Is there anything better than summer in Milwaukee? No, no there is not. For four months out of the year, Milwaukee becomes a warm and joyous place stocked with an improbable number of summer festivals, street parties, and general outdoor-drinking mayhem. Looking for a guide to this year’s summer fun? Look no further.
Cream City Comedy Festival @ various locations
Founded by up-and-coming Chicago comics, Milwaukee comedy scene expats Sammy Arechar and Liz Ziner, as well as Vermont transplant Phil Davidson, the inaugural Cream City Comedy Festival brings more than 60 of the Midwest’s funniest independent comedians to nine venues in four neighborhoods for 11 shows between Thursday, May 12 and Sunday, May 15. Better yet, every show is absolutely FREE.
Saturdays, May 14-September 10
Bay View Art In The Park @ Humboldt Park
Every Saturday throughout the summer, a rotating cast of more than 50 Milwaukee area painters, jewelers, ceramic artists, photographers, and more showcase and sell their work at Bay View’s Humboldt Park. Browse some locally made renderings whilst enjoying food, music, art, and the nearby St. Francis Brewery Beer Garden.
Brewtown Rumble @ Pabst Brewery
Milwaukee is steeped in motorcycle culture—perhaps you’ve heard of Harley-Davidson?—and recent years have seen a welcome resurgance of homegrown bike shows and races. Mere months after Mama Tried’s Flat Out Friday at the UW-Milwaukee Panther Arena comes the 2nd annual Brewtown Rumble, a ride-in vintage motorcycle show complete with music, food, vendors, and the Brewcity Bombshells. The free fun kicks off at 11 a.m. outside the former Pabst Brewery. (Don’t forget the pre-party the night before at the Harley-Davidson Museum, featuring the music of Soul Low.)
Gloss Weekend @ various locations
Milwaukee is currently home to many DIY record labels, and one of the best is Gloss Records. Founded in February 2015 by Harrison Colby (NO/NO) and Joe Peterson (Rio Turbo, Platinum Boys), Gloss has spent the past year releasing (mostly) cassettes from groups like GGOOLLDD, Lorde Fredd33, Marielle Allschwang, Soul Low, D’Amato, (ORB), and Surgeons In Heat, as well as Colby and Peterson’s projects. The small-run label celebrates its first year in a big way with Gloss Weekend, a three-day blowout featuring sets from Gloss artists, and more.
Tasty Fest @ various locations
Tasty Tapes was created in 2015 by musicians Phil Hoge and Jeff Grabo, who were looking for a home for their bands Filter Free Rodeo and The Rashita Joneses. With Tasty Fest, the duo is clearly looking to spread the good word about their label—and giving Milwaukee a chance to see some of its best local artists over the course of one weekend is a hell of a way to do it. Everyone from Klassik and Tigernite to Sat. Nite Duets and Body Futures are scheduled to perform.
Thursdays, June 2-September 1
Jazz In The Park @ Cathedral Square Park
What would summer in Milwaukee be without Jazz In The Park? Love it or avoid it, this free music series has been bringing bodies to Cathedral Square Park since 1991, and has been inspiring those bodies to creatively get around the “no carry-ins” policy since 2009. Milwaukee Soul and the Charles Walker Band open and close the series’ 25th season, respectively, though we’re most looking forward to WMSE’s own Paul Cebar and his Tomorrow Sound on August 25.
Bay View Gallery Night/Jazz Fest @ various locations
For the third year running, the organizers of Bay View Gallery Night are making their summer installment two fests for the price of one. (That price, incidentally, is free.) Joining forces with Bay View Jazz Fest, BVGN features over 50 neighborhood businesses hosting oodles of artists and musicians. Highlights include the always-excellent Maker Market in the parking lot of the Bay View Colectivo, Black Eagle Child and Midwives performing at Acme Records, and an after-party at Frank’s Power Plant featuring Bad Wig, Estates, and Electric Pariah.
