On Monday, April 14, Milwaukeeans young and old will join as one, raise their voices to the heavens, and celebrate the greatest holiday to be based on an area code. Yes, Milwaukee Day is back—bigger, better, and more civic-minded than ever. What began as a Facebook page and a goofy coincidence (4/14 = 414) has turned into an honest-to-goodness, city-approved celebration of all things right and just in Milwaukee. A faux-holiday? Not if you’ve ever celebrated Sweetest Day.
So how does one do it up for Milwaukee Day? What does one wear? What does one drink? Because Milwaukee Day decorations seem to go up earlier and earlier every year, Milwaukee Record spoke to organizers Brent Gohde and Rachel Fell to get some local-pride pointers. (Fellow organizers Andy Silverman and Timm Gable were presumably busy prepping for the 4/14 Brewers-Cardinals game, where Silverman will throw out the first pitch.)
1. Celebrate Milwaukee Month
Lest you think a celebration of all things Milwaukee could be contained to just one day, the universe has conspired to turn April 2014 (4/14 again!) into Milwaukee Month. Fittingly, there’ll be plenty of action leading up to the 14th. On Friday, April 11, Great Lakes Distillery will play host to a “Maximum Milwaukee” party, featuring music from the city’s finest semi-ironic cover band (Summertime Dudes), a Milwaukee-themed costume contest (someone do John Gurda, please), food trucks, drink specials, a Yelp photo booth, and more. The following night, Milwaukee Day organizers will curate a short film festival at The Hotel Foster.
Ultimately, though, Milwaukee Month/Day is more a DIY celebration than a series of sanctioned parties. “A huge part of this whole thing is having Milwaukeeans participate and act of their own accord,” Fell explains. “And for the ‘Milwaukee record,’ I believe that to be something that’s truly beautiful about Milwaukee in general. We want to encourage autonomous, positive action in the city.”
2. Explore your city
Milwaukee’s established neighborhoods and trendy hotspots receive plenty of love throughout the year, but there remains a vast, largely unheralded city left to explore. Milwaukee Day will shine a light on the city’s many vital neighborhoods with events like “Made on King Drive” on Sunday, April 13, featuring a block cleanup, mural unveiling, and brat cookout on Dr. Martin Luther King Drive.
“This year we’ve been able to partner with neighborhood associations such as Harambee and Menomonee Valley to produce some events that are in areas with which many Milwaukeeans may not be familiar,” Gohde says. “It’s about doing and acting, and really getting to know our city, top to bottom.”
“We wanted to showcase that Milwaukee is about more than just the culture along the lakeshore,” Fell says. “There are tons of great organizations around town that are working to bolster under-represented neighborhoods. These areas are rich culturally and boast tons of great local businesses that deserve attention, even if they’re not always in the proverbial spotlight.”
3. Enjoy some of the best bands from Milwaukee’s past (and present)
Milwaukee Day proper includes a can’t-miss show at Turner Hall, featuring two gone-but-not-forgotten bands reuniting for one night, and one night only. The once-mighty Decibully will be playing for the first time in more than three years, with members flying in from all corners of the country for the one-off occasion. Juniper Tar has only been apart since last fall, but the band’s soulful, harmony-rich sound has been sorely missed. Joining the fun will be one of the city’s best current bands, Whips, along with the Brew City Bruisers, comedian Tim Higgins and The Midnite Show, and—last but not least—Mondo Lucha.
4. Tweet some Milwaukee-related shit
Twitter is lousy with would-be comedians, so why not use Milwaukee Day as an excuse to fire off some Brew City-centric jokes with a #mkeday or #mkemonth hashtag? (Be sure to follow @ChrisSchully on the 14th to see how it’s done.)
“Milwaukee Day works because so many of us have shared experiences, having lived here our whole lives,” Gohde says. “It’s small enough that big events are momentous and resonate, whether it’s the Brewers in the World Series or cryptosporidium. People should tweet about how they’re celebrating Milwaukee Day/Month, some Milwaukee memories, or specials they’re running at their locally owned businesses.”
5. Look to the future (but embrace the absurdity of the past)
The only thing more tired than the “Milwaukee is more than beer and Happy Days!” trope is complaining about the “Milwaukee is more than beer and Happy Days!” trope. Milwaukee Day is all about embracing everything the city has to offer—the good and the dopey. “We love this city a lot, warts and all,” Gohde says. “So if people love the Bronze Fonz, then let ’em love it. We won’t tell them not to. Listen to Danny Gokey, drink terrible beer—just as long as you’re having fun and staying safe.”
For Fell, Milwaukee Day is also about looking forward. “Milwaukee has a rich history and a bright, yet still-uncertain future. That’s why we’ve added events and components to the endeavor that are less about the Fonz, etc., and more about issues that are of real concern, like neighborhood identity and cohesion.”
“We love our city and want to improve and change it for the better,” she adds, “but we have to poke fun at ourselves a little bit, too.”
Visit the Milwaukee Day website for a complete schedule of events.