6/15 thru 6/17 Polish Fest What’s the best way to learn about Polish culture? Drinking what the Polish drink, of course. The festival imports 11,000 cans of Tyskie beer, which festival director Jane Riley Best* likens to a Polish MillerCoors, directly from the riverside village where it’s been brewed for nearly 400 years. The pint-size […]

6/15 thru 6/17
Polish Fest

What’s the best way to learn about Polish culture? Drinking what the Polish drink, of course. The festival imports 11,000 cans of Tyskie beer, which festival director Jane Riley Best* likens to a Polish MillerCoors, directly from the riverside village where it’s been brewed for nearly 400 years. The pint-size cans make a monthlong journey across the Atlantic aboard a freighter before settling down at the Summerfest grounds. If you prefer the harder Polish staple – vodka – the festival will include a vodka lounge for the second year, including plenty of top-rated Sobieski. As to whether Sobieski spokesman Bruce Willis will make an appearance, Best says: “You’d be amazed what you get when you ask.” (AC)

Polish Fest (June 15-17). Henry Maier Festival Park. 200 N. Harbor Dr., 414-529-2140, polishfest.org. $10 advance, $12 gate, $10 seniors, free for kids under 15 with an adult.

Juneteenth Day

Juneteenth – a holiday in 40 states, including Wisconsin – commemorates June 19, 1865, the day Union General Gordon Granger ordered the last U.S. slaves to be released in recalcitrant Texas. Milwaukee’s street festival marking the occasion is one of the country’s longest-running, drawing 50,000-70,000 people a year to North Dr. Martin Luther King Drive, according to coordinator Adrianne Griffin. “Our goal is to make it family-oriented and recognize the plight of African-Americans in the city,” she says. “We bring attention to jobs, health and bringing peace to the neighborhoods.” It also highlights members of the community, including Ms. Juneteenth, a teen chosen at a June 16 pageant who will serve as festival ambassador for the coming year, and this year’s grand marshals – local African-American business owners, such as developer Melissa Goins, who Griffin says “sometimes get left out.” With hopes of garnering greater attention, Rufus King High School grad Ronald Myers, a jazz pianist and trumpeter, has led a push to declare Juneteenth a national holiday. So far, no luck. But that doesn’t stop Griffin and other organizers. “Juneteenth Day always gets attendance,” she says. “It a free festival.” (MH)

Juneteenth Day (June 19) North Dr. Martin Luther King Drive, 414-372-3770, juneteenth.com/wisconsin.htm. Free.

6/22 thru 6/24
Greek Fest

If talking and eating are two of your favorite activities, you’ll be in good company at Greek Fest. If talking about eating gets you going, nosh on this: In 2011, more than 8,500 gyros were sold, including more than 10,000 pitas and 2,900 pounds of lamb (that’s 425 legs, if you’re counting), while 5,800 whole chickens were roasted and sold.“If you’re looking for the best gyro in town, this is your place,” says Evan Zeppos, who will mark a quarter-century of volunteering at this year’s festival. As for the fest’s most popular beverage, selling about 1,800 cups last year, Zeppos says, “Before there was Starbucks, Greeks were very popular for their coffee. What we have is a frappe. A good Greek will drink four or five in a day.” And the yiayias, or Greek grandmothers, prepare baklava and loukoumades (like doughnut holes) weeks before the festival, each bite soaked in the rich honey of tradition. Those sweet bites, 21,000 of which were sold last year, are just another reason Milwaukee’s Greeks and non-Greeks keep coming back. (CH)

Greek Fest (June 22-24). Wisconsin State Fair Park. 640 S. 84th St., West Allis, milwaukeegreekfest.com. Free.

6/27 thru 7/8

Photo courtesy of Summerfest

Every year, Summerfest offers big gigs for the music-loving masses, but which shows have drawn the biggest crowds in the fest’s 44-year history? According to Bob Babisch, vice president of entertainment for Summerfest, the largest attendance for a single-day show in the Marcus Amphitheater was Jon Bon Jovi in 2007, while the biggest two-day shows at that stage were Pearl Jam and Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers in 2006. The largest crowd at a grounds stage turned out for John Cougar Mellencamp in 2002. And, not surprisingly, teens and tweens came in droves for then-heartthrobs the Jonas Brothers in 2008 and Justin Bieber in 2010. Didn’t witness these attendance milestones but still want some prime people-watching set to today’s popular tunes? Check out our Summerfest Best Bets on Page 17. We’re sure this year’s fest will provide ample opportunity to rock out en masse. (CH)

Summerfest (June 27-July 8, closed July 2). Henry Maier Festival Park. 200 N. Harbor Dr., 414-273-2680, summerfest.com. Weekdays, $7 advance, $9 gate; weekends, $14 advance, $16 gate; $4 seniors, $4 children 3-10, free for kids 2 and under.

7/12 thru 7/15
Bastille Days

Picture this: A warm crepe in your left hand, a glass of wine in your right, peering up at the breathtaking Eiffel Tower. But it’s not the 1,063-foot-tall landmark in the City of Light. You’re in front of the 43-foot steel replica in the City of Festivals. Oui, Bastille Days in Downtown Milwaukee embraces French heritage with help from 25 MSOE students, who back in 2000 spent five months constructing the tower’s 50 separate steel parts.

