturday morning opens with the “Itty Bitty” parade, which is just the cutest consortium of children (some on bikes), parents and pets. Each night ends with a fireworks display.

  • Date: July 15-17
  • Location: South Shore Park, 2900 S. Shore Dr.

Festa Italiana

Enjoy an array of Italian activities at Festa Italania. You can play bocce, watch futsal (a variation of soccer), test your vocal chords in an Italian Idol competition, march in the Grand Parade led by infamous wooden puppet Pinocchio, or take a romantic sea voyage on a gondola.

  • Date: July 22-24
  • Location: Henry W. Maier Festival Park, 200 N. Harbor Dr.

Gallery Night and Day

Even casual art fans will get a kick out of Gallery Night and Day. There’s no stuffy art gallery experience during the two-day event. Rather, plenty of businesses open their doors for guests to appreciate the temporary installations in a casual atmosphere.

  • Date: July 22-23
  • Location: Third Ward

Milwaukee Firkin Beer Festival

Not your normal beer tasting festival, the Milwaukee Firkin Beer Festival spotlights, you guessed it, firkins. A firkin is small barrel (usually a quarter barrel) of cask-conditioned ale. It forgoes some steps of the normal brewing processes of big breweries, like cold filtration, pasteurization or carbonation. The festival offers more than 40 firkins and 150 beers for sampling. General admission tickets are $49, but VIP tickets ($80) will give you an early entry (3 p.m.) and access to rare and limited beers.

  • Date/Time: July 23, 4 p.m.-7:30 p.m.
  • Location: Cathedral Square Park, 520 E. Wells St.

Warped Tour

Teenage angst reigns supreme at the traveling music festival Warped Tour. This year’s lineup boasts some notable acts of pop punk’s past—Reel Big Fish, Good Charlotte, Yellowcard, Less Than Jake, Every Time I Die, Atreyu—and then an endless bill of band names that only someone under the age of 20 could possibly know.

  • Date: July 26, 11 a.m.
  • Location: Henry W. Maier Festival Park, 200 N. Harbor Dr.

Riverwest 24

While a 24-hour bike race sounds like a grueling affair, the Riverwest 24 is actually the best party of the summer. Riders compete in a 4.8 mile lap around Riverwest and can earn extra points by stopping in at designated bonus checkpoints. But residents take the opportunity to cheer on bicyclists from their lawns and host day-long barbecues. No neighborhood in Milwaukee is as quite as alive as Riverwest during the 24.

  • Date: July 29-30
  • Location: Starting line at Fratney and Center streets

German Fest

There aren’t many occasions on the calendar when you can bust out the lederhosen from the closet and enjoy a stein of dunkel. For those who can’t wait for Oktoberfest in the fall, German Fest offers an early opportunity to celebrate the city’s rich Germanic roots with a children’s parade, Trachtenschau (a traditional clothing exhibit), Marktplatz (a German market), and authentic German music. Plus, there’s a soccer game between local sports team and business mascots, which doesn’t make that much sense, but sounds really watchable.

  • Date: July 29-31
  • Location: Henry W. Maier Festival Park, 200 N. Harbor Dr.

Brady Street Festival

The former hippie epicenter of Milwaukee, Brady Street has certainly been spruced up since the ‘70s, but the neighborhood still shows flashes of its counterculture past. One example is the annual Brady Street Festival, which offers local food and drink vendors and four stages of music, but its main draw is the closing “Hell on Heels” drag show.

  • Date/Time: July 30, 11 a.m.-midnight
  • Location: Brady Street between Van Buren Street and Farwell Avenue

Milwaukee Brewfest

Sample more than 300 different beers while enjoying a beautiful view of Lake Michigan at Milwaukee Brewfest. A $50 ticket ($45 if you buy in advance) earns you four hours of unlimited beer samples, live music and home brewing demonstrations. For an extra $25 you can purchase a VIP ticket, which includes a pint glass, a private restroom, a private lounge, free pizza and snacks and gets you into the festival an hour early with access to limited edition beers.

  • Date/Time: July 30, 3 p.m.-7 p.m.
  • Location: Old Coast Guard Pavilion Park, 2420 S. Lincoln Memorial Dr.

Wisconsin State Fair

The annual “wait, we’re eating what now?” festival returns to Wisconsin State Fair Park this August to fill our arteries with cholesterol from all that chocolate covered bacon, food-on-a-stick and cream puffs (so many cream puffs). The musical entertainment couldn’t be any stranger this year. There’s ‘90s night (Salt-N-Pepa, Coolio, Color Me Badd, Rob Base) and the Beach Boys (touring without Brian Wilson or Al Jardine because they’re performing separate 50th anniversary shows for Pet Sounds). And then there’s a performance of Happy Days: Live featuring The Fonz himself, Henry Winkler.

  • Date: August 4-14
  • Location: Wisconsin State Fair Park Grounds, 640 S. 84th St.

Milwaukee Comedy Festival

Do you like to laugh? Of course, you do. While still in its nascent stages, Milwaukee’s comedy scene is stronger than ever before. There’s no better chance to see some great local and national comedians than at the Milwaukee Comedy Festival—last year’s headliner was uber nerd stand-up Brian Posehn.

