Even though it’s already snowed a few times, the daylight hours have dwindled significantly, and the Packers are mathematically eliminated from playoff contention, it’s technically not even winter yet. Yes, the season will officially begin this Friday. Though winter’s arrival officially ushers in a cold, harsh, and emotionally-testing epoch of inactivity that lasts until mid-March, Milwaukee has made sure to combat the seasonal doldrums with a ton of great shows in recent years.
This winter is no different, as the city will be abuzz with a steady helping of top-tier touring comedians and bands, stacked local shows, unique benefits, movie screenings, and even a festival or two thrown in for flavor. If the prospect of another Wisconsin winter has you down in the dumps, here are 21 standout events that might help warm your spirit.
Friday, December 21
Rhett Miller + Trapper Schoepp @ The Back Room at Colectivo
Though you probably know him better as the singer of Old 97’s, Rhett Miller has plied his songwriting skills into a respectable solo career, too. For the second time in less than nine months, the crooner will drop by The Back Room @ Colectivo to play material from his seven solo records and, with any luck, stripped-down versions of Old 97’s classics.
Buffalo Gospel + Joseph Huber, and Erik Koskinen @ The Cooperage
It’s been quite a year for Buffalo Gospel. Following a lengthy break between records and significant lineup changes in the process, the Milwaukee country outfit truly returned to form in 2018 with On The First Bell. Not only is the long-awaited record is one of the year’s best local releases, it’s also garnered praise from national publications, earned the band slots on respected festivals and in support of touring talent, and brought the band to new stages in faraway places—including a run of shows in Nashville. Before what looks to be an even bigger 2019, the band will big adieu to their breakout annual with a headlining set at The Cooperage. The great Joseph Huber will play in support, along with Erik Koskinen.
Kurt Vile And The Violators + Jessica Pratt @ Turner Hall
In took some time, but Kurt Vile And The Violators finally made their long-awaited Milwaukee debut with an altogether satisfying Pabst Theater outing in early 2016. Now, roughly two months after the release of his excellent Bottle It In, Vile and his Violators will return to downtown Milwaukee to headline a holiday-adjacent affair at Turner Hall. Jessica Pratt opens.
Saturday, December 22
The Eradicator + Population Control, No Question, and Curbsitter @ Cactus Club
The Eradicator is a punk project based on a masked, squash racket-wielding Kids In The Hall character by the same name. Okay, so it’s technically a Chicago band, but there are Milwaukee members involved as well. Nowthat we’ve had a few months to recover from their unforgettable Bay View Bash set, The Eradicator will return to the Milwaukee neighborhood to headline a loaded Cactus Club bill that also features Population Control, No Question, and Curbsitter.
Holiday Special @ The Cooperage
L’Resorts is the new project from Martha Cannon (of Lady Cannon) and Vincent Kircher (Jaill). The tropical pop duo announced its presence (or presents?!) in particularly festive fashion last week when they released its four-song Christmas Is A Time For Dreaming EP. You can hear holiday-themed songs from L’Resorts and a range of other local artists like Mark Waldoch, Testa Rosa, Barry Clark, Chris Rosenau, Lex Allen, Caley Conway, Joe Crockett, and more during a December 22 “Holiday Special” show at The Cooperage.
Friday, December 28
Whips + New Age Narcissism, and Devils Teeth @ The Cooperage
What’s to say? This is just an incredible local lineup. Don’t miss it.
Saturday, December 29 and Monday, December 31
Horseshoes & Hand Grenades + Chicken Wire Empire, Sarah Vos, and Adam Greuel @ Miller Caves (12/29) and Pabst Theater (12/31)
Wisconsin bluegrass mainstay and Central Waters beer inspiration Horseshoes & Hand Grenades is known to close out each year with a memorable show in Milwaukee. This time around, the band will perform two late-December shows in a pair of drastically different venues. First, HHG will play an intimate show in the Miller Caves (this sold out almost instantly, unfortunately) before taking the stage for a New Year’s Eve performance at Pabst Theater. Chicken Wire Empire, Sarah Vos of Dead Horses notoriety, and Horseshoes & Hand Grenades member Adam Greuel will play in support.
Monday, December 31
Shane Mauss @ The Underground Collaborative
Western Wisconsin native Shane Mauss grew up near La Crosse, but actually got his stand-up start in Boston before winding up in Los Angeles and bringing his act to comedy clubs throughout the country. When he wasn’t performing hundreds of show a year, Mauss released a Comedy Central Presents special and two albums, performed on Conan (five times!), and found his material evolving considerably. The comedian will return to his home state to perform at The UC for the second time in three months. Before closing out the year with this show, you can learn more about Mauss’ background, his growth, and his life as a road comic by listening to his episode of our On The Record podcast.
Saturday, January 5
Abby Jeanne (album release) + Saebra & Carlyle @ Turner Hall
How does Abby Jeanne follow up a year that included a four-show “Fire In February” residency, a WMSE Record Store Day 7-inch, a flurry of high-profile festival gigs, a well-deserved $20,000 Backline grant, a successful “Cosmic Weekend” in her honor, and an awesome holiday single? Why, with a new album and a release show at Turner Hall! Join the prolific Milwaukee talent as she officially releases her long-awaited Music Box Dancer into the world.
