Editor Kurt Chandler's monthly letter to our readers.

Walk out your door this time of year, and you’ll be greeted by the sights and sounds of joyful abandon: Kids laughing wildly as they run barefoot down the sidewalk. Sunbaked college students punching a volleyball over a net on a sandy beach. Families and friends standing around a picnic table and barbecue grill with a stack of paper plates and a case of beer.

In summertime, so many of our leisure activities are shared experiences. The temperate weather unlocks us from the physical and emotional constraints of the colder seasons, and draws us into a sense of togetherness. The summer air is a nutrient, and everyone is all right.

Commonalty is a theme in our annual City Guide this month. As Dan Shafer points out in his spirited defense of Summerfest, “No Apologies” (Page 55), there’s something memorable, though increasingly uncommon, about sharing an event or activity in the same place at the same time with the same group of people.

“Shared experiences are becoming a casualty of the 21st century,” writes Shafer, Milwaukee Magazine’s digital editor. “Gone are the days when people crowd around the TV set to watch the same shows; we waved goodbye to any commonality in musical choice in the iPod Era… A certain connection over things we all know has slipped through the cracks.”

Summerfest, often maligned by critics who can’t see beyond the sloppy drunks and fast food stands, is a vestige of the days when masses of people had the same favorites – favorite prime-time TV shows, favorite hit movies, favorite rock bands.

Today, our interests have fragmented as multimedia formats multiply. It seems as if there’s a new choice for streaming music and movies every day. So participation becomes a solo act – contact made through a computer or cell phone.

In his article “A Cast of Stars” (Page 53), Milwaukee Magazine film critic Tom Fuchs looks at the popularity of outdoor movie venues. At the lakefront’s Discovery World, in a South Side park, in a cozy alleyway in the Third Ward, at a Jefferson County drive-in – film fans party under the night sky, interacting with each other and their favorite movie stars.

“Although movie theaters are more reverent, the expanse of the outdoors allows for a more participatory cinema experience,” Fuchs writes. Eating a fish fry and sipping on a cold one, laughing at the funny parts and screaming at the scary parts – it’s communal, an out-loud celebration.

Summer opens the door to opportunity. It’s a time to shine, a chance to, finally, shed that seasonal affective disorder, to go out and make a few new friends.

See you at Summerfest.

‘A Gathering of the Tribe’ appears in the June 2015 issue of Milwaukee Magazine.
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