  • Date: August 4-7
  • Location: Various locations

Bronzeville Cultural and Arts Festival

Kicking off the four-edition of Bronzeville Week, the Bronzeville Cultural and Arts Festival celebrates the revitalization of the African-American neighborhood with a full day of live music, vendors serving food and artists selling crafts.

  • Date/Time: August 6, 10 a.m.-6 p.m.
  • Location: North Avenue between Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Drive and 7th Street

Center Street Daze

Only one Milwaukee block party starts with a cart race, and that block party is Center Street Daze. The competition doesn’t stop there, either—Lakefront Brewery sponsors a dodgeball tournament and The Uptowner hosts both billiards and pinball tournaments. Center Street Daze isn’t only for sporting types—there are multiple stages of music, as well, including shows at Company Brewing, Club Timbuktu, The Jazz Gallery and The Uptowner.

  • Date/Time: August 6
  • Location: Center Street between Holton and Humboldt avenues

Irish Fest

With St. Patrick’s Day a distant memory, Irish Fest brings out a calmer, more family friendly atmosphere than its sloppy March equivalent. Among the activities at this year’s festival are an Irish language workshop, tastings at the Jameson Lounge, a red hair and freckles competition and, of course, some traditional Irish music.

  • Date: August 18-21
  • Location: Henry W. Maier Festival Park, 200 N. Harbor Dr.

Milwaukee Punk Fest 6

The sixth incantation of Milwaukee Punk Fest is utterly huge; the festival is spread out over two weekends in August (not counting the pre-and post-parties on August 13 and September 3) and features more than 50 bands, seven comedians and a handful of artists.

  • Date: August 19-21, August 26-27
  • Location: Various locations


A relatively new festival, Indiafest started in 2013 and has grown exponentially in the meantime. The inaugural event brought in around 5,000. That number ballooned to more than twice the size the following year. It’s not hard to see why the festival hooked so many people—it’s a fun day filled with traditional costumes, food, dancing and jewelry, and since its set in Humboldt Park, feels quite manageable.

  • Date: August 20, 11 a.m.-9 p.m.
  • Location: Humboldt Park, 3000 S. Howell Ave.

Mexican Fiesta

As the penultimate ethnic festival of the season Mexican Fiesta overtakes Henry W. Maier Festival Park for a big summer blow-out. There are mariachi bands, Mexican food and drink, a soccer tournament and a Sunday morning Fiesta Run & Walk.

  • Date: August 26-28
  • Location: Henry W. Maier Festival Park, 200 N. Harbor Dr.

Indian Summer

This year Indian Summer celebrates the 30th anniversary of honoring the culture of native peoples. The festival was started by Milwaukee Police officer Lawrence “Butch” Roberts in the mid-‘80s as a way to unite the community. It exists today as a way to learn about and embrace the traditions of the American Indian.

  • Date: September 9-11
  • Location: Henry W. Maier Festival Park, 200 N. Harbor Dr.

Bay View Bash

Car traffic is blocked off on Kinnickinnic Avenue for the yearly Bay View Bash, which celebrates the south side neighborhood with two stages of music, a children’s stage, a strongman competition, a vaudevillian side show, arts and crafts tents and some community food vendors.

  • Date: September 17, 11 a.m.-10 p.m.
  • Location: Potter and Clement on Kinnickinnic Avenue

Doors Open Milwaukee

There are so many historic Milwaukee buildings that can only be viewed from the outside. The two-day Doors Open Milwaukee seeks to give the public access to these exclusive interiors. Last year people could tour places like the 88Nine Radio Milwaukee studios, the Clock Shadow building, City Hall, the Jones Island Water Reclamation Facility.

  • Date: September 17-18
  • Location: Various locations

Milwaukee Film Festival

The ever-growing Milwaukee Film Festival makes the city a cinephile’s dream in the fall. There’s really nothing else like it here and the better response, the bigger the festival gets.

  • Date: September 22-October 6
  • Location: Various theaters

Fromm Petfest

A festival for our cute and cuddly best friends in the whole wide world, Fromm Petfest grants access to Henry Maier Festival Park for cats and dogs (as long as they are properly vaccinated and remained leashed). Now in its third year, new areas include the Petfest Bier Garden and Dog Park, where our furry friends can run around freely while we humans sip on some cold ones and Petfest University, which features demonstrations from pet trainers, groomers and nutritionists.

  • Date/Time: September 24, 10 a.m.-6 p.m.
  • Location: Henry W. Maier Festival Park, 200 N. Harbor Dr.

* indicates a weekly event. 

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Kevin is a freelance writer residing in Milwaukee. He’s contributed to The Shepherd Express, Third Coast Daily, Pop Matters and the sadly now-defunct A.V. Club Milwaukee. He looks forward to forging a deeper connection with the city’s impressive music scene during his gig as a Music Notes blogger. His talents include music criticism, riding a bicycle, drinking tasty beers and a crafty croquet swing. His weaknesses comprise Jean-Claude Van Damme movies, professional wrestling and his ever-growing record collection. He’s in desperate need to find more physical (and hard drive) space for the exceptional albums Milwaukee musicians keep churning out.