Thanksgiving is a time for taking stock of the year gone by, for stuffing your face with family and friends, and for praying you’ll get out of this thing alive without said family and friends saying anything horrible. For Milwaukee, it’s also a perfect time to give thanks for the many, many things that make the city a wonderful (if sometimes bewildering) place to live. Here are 12 of them.
1. Independent radio
What’s better than one listener-supported local radio station? How about three listener-supported local radio stations? Radio Milwaukee and WMSE have long provided Milwaukee with a musical pulse that can’t be beat, and the continued success of Riverwest Radio has made the airwaves even more eclectic and unpredictable. (Sure, we include Nik Kovac’s excellent PackerVerse shows in his excellent weekly Packer columns, but they originally air on Riverwest Radio.) It’s a testament to the strength of Milwaukee’s cultural scene that the city so heartily supports these three off-the-beaten-path resources.
2. Lake Michigan
It’s sometimes easy to forget, but damn, we have an honest-to-god Great Lake in our backyard. Lake Michigan is one of the defining features of the Milwaukee landscape—along with the Milwaukee Art Museum and those singing bears in the Shops of Grand Avenue—and an endless source of summer (and winter) fun. Sure, you probably don’t want to swim in the thing, but it’s nice to look at.
3. Milwaukee County Parks
You could likely count on one hand the number of people who still refer to Milwaukee County Parks as an “emerald necklace,” but the old-timey description is surprisingly apt. More than 140 parks and parkways, totaling roughly 15,000 acres, make up the city’s nationally recognized park system. Cathedral Square, Red Arrow, Estabrook, and the smoldering remains of Lake Park following the great Pokemon Go Wars of 2016 are just a few examples. Though the future of the city’s park system may be up in the air (and what isn’t these days?), the fact that it continues to draw so much attention and passion speaks to its importance to the city.
4. Milwaukee Film
What’s not to love about Milwaukee Film? The organization’s annual 15-day Milwaukee Film Festival is certainly its biggest production of the year (and one of the best things in Milwaukee, period), but its year-round members screenings, as well as its year-round workshops and panel discussions, make Milwaukee Film a 365-day concern. Plus, there are big things on the horizon: Milwaukee Film will be taking over operation of the Oriental Theatre beginning next summer, and the group’s newly christened Milwaukee Filmmaker Alliance promises to turn the city’s emerging film industry into a real concern. Oh, and they let us star in one of their trailers this year, which was nice.
5. Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service
Looking for good local journalism? It doesn’t get much better than the on-the-ground, hyper-local Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service (NNS). The non-profit online publication has spent the last few years tirelessly covering issues “that are important to the people who live, work and serve in city neighborhoods, on topics such as education, public safety, economic development, health and wellness, environment, recreation, employment, youth development and housing.” For many oft-overlooked Milwaukeeans, NNS is a clear and invaluable voice.
6. Milwaukee River
Similar to Lake Michigan, it’s sometimes easy to forget that we have a pretty nifty river snaking through the heart of our city. Yes, the Milwaukee River may not be suitable for casual summertime dips, but boat tours, kayak tours, pontoon tours, and the picturesque Riverwalk all combine to make it a unique and oft-traveled downtown feature.
7. Pabst Theater/Turner Hall Ballroom/Riverside Theater/The Back Room @ Colectivo
Does Milwaukee snag every big-ticket concert that blows through the Midwest? No, but the city continues to punch well above its weight thanks to the long-running Pabst/Turner/Riverside trifecta. Oh, and don’t forget The Back Room @ Colectivo—also booked by the Pabst Theater Group—which brings up-and-coming acts (and a few surprising vets) to an intimate and gorgeous-sounding space. The very best in music and comedy have a home in Milwaukee, and the city is infinitely better off for it.
8. Red Letter Media
Red Letter Media is another one of Milwaukee’s best things. The locally based film/video production company found internet fame back in 2009 with its meticulous takedowns of the Star Wars prequels, and has since gone on to produce hilarious and incisive web series like the long-running “Half In The Bag” and the wonderfully wonky “Best Of The Worst.” If you, too, have grown weary of superhero movies and “Fuck You, It’s January” dreck, RLM is the place for you. These days, any message board or comment section devoted to a galaxy far, far away is sure to be littered with quotes from RLM videos, RLM-related memes, or GIFs of Rich Evans in a Darth Vader mask, jerking off a droid.
It’s probably not an overstatement to say that much of Milwaukee’s art and music scene has direct ties to Riverwest. The creative-minded neighborhood has long been home to countless musicians, artists, poets, and dreamers, not to mention iconic bars and venues like Fuel (the original one), Foundation, Linneman’s, Riverwest Public House, Mad Planet, Club Timbuktu, Company Brewing, High Dive, the Jazz Gallery, and every basement show you’ve ever been to. Oh, and don’t forget about the Locust Street festival, the Center Street festival, and the Riverwest 24. In a city where every other neighborhood seems to be changing overnight, it’s nice to see Riverwest sticking to what it does best.
10. Urban Milwaukee
With the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (sadly) on the decline, no one in town does a better job of covering the ins and outs of the changing face of the city than Urban Milwaukee. Led by Jeramey Jannene, Dave Reid, and Bruce Murphy, the website is the go-to source for Milwaukee lovers interested in the inner workings of the Common Council, the history of your neighbor’s house (courtesy of columnist Michael Horne), and oodles and oodles of press releases (even the Bob Donovan ones). Thrilled (or irritated) that the whole Milwaukee Streetcar thing went through? Then thank (or blame) Urban Milwaukee, who championed the project from the get-go.
11. Voces de la Frontera
Though Voces de la Frontera began as a bilingual newspaper in Austin, Texas, the group has been a Milwaukee-area staple since the late ’90s. Describing itself as a “community organization led by low-wage workers, immigrants and youth whose mission is to protect and expand civil rights and workers’ rights through leadership development, community organizing and empowerment,” Voces de la Frontera is a much-needed voice of advocacy and social justice in a world that seems to be constantly teetering on the edge.
12. Bob Uecker
Out of alphabetical order, but whatever. Bob Uecker is the best. Bob Uecker forever.