Beer Barons’ World Of Beer Festival @ Schwabenhof Pavilion
Entering its 13th year, Beer Barons’ World Of Beer Festival has so much dad-pop on hand, it has to stretch to Menomonee Falls to fit it all in. Last year’s festivities at the Schwabenhof Pavilion featured literally hundreds of craft brews (more than 350, to be exact-ish) from some microbrew heavy hitters like Goose Island, New Holland, Lagunitas, and Founder’s, as well as established in-state outfits like Central Waters, 3 Sheeps, New Glarus, Brenner Brewing, and Ale Asylum.
Milwaukee Highland Games/Scottish Fest @ Hart Park
If you plan on attending only one summer festival featuring a hammer throw and a shitload of sheepdogs, why not make it the annual Milwaukee Highland Games? The celebration of all things Scottish returns to Wauwatosa’s Hart Park for a full day of food, music, demonstrations, feats of strength, and plenty of bagpipes.
Milwaukee Taco Fest @ Harley-Davidson Museum
The third annual Milwaukee Taco Fest finds itself setting up shop at the Harley-Davidson Museum in 2016. Presented by SWARMM Events (creators of Milwaukee’s Shamrock Shuffle), the fest aims to “[bring] together local Milwaukee restaurants for a day of taco tasting, tequila, margaritas, cervezas and tons of great entertainment.” Lucha libre wrestling, a taco-eating contest, and a Chihuahua beauty pageant are also promised. General admission tickets are $13, and tickets for the actual tacos are $2. Controversy over Milwaukee Taco Fest is free.
Tuesdays, June 7-August 30
Chill On The Hill @ Humboldt Park
It’s amazing that Chill On The Hill has only been around for 11 years. The concept of the mid-week Bay View occurrence is so simple: laying out on a blanket and imbibing food and beverages brought from home (or purchased from a series of vendors on site) whilst enjoying a diverse bevy of homegrown talent. With a stacked 2016 lineup, we’re sure there’s something for most every taste under the Humboldt Park amphitheater at least one Tuesday this summer.
Wednesdays, June 8-August 31
River Rhythms @ Pere Marquette Park
When marketing people talk about “activating space,” they’re basically describing what events like River Rhythms do every year: make something happen in an area that doesn’t usually see a lot of action. (In this case, Pere Marquette Park.) The lineup for this year’s free music series includes some reliable standbys like King Solomon (June 22) and 5 Card Studs (August 3), as well as more unexpected acts like Soul Low (June 15) and New Age Narcissism (July 13). Music begins at 6:30 p.m.
PrideFest Milwaukee @ Henry Maier Festival Park
What better way to (officially) kick off Milwaukee’s festival season than PrideFest Milwaukee? Not only is the LGBT celebration the first summer festival of the season to set up shop on the lakefront, it’s one of the best. Sarah Silverman headlines the Friday lineup, while Blondie and Milwaukee’s own GGOOLLDD close out the fest on Sunday. Also, look for an all-local stage of music and comedy curated by none other than Milwaukee Record.
Filth Fest 4
While PrideFest is raging across town, the fourth iteration of Filth Fest brings about a convergence of punk mentalities, grass roots music and art, and a self-described “political subversion” that—to quote organizers—”create an inclusive, intentionally Queer space showcasing Queer voices while raising money for local Queer organizations.” An eclectic lineup that ranges from Youth Crush to Chakara Blue to Gauss to a laundry list of acts from all corners of the country will play at Club Timbuktu, Falcon Bowl, and Riverwest Tattoo for the benefit of GSAFE, a Wisconsin-based LGBTQ+ organization, as part of “Milwaukee’s Queer Punk Fest.”
Locust Street Festival Of Music And Art @ Locust Street
Returning for its 40th (!) year, the annual Locust Street shindig is one of the city’s best street fests, celebrating all that is good, right, and drum circle-y in Riverwest. The ever-popular 1.8-mile Beer Run kicks things off at 11:30 a.m., followed by eight hours of music, food, drinks, crafts, and stellar people-watching. The musical lineup has yet to be announced, so we can only repeat the fest’s slogan: “No dogs. No carry-ins. No drama.”
