A seemingly meaningless recognition of an early spring date on the calendar in 2009 ended up planting the seed for a grassroots holiday recognizing Milwaukee’s awesomeness.
“My brother, Toby, had posted on social media that the day was April 14, which coincided with the 414 area code for Milwaukee,” Andy Silverman said. “My friends and I, instead of just ignoring that simple observation, glommed onto it as something important. We sort of made a big deal about it on the Internet.”
The following year, the group filmed a silly video explaining how to celebrate the holiday, which came to be known as Milwaukee Day.
“That made in on to the news, so we thought we should start having real events and make it into a real holiday,” Silverman said. “The ball started rolling from there.”
The group, which initially included Silverman’s friends Brent Gohde and Timm Gable, didn’t have a set plan for the holiday.
“I just think that my friends and I have always been big fans of the city and the weirdness and quirkiness about some things about Milwaukee,” Silverman said. “We have love for the food and music scenes. This just seemed like an opportunity.”
The group would later expand to include Chelsie Layman and Mocha Harris.
“We’ve done a number of things, but the growth of the holiday has been sort of organic because what we found over the years was that it wasn’t really hard to get people to participate or come up with ideas on how to celebrate this city,” Silverman said.
After a few years, the group reached out to Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett and asked him to officially proclaim April 14 as Milwaukee Day. The long-time politician obliged in 2012.
“He, the city and the county were very receptive, and they understand that Milwaukeeans have a unique pride in their town. Not to say that we don’t have our fair share of problems but that there are many things in the city to celebrate,” Silverman said.
Former Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele later issued a proclamation designating April 14 as Milwaukee Day.
“And then, two years ago, without any of our hands in it, we got a very pleasant surprise when Gov. (Tony) Evers pronounced Milwaukee Day a statewide holiday, which is pretty cool,” Silverman said.
Now, a large flag emblazoned with 414 hangs from City Hall throughout the week that includes Milwaukee Day.
“The 414 flag is proudly displayed outside of City Hall all week to celebrate our annual day of civic pride,” Barrett said this week.
This all brings smiles to the faces of Silverman and his friends.
“It really feels like what it’s supposed to be,” he said. “It’s not just about politicians or community leaders but local bars and musicians and people who own yoga or art studios deciding on their own, unbeknownst to us, that they’ve chosen a way to celebrate this holiday, much the way the somebody has their own traditions and rituals around any holiday.”
Milwaukee County Executive David Crowley said Milwaukee Day is important because the 414 area code is home to thousands of residents.
“It’s a day for all to celebrate all the incredible art, sports, education, culture and community and much more that makes Milwaukee one of the most beautiful cities in the nation in which to not only live and work but also to play.”
Silverman, who lived in Sherman Park before moving to Bayside as a child, finds satisfaction in the public expressions of Milwaukee pride.
“To me that’s what’s really inspired me and everybody on the Milwaukee Day team over the years,” said Silverman, who currently resides on the East Side. “I’m not saying that we don’t try to promote it and grow it as much as we can, but I am very proud to say most of the growth has been organic and people making it their own, which is really the spirit of what we want Milwaukee Day to be.”
For Silverman, whose is employed as a social worker and therapist, Milwaukee’s music scene is especially close to his heart.
“That’s how we first started growing the holiday because I knew some bands and promoters,” he said. “That’s always been an important thing for me, and I really miss just seeing bands in Milwaukee. That’s one of the best Milwaukee experiences you can have.”
Milwaukee’s food offerings are also high on the list of things to celebrate, he said.
“I feel like we have so many amazing restaurants that represent so many different cultures,” Silverman said. “I feel it’s a city where the people truly make it great, whether it’s creating food, music or art.”
Silverman also embraces many of Milwaukee’s unique attractions, like the Bronze Fonz statue along the Downtown’s Riverwalk.
Like in 2020, this year’s Milwaukee Day will focus on virtual events due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“All events that we had a hand in organizing are going to be virtual this year,” Silverman said. “We certainly thought that was the best way to go, since we start planning this thing a few months ahead.”
The Milwaukee Day crew has partnered with The Cooperage in Milwaukee’s Harbor District for its main event, a concert that will be livestreamed on the Cooperage’s YouTube channel.
“They really helped us create this great virtual show,” he said.
The concert will feature the Hughes Family band, Mo City, Dramatic Lovers, NilexNile, Jayk, Emmit James, Mark Waldoch and Horse Force. The concert starts at 5:30 p.m. on Wednesday and can be access at tinyurl.com/mkeday2021.
“I’m really pleased with the lineup,” Silverman said. “I think it represents a lot of Milwaukee voices.”A full lineup of Milwaukee Day events and suggested activities can be found on their website.
Silverman, like most of his fellow Milwaukeeans, is looking forward to a return to a fully in-person celebration of Milwaukee Day.
“I’m hoping on Milwaukee Day 2022 we can have some of those shows in small clubs,” he said. “I’m not going to speculate on what the world is going to look like at that time, but I am looking forward to just being able to sit at my favorite dive bar.”
It’s extremely enjoyable, Silverman said, that Milwaukee Day has been so widely embraced, in the Milwaukee area and beyond.
“It’s extra gratifying when transplants to Milwaukee embrace the idea and then we also see clips of expats celebrating on Milwaukee Day with a Lakefront Beer or a Klement’s sausage or whatever it might be,” Silverman said. “I really get a kick out of that. I think it’s just been neat to see the way that anyone with some connection to Milwaukee finds out about Milwaukee Day and makes it their own.”
That leads to a simple message from Silverman to anyone with ties to Milwaukee.
“Milwaukee Day is for you if you are from here or you miss being here or you visited here and loved it, whatever it might be.”