Fest Fact: The first non-native settler to Milwaukee, Solomon Juneau, was a French Canadian fur company agent who later became the city’s first mayor.   

Associate professor Fritz DeVries, who coordinated the project, says it was fun determining how the tower’s parts came together. The current replica is the second one to grace the grounds. The original was built as part of a department store perfume promotion and wasn’t intended for the rigors of outdoor use, which led to structural problems. The East Town Association attempted to use an Eiffel-shaped balloon as a substitute, but that simply wouldn’t suffice. So in came replica No. 2. “Looking west, compare the height to looking out the fourth or fifth floor of the Yankee Hill Apartments,” says Peter Adams, assistant director of East Town. The tower can’t be missed. It’s in the middle of Kilbourn Avenue, between Jefferson and Jackson streets, displaying an hourly light show. “You can find it in the heart of the festival.” (CD)

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Bastille Days (July 12-15). Cathedral Square Park. 825 N. Jefferson St., 414-271-1416, easttown.com. Free.

7/19 thru 7/22

Festa Italiana

“There is no need to explain the gondola to anyone. … It is unique, it is Italian, it is romantic,” says Bill Jennaro, board member and advocate for returning the 36-foot-long, 5-foot-wide gondola to Festa Italiana. In the late 1990s, the Treviso family held rides on the grounds until their business sunk. But last year, the festival bought its own gondola, and the rides were revived. The former East Coast owner delivered the Venetian boat to
Milwaukee, and board members tested it. “We didn’t want to buy a pig in the poke so to speak,” Jennaro says with a chuckle. “We didn’t want it to sink with any passengers in it.” This year, Festa will add another gondola, this one donated by Joe Vella, a proprietor of Peter Sciortino’s Bakery. Unlike the first, which has room for six people, the second only holds four. So choose your gondola buddies wisely. (NP)

Fest Fact: Roughly 100,000 people attend each year. Sciortino’s Bakery sells around 12,000 cannolis. Festa sells 4,000 rice balls and about 18,000 sausage sandwiches.

Festa Italiana (June 19-22). Henry Maier Festival Park. 200 N. Harbor Dr., 414-223-2808,  festaitaliana.com. $10 advance, $13 gate, free for kids 12 and under with an adult.

7/26 thru 7/29
German Fest

Yes, Milwaukee has rich German roots, but German Fest lets festivalgoers actually trace them, right back to the German oak tree they came from. Staffed by volunteers from the Sons & Daughters of the Veterans of the Civil War, the genealogy project encourages attendees to bring as much info as they have, though grandparents’ names and place of birth should be enough to dig back to the early 1900s. “A lot of people who came to the U.S. from Germany came through Ellis Island,” says Klaus Fromme, the festival’s president and director. He acknowledges that spellings of names were often changed. One thing that hasn’t changed is German enthusiasm for beer, and attendees can put their roots into practice by home-brewing a “bier” for the fest’s 2012 contest. Competition is steep – more than 150 entries were received last year. But don’t party too hard: Anyone who attends the festival’s Sunday morning mass gets in for free. (AC)

German Fest (July 26-29). Henry Maier Festival Park. 200 N. Harbor Dr., 414-464-9444, germanfest.com. $10 advance, $13 gate, $7 seniors and students, free for kids under 12 with adult.

8/2 thru 8/12
Wisconsin State Fair

“You have to be smarter than a pig to train it to race,” says Jay Phillips, aka “Boss Hog” and third-generation owner of Show-Me Swine Racers in East Prairie, Mo. “Pigs are No. 4 on the animal intelligence list.” Phillips starts the one-week training regimen when his baby Hampshire and Yorkshire pigs are 3 to 4 months old. “Pigs have a sweet tooth and, like dogs, do tricks for treats,” says Phillips, whose racing pigs work for frosted oatmeal cookies. Ten Hampshire and Yorkshire pigs will race at Wisconsin State Fair in two separate heats. Phillips saves the comedy for last when he races five adult potbellied pigs that slowly waddle to the finish line. “Once they get to be about 8 months old, they’re too smart and big to race,” he says. “The potbellies take their time, stopping to relieve themselves or scratch an itch.” Phillips’ pigs, one of the fair’s most popular attractions, are among 8,000 animals and more than 900,000 people who pass through the fair’s gates during its 11-day run. And the pigs? They never go to slaughter. “Our pigs live a life of luxury,” he says, “getting a bath each morning and retiring at our Missouri farm.” (MS)

Wisconsin State Fair (Aug. 2-12). Wisconsin State Fair Park. 640 S. 84th St., West Allis, 800-884-3247, wistatefair.com. $9 gate, $6 seniors, $5 children 6-11, free for kids 5 and under.