June 15; July 13; August 17; September 14
Newaukee Night Market @ Wisconsin Avenue
“Placemaking” projects come and go, but Newaukee’s wildly successful Night Market series proves that good ideas are just that: good ideas. For four Wednesday’s out of the year, W. Wisconsin Ave. is transformed into a party-slash-arts-and-crafts-fair, giving the city’s creatives a venue to shine, and the oft-deserted stretch of downtown real estate a chance to show its viability.
Polish Fest @ Henry Maier Festival Park
Milwaukee has the fourth-largest Polish population in the U.S., so it’s no surprise that the annual Polish Fest bills itself as America’s largest. With that being said, it’s one of the more unassuming cultural fests to take over the Summerfest grounds, which, when you consider the insanity that grips the lakefront three months out of the year, is a good thing. Traditional Polish cuisine and culture are on the menu for the 35th annual fest, along with polka, perogies, more polka, fireworks, somehow more polka, and beer with some type of cherry syrup in it for a slight up-charge.
Lakefront Festival Of Art @ Milwaukee Art Museum
Milwaukee Art Museum’s Lakefront Festival Of Art has always been one of the city’s classier summer festivals—no beer runs or zany street performers here! Still, per Milwaukee summer festival regulations, there will be plenty of beer, wine, and food to go along with some great live music, as well as the work of over 170 regional artists. Look for the music lineup soon.
Wisconsin Beer Lovers Festival @ Bayshore Town Center
If you’re looking to mix summer festivals, beer, food, and shopping—all in a shopping mall/town square hybrid—then the Wisconsin Beer Lovers Festival is for you. More than 40 Wisconsin breweries are pouring more than 100 samples to be paired with local food and cheeses this year at the Bayshore Town Center. Poking around the Board Game Barrister while nursing an afternoon buzz isn’t part of the fest, though we highly recommend it.
Summer Soulstice Music Festival @ North Avenue
For the past 16 years, the East Side’s annual Summer Soulstice Music Festival has celebrated the first day of summer with music, food, drinks, general North Avenue revelry, and that one guy who always shows up carrying a giant lizard. Sure, some Milwaukeeans may see the East Side as the drunk, boat-shoe-wearing doofus to Bay View and Riverwest’s agreeably bearded cool kid, but the neighborhood still knows how to throw a party. Space Raft, Brothers By Choice, Foreign Goods, Klassik, Soul Low, Lex Allen, Queen Tut, NO/NO, Brett Newski, Cree Myles, and more are set to perform.
Garlic Fest @ Braise
Summer in Milwaukee is a lot of things, but pleasant-smelling it isn’t, what with all the sweat and garbage cans teeming with plastic Miller Lite cups. Add to that stinky list Braise’s annual Garlic Fest, which returns for its fifth year in 2016. Enjoy garlic-rific food from a host of Walker’s Point restaurants, garlic-themed games for kids, live music, beer, Bloody Marys, art, and complementary Altoids. (Not really on that last one, but c’mon, Braise, you should totally do that.)
June 29-July 3; July 5-10
Summerfest @ Henry Maier Festival Park
Fast approaching its 50th year, The Big Gig™ has entered the age where it gets into what all those youngsters are listening to these days. It suits it well. This year’s Fest includes big-ticket Marcus Amphitheater headliners like Paul McCartney, Sting and Peter Gabriel, Selena Gomez, and Blink-182, as well as a grounds stage lineup that’s equal parts awesome (Willie Nelson and Kris Kristofferson, “Weird Al” Yankovic, Ryan Adams) and delightfully random (Alice Cooper and Johnny Depp’s new band). Add in some Pizza-Cones, snap dancing moms, pre-recorded music, and about 685 more bands, and it’s a recipe for 11 days of fun on the lakefront.
Burnhearts/Pabst Street Party @ Burnhearts
Each summer of Burnhearts’ existence, the Bay View beer bastion has simultaneously celebrated summer and one of the most iconic (formerly) Milwaukee-made beers with the annual Burnhearts/Pabst Street Party. Past installments have found acts like Sylvan Esso, GGOOLLDD, Klassik, Platinum Boys, Collections Of Colonies Of Bees, and more taking the stage at the corner of Logan and Potter avenues. The lineup for the ninth annual Burnhearts/Pabst Street Party will be announced soon.
