For more than five decades, Alverno Presents has pollinated the city with some of the most original and rewarding performing arts in the world. International music and dance have long been staples of Alverno’s seasons, though many shows wouldn’t feel out of place in a sweltering Milwaukee rock club. That’s been especially true in recent years: One-time-only events like the folk-leaning “Nick Sanborn: Lend Me Your Voice,” the hip-hop/jazz/rock/experimental mash-up “Unlooped Vs. Marvin Gaye,” and the post-rock pondering of “Death Blues (No Time Like The Present)” gave local artists a chance to explore some heady ideas in a way that was both thought-provoking and accessible. Add to Alverno’s recent greatest hits a traveling punk vaudeville troupe, a live score for a silent Soviet film, and a variety show dedicated to answering the question of life, the universe, and everything, and you’ve got a performing arts series that’s anything but predictable or stuffy.

For its 55th season, Alverno Presents continues to break the performance art mold, with shows dedicated to the music of Patti Smith, the career of Quincy Jones, and a fictional town called “Piddletractor.” A few Alverno alums make return appearances, too, including Milwaukee drummer Jon Mueller and Nashville guitarist William Tyler. Before the series kicks off its 55th season this Sunday at the Lynden Sculpture Garden, with two site-specific performances from the Trisha Brown Dance Company, Milwaukee Record looks ahead and rounds up six Alverno Presents shows you’d be insane to miss.

September 13, 2014
Global Union at Humboldt Park
Bidding adieu to summer can be tough, especially considering summer lasts all of three months. Happily, Alverno’s annual Global Union fest makes the end of the season go down a lot easier. For the past nine years, the world-music fest has set up shop in Bay View’s Humboldt Park and thrown Milwaukee a diverse and dance-happy (and free!) goodbye party to summer. Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars, Calypso Rose with Kobo Town, Abigail Washburn’s Wu-Force, and Argentine’s La Yegros are scheduled to perform at this year’s installment. Wu-Force, in particular, with a sound somewhere between Bjork and The Flaming Lips, should be terrific.

October 18, 2014
Smith Uncovered at Pitman Theatre
Some of Alverno Presents’ best shows have found local artists tackling and reinterpreting the music of their heroes. In “Beautiful Dreamer: The Foster Project,” Juniper Tar’s Ryan Schleicher looked to the influential Americana of Stephen Foster; in “Unlooped Vs. Marvin Gaye,” 88Nine’s Tarik Moody called on a diverse cast of musicians to reimagine Gaye’s Here, My Dear. For 2014, Testa Rosa’s Betty Strigens takes on the music of punk pioneer Patti Smith. She won’t be alone: members of Die Kreuzen, Hello Death, and Nineteen Thirteen will be on hand, as well as Faythe Levine, Karl Paloucek, and Mark Waldoch.

January 31, 2015
Death Blues: Ensemble at Pitman Theatre
When he’s not busy drumming for Volcano Choir, Jon Mueller tends to brood on the meaning of life, death, and the impermanence of time. You know, the small stuff. Mueller’s multi-disciplinary, teeth-rattling Death Blues project is about a lot of things, but its main concern is about being present in the moment, and meditating on the fleeting nature of that moment. Since premiering for Alverno Presents in 2012, Death Blues has taken many forms—a gorgeous book and record set will soon be released on Mueller’s Rhythmplex label—but it remains best as a live performance full of booming, primal post-rock. For the three-movement “Ensemble,” Mueller will be joined by fellow explorers Fred Lonberg-Holm, Jaime Fennelly, Jim Warchol, Marielle Allschwang, and Nathaniel Heuer.

March 7, 2015
Joe Westerlund: Grandma Sparrow & His Piddletractor Orchestra at Pitman Theatre
Last season’s “Nick Sanborn: Lend Me Your Voice” featured the former Milwaukeean collaborating on stage with some of his musical friends in real time (including fellow Sylvan Esso member Amelia Meath). One of the stranger moments of the show came courtesy of “Grandma Sparrow,” a.k.a. Megafaun drummer Joe Westerlund. A delightfully batty mix between whacked-out music and wide-eyed character performance—think the Beach Boys’ Smile crossed with Captain Kangaroo or Sid and Marty Krofft—Westerlund’s alter ego was funny, weird, and (happily) never too precious. Grandma Sparrow returns in 2015 for a full performance that includes an eight-piece band, strings, horns, and a children’s choir. Buckle up, kiddies.

March 21, 2015
William Tyler at Alverno’s Chapel of Mary Immaculate
Another alum of Sanborn’s show, William Tyler, makes his Alverno Presents return in 2015. A former touring member of bands like Lambchop and Silver Jews, Tyler set out on his own in 2010 with an instrumental album filled with his bold, knotty, and beautiful electric guitar work. Last year’s excellent Impossible Truth for Merge Records continues Tyler’s journey. His performance was a highlight amongst highlights in Sanborn’s show; the chance to see him perform in Alverno’s Chapel of Mary Immaculate should absolutely not be missed.

April 11, 2015
Jones Uncovered at Pitman Theatre
Last season, Tarik Moody’s “Unlooped Vs. Marvin Gaye” focused its attention on a single album, Gaye’s Here, My Dear. In 2015, Jordan Lee’s “Jones Uncovered” will attempt to pay tribute to the entire body of work of legendary producer/composer Quincy Jones. That’s easier said than done, as Jones has worked with some of the biggest names in American popular music: Michael Jackson, Ray Charles, Frank Sinatra, Stevie Wonder, and Miles Davis, just to name a few. Luckily, a murderers’ row of local talent will be on hand to help Lee out, including Dave Wake, Klassik, and members of the Rusty Ps and De La Buena.

About The Author

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Co-Founder and Editor

Matt Wild weighs between 140 and 145 pounds. He lives on Milwaukee's east side.