Dancing in the Streets

Milwaukee’s eccentric street fests are alter egos to the Big Gig lakefront blowouts.

Locust Street Festival of Music and Art
June 14

➼ The day started with a formidable hangover.

Sweating through the humid morning and drinking my first brew during the festival’s beer run eased the rough transition into the summer Sunday. I finished the 1.8-mile run faster than anticipated, just ahead of some guy wearing a three-piece suit and running shoes.

The afternoon saw trips to Nessun Dorma, Linneman’s Riverwest Inn (for Lakefront Riverwest Stein) and The Tracks. I canvassed a busy Locust Street, inspected dozens of art booths, conversed with neighbors and friends, and tapped a rhythm-challenged foot to a nondescript cover band. It was the perfect festival day.

The laid-back, eclectic and diverse Riverwest vibe that permeates one of Milwaukee’s longest-running festivals (2015 marks Locust Street Fest’s 39th year) is what makes it my favorite. And the beer run is a great way to get things started. —Dan Murphy

Bastille Days
July 9-12

➼ Milwaukee isn’t particularly French, and neither is Bastille Days, which is something of a mashup of the State Fair, a few New Orleans tidbits and a French accent sprinkled here and there. Despite the general lack of baguettes and old men arguing about philosophy in cafes, the Downtown festival is beloved and well-attended.

The quarter-million attendees of the four-day festival overflow Cathedral Square Park into streets lined with mimes and buskers and packed with pedestrians. Four live music stages host can-can dancers, chanteuses singing Piaf, and Cajun and Zydeco music. (New Orleans counts as France, right?) Booths offer crafts and artsy goods under a 43-foot replica of the Eiffel Tower that lights up hourly, the Alliance Francaise tent on Jackson Street sells berets and beignets, and vendors turn out crepes filled with ice cream and topped with whipped cream.

Storm the Bastille on opening night, running 5 kilometers or walking 2 miles from Jefferson and Wells through the streets of Downtown and the Third Ward.

Many booths do not take credit cards, francs or euros, so bring good old American dollars, s’il vous plaît.  —Pamela Hill Nettleton

Brady Street photo by Andrew LoMenzo.
Brady Street photo by Andrew LoMenzo.

Brady Street Festival
July 25

➼ Trendy Brady Street was holding festivals back when some other neighborhoods didn’t even have names. Sidewalk dining, specialty foods, artisanal cheese, fair-trade coffee, craft beer, Thai restaurants – we had it first. Then it went mainstream.

All these tasty attractions will be available again this year at the Brady Street Festival.

Years ago, before gay was “in” (it’s always been fashionable), a drag revue was added to the event lineup. The female impersonators steal the show every year.

New for 2015 is a stage where volunteer bicyclists will pedal to produce electricity for the bands. Power to the people! —Michael Horne

Center Street Daze
Aug. 1

➼ What can one say about a festival so intent on abnormality and danger that it once played host to a demonic baby’s excruciating delivery – there being no other way to pull a Rosemary? This was a few years ago, and part of the “Art Cart” race that typically kicks off Center Street Daze, so called because it’s actually just one day, and the lines between reality and fantasy tend to get smudged.

The legendary demon-delivering cart was but a bloodied four-post bed wheeling down a booth-lined Center Street with a heaving mother (played by a man) and the horned performer who leapt from his loins and ran about screaming.

This year, once the hallucinatory soapbox derby has concluded, there should be live music, some fun games and maybe a teepee or two. —Matt Hrodey

Bay View Bash
Sept. 19

➼ During any given week from March to September, Milwaukee will use any excuse to throw a street festival. It’s a wonderful thing. But all good things must come to an end, and luckily, we have Bay View Bash in late September, ending festival season on a high note.

The best neighborhood festivals are representative of the people who make that place their home, and this is certainly the case for the Bash on Kinnickinnic Avenue. Everyone has a dog and a tattoo and a beard, the food is incredible, the music is local, and microbrews flow like water. It’s not an all-out party atmosphere, nor is it a tepid affair. Like Bay View itself, it occupies that sweet spot between belligerence and calm while embracing its own brand of joyfully weird.

If summer has to end sometime, there’s no better place than between Potter and Clement avenues. —Dan Shafer

‘Dancing in the Streets’ appears in the June 2015 issue of Milwaukee Magazine.
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