Wednesdays, July 6-August 17
Wonderful Wednesdays @ Lake Park
Family-friendly fun may be the name of the game for this free concert series on Lake Park’s Summer Stage, but the music isn’t all Raffi-esque. Milwaukee’s Extra Crispy Brass Band (July 6) and Charles Walker Band (August 10) play alongside more kiddie fare like Ms. Jen And The Jellyfish (July 13) and Fox And Branch (August 17). Music begins at 6:30 p.m.
Mondays, July 11-August 29
Musical Mondays @ Lake Park
Along with Wonderful Wednesdays, the Summer Stage in Lake Park plays host to Musical Mondays for the bulk of summer. The beginning-of-the-week series’ 19th season opens with the woodwind quintet Avec le Bois on July 11, followed by troubadour Tim Burr on July 18 and erhu artist Betti Xiang on July 25. Music begins at 6:30 p.m.
Bastille Days @ Cathedral Square Park
Bastille Days has been a Milwaukee cultural mainstay since the early ’80s. The last three decades have seen the weekend-long festival grow to feature a 5k run, top-tier local music, wine tasting, and delectable foodstuffs, all under the shadow of a 43-foot Eiffel Tower replica. The 35th annual Bastille Days includes music from fest favorites like Robin Pluer, WhiskeyBelles, Brett Newski, Chicken Wire Empire, and more.
South Shore Frolics @ South Shore Drive
A spry 67 years young, the Bay View-based celebration is back with more of the same—but sometimes that’s a good thing. Amid the usual onslaught of classic cars, nightly fireworks, a Friday fish fry, and a Saturday parade, South Shore Drive gets endearingly tacky with the musical accompaniment brought by an array of cover bands. Let’s do this, Strip ‘D: An Acoustic Trip Back To The ’80s Sunset Strip.
Festa Italiana @ Henry Maier Festival Park
Picture what you love most about German Fest and Polish Fest, then add better food and more Dean Martin tribute acts. Toss in some of the best fireworks of the summer and BOOM! Festa Italiana! Oh, and don’t forget an Eagles tribute act, a combination Boston/STYX tribute act (BOSTYX), and the always-popular Bronx Wanderers.
Milwaukee Firkin Beer Fest @ Cathedral Square Park
Already a place where beer is celebrated and enjoyed all year long, Milwaukee also holds specific celebrations for the region’s preferred beverage. Beyond having a name that lends itself to an iffy substitution for the word “fucking,” Firkin Beer Fest features unlimited samples from more than 150 local and national craft breweries and over 40 cask ales, as well as food and live music in Cathedral Square Park. It should be pretty firkin fun. Oops! Typo. It should be pretty fucking fun.
Vans Warped Tour @ Marcus Amphitheater
Milwaukee has been a part of most Warped Tour schedules in the traveling (primarily) pop-punk and ska festival’s 20-year run, including last year’s rendition, which we called “the worst Warped Tour in recent memory.” Fortunately, the lineup for Vans Warped Tour ’16 is worlds better than anything booked in 2015, yet somehow, is still pretty bad. This time around, the 80-act arsenal coming to the festival grounds features respected hip-hop talent like Waka Flocka Flame and PROF. There will be dynasty bands like Good Charlotte, Sum 41, New Found Glory, Yellowcard, Reel Big Fish, Less Than Jake, and Every Time I Die. Even relevant bands of today are involved, such as Knuckle Puck and Madison’s own Masked Intruder.
Riverwest 24 @ Riverwest
VIVA LA RIVERWEST!
German Fest @ Henry Maier Festival Park
You may cringe at out-of-town generalizations that Milwaukeeans mainline beer and bratwursts while jamming out to polka, but that stereotype isn’t entirely without reference points. Our city’s Germanic contingent is undeniable, as Milwaukee was a major landing point for German immigrants in the late 1800s. German Fest, or “Milwaukee’s original haus party,” gives locals a chance to celebrate German-style at Henry Maier Festival Park, with Volksmusik, a sheepshead tournament, a