Friday, January 11
Brendan Kelly + Sincere Engineer (solo) + TBA @ Cactus Club
Brendan Kelly is the best. While you certainly know and love the Chicago punk legend and former Slapstick and Broadways member’s modern-day work in The Lawrence Arms, The Falcon, and on his hilariously bleak Nihilist Arby’s Twitter account, you might be happy to know that Kelly also has an outlet for his solo material. A few months after that solo venture—Brendan Kelly And The Wandering Birds—released Keep Walkin’ Pal, Kelly will make his return to Milwaukee after, like, 500 years away to play a solo show in the intimate confines of Cactus Club. Red Scare labelmates and Chicago’s own Sincere Engineer will also be part of this can’t-miss winter affair.
Friday, January 18
Local Coverage 2019 @ Turner Hall
Following four years of fun philanthropy, Milwaukee Record’s Local Coverage benefit will return to Turner Hall Ballroom in early 2019. On Friday, January 18, an eclectic cast of seven local acts from all corners of the stylistic spectrum will each play 15-minute sets, covering material of artists they personally selected from the pool of participating projects. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity to see your favorite Milwaukee outfits as you’ve never seen them before. From Direct Hit! adapting the music of Nickel&Rose, Paper Holland re-imagining Immortal Girlfriend, and Amanda Huff covering LUXI shortly after LUXI gives an electronic re-dressing to the ska stylings of Something To Do, Local Coverage is an incomparable event for a great cause. All proceeds will be donated to Milwaukee Women’s Center. HERE is the full lineup.
Erykah Badyu @ The Rave
If Local Coverage isn’t your thing, perhaps the legendary Erykah Badyu’s first Milwaukee show in 14 years is more your speed. We wouldn’t blame you if you missed our benefit show for this rare opportunity to see her.
Wednesday, January 23
Milwaukee Record presents MacGruber @ Avalon Theater
We know what you’re thinking. As you read this, we’re sure you’re wondering to yourself, “Wait, isn’t MacGruber based on a bad, one-note Saturday Night Live sketch?” and “Wasn’t MacGruber a box office bust that was critically panned at the time of its release?” And, yes, both those things are true. Of course, if you’ve ever seen MacGruber, you absolutely understand why we’re going to screen it at Avalon Theater on Wednesday, January 23. It’s goddamn hilarious. If you missed it in theaters, you now have a chance to see MacGruber on the big screen. If you’ve never seen it, you’re in for a treat! Don’t make us beg. We’ll do it.
Friday, February 1
Nate Bargatze @ Turner Hall
With all due respect to Chris D’Elia, he won’t be the funniest person performing in downtown Milwaukee the first night of February. That honor goes to Nate Bargatze, a Tennessee-born comedian and a rising star in stand-up. His ascent will continue with what’s sure to be an unforgettable show at Turner Hall. While others are watching D’Elia a few blocks away, treat yourself to a great show and, likely, bragging rights when you watch this up-and-coming humorist do his thing in a relatively intimate setting.
Saturday, February 2
Mitten Fest @ Burnhearts
After New Year’s festivities have come and gone, folks in Milwaukee are forced to come to terms with the harsh realization that winter is here in full force and there’s not much to do outside. Fortunately, on the horizon there sits an eight-hour respite from the seasonal doldrums that offers an outdoor escape from the norm every February. For the past six years, Burnhearts’ Mitten Fest has helped combat cabin fever for thousands of people who converge in a two-block stretch on Bay View’s Potter Avenue (and part of Logan Avenue lately) with a wintry mix of live music, food, beverages, and charity. The lineup hasn’t been released yet, but we know it’s going to be a delight.
Trapper Schoepp (album release) + Nineteen Thirteen @ The Back Room at Colectivo
A few months removed from making national news with a co-writing credit on song with Bob Dylan, Trapper Schoepp will release that song and more material on his latest album, Primetime Illusion. Trapper will be joined by Nineteen Thirteen.
Friday, February 8
Interpol + Sunflower Beam @ Pabst Theater
Interpol rules. Interpol just put out a new record that rules. Interpol rarely comes to Milwaukee. Interpol will be playing at Pabst Theater in February. That rules.
Thursday, February 14
Jackie Kashian @ The Underground Collaborative
Since leaving her hometown of South Milwaukee, Jackie Kashian has sustained a long and successful career in comedy that includes a Comedy Central special, a couple Conan appearances, and being on what could be the most tense episode of Pete Holmes’ You Made It Weird podcast. Over the summer, Kashian came back to her old stomping grounds as part of the Lady Parts Justice League tour. On Valentine’s Day, she’ll return to headline an Underground Collaborative bill that’s also loaded with local talent.
Milo + Pink Navel, and SB The Moor @ Cactus Club
Milwaukee expat Rory Ferreira will return to his former hometown during what he’s calling the last U.S. tour for his inimitable and influential Milo project. You should never miss a chance to see Milo, especially if it might be your last chance to catch him live.
Friday, February 22
Colter Wall @ Turner Hall
The pride of rural Saskatchewan, 23-year-old Colter Wall has both the voice and the material of a much older man. Following 2017’s eponymous breakout album and a sold-out show at The Back Room @ Colectivo, the folk phenom will bring his rock-polished voice and beyond-his-years musicianship to Turner Hall.
Sunday, March 10
WMSE’s Rockabilly Chili Fundraiser @ Kern Center
Since the early aughts, WMSE has assembled the city’s most skilled chili connoisseurs to vie for prizes in but a few categories during its annual Rockabilly Chili fundraiser. This year, more than 60 restaurants, bars, and cafes will compete. As chili season’s conclusion is nigh, end it in the best way imaginable.