8/4 thru 8/5
African World Festival

Beginning as an R&B and top-40 urban music destination, African World Festival has flipped its script. Now it leans toward what C. Michelle Bryant, its executive director, calls “a jazz destination.” After battling financial troubles and canceling the festival in 2008 and 2009, the organization restructured, offering year-round

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Fest Fact: Hot food item? Turkey legs. The fest sells approximately 2,000, consistently running out.

programming. The festival itself also underwent a transformation, says Bryant, turning into a top jazz venue in Milwaukee. Especially for $12. The 2012 lineup features Boney James, Alex Bugnon, Doc Powell and Walter Beasley. “We have carved out this niche, unexpectedly, from jazz aficionados around the country,” says Bryant, adding that the fest will also add a reggae stage this year. (NP)

African World Festival (Aug. 4-5). Henry Maier Festival Park. 200 N. Harbor Dr., 414-291-7959, africanworldfestival-milwaukee.com. $12 gate, $30 preferred.

8/16 thru 8/19
Irish Fest

“Get out and find the bands.” That’s the musical mantra, says Ed Ward, Irish Fest’s founder and chairman of entertainment. Each year, Irish Fest organizers take scouting trips to Ireland and Scotland, turning Milwaukee’s festival into a destination for Celtic and Irish music with a reputation for bringing in new talent. “Eighteen to 20 other North American festival representatives come to Irish Fest each year to scout talent for their festivals,” Ward says. This year’s fest will include Gaelic Storm, a headliner that appeared in the movie Titanic. “We were the first major festival to book them,” Ward notes. “They cut their teeth with us.” And Gaelic Storm guitar player Steve Twigger certainly appreciates it: “You gotta love Milwaukee. It’s like coming home … the best festival out there.” (MS)

Irish Fest (Aug. 16-19). Henry Maier Festival Park. 200 N. Harbor Dr., 414-476-3378, irishfest.com. $15 gate, $10 seniors, free for children 12 and under.

8/24 thru 8/26
Mexican Fiesta

Bread, spice, motorcycles and wrestling? That’s Mexican Fiesta. Pan de feria – bread of the fair – is a Mexican festival ritual, and Milwaukee spares no expense, flying in bakers from Mexico and passing loaves to the eager crowd, some of whom waited hours in 2011 for a taste, says marketing administrator Laura Vazquez. Spice and cycles? Those come with the jalapeño-eating contest (last year’s winner ate 35), and the lowrider and motorcycle show, which attracts people from as far away as Los Angeles. And for the third year, Fiesta will showcase Mexican-style wrestling called lucha libre. (AC)

Mexican Fiesta (Aug. 24-26). Henry Maier Festival Park. 200 N. Harbor Dr., 414-383-7066, mexicanfiesta.org. $11 advance, $13 gate, $1 children 3-10, children 2 and under free.

Bottom photo by Andrew Gorzalski/Jay Gilkay

8/24 thru 8/26
Serbian Days

Like all resourceful immigrants, Milwaukee’s Serbs have adapted nimbly to their adopted city. The American Serb Memorial Hall’s popular Friday fish fry plays to our collective weakness for breaded whitefish. And the St. Sava Serbian Orthodox Cathedral’s annual Serbian Days celebration plays to our desire for trilling accordions, savory spiced lamb and sultry summer dancing. Serbs fleeing war in the Balkans gravitated to Milwaukee in the 1990s. They followed a wave that emigrated in the wake of World War II and joined in the building of the mosaic-adorned cathedral. Today, it counts its parishioners at 1,200 households strong. Its first festival, a church picnic held to celebrate the cathedral’s 1956 groundbreaking, started a tradition that hasn’t missed a year since. “A lot of people don’t know where Serbia is or where Serbians come from,” says church secretary Marcia Jovanovich, but Serbian Days, she explains, has raised local Serbs to higher prominence. What began as a one-day gathering is now a three-day bash. Thousands peruse cultural exhibits, dine on chevapchichi lamb sausage and do the “kolo,” a traditional circle-shaped Serbian dance. Or they dance at another tent for thoroughly American pop and rock acts. The Serbs know their audience. (MH)

Serbian Days (Aug. 24-26). St. Sava Serbian Orthodox Cathedral. 3201 S. 51st St., 414-545-4080, stsava-milw.org. Free.

9/7 thru 9/9
Indian Summer

You can take in a ceremonial pow wow, but there’s a stronger spiritual essence worth exploring. Each year, the night before opening day, the grounds are blessed to ensure safe travel and returns for those who come to the weekend gathering. “We pause from our work to recognize and address the creator in our own indigenous

Fest Fact: In 2011, about 50,000 people attended. Roughly 30,000 Indian tacos were sold.

language,” says Marin Webster Denning, a festival board member. The words are spoken by a different elder each year, and herbs such as sage, sweet grass and cedar are used in the ceremony. The public isn’t present, but you can see the grounds’ sacred fire, which is dedicated this year to veterans. People are encouraged to share stories and toss sacred tobacco into the fire, which is tended to 24 hours a day. (NP)

Indian Summer (Sept. 7-9). Henry Maier Festival Park. 200 N. Harbor Dr., 414-774-6810, indiansummer.org. $10 advance, $12 gate, $10 seniors, free for children 12 and under.

*The June City Guide incorrectly referred to Polish Fest’s director as Jane Riley. Her name is Jane Riley Best. The date of Festa Italiana was stated incorrectly. It is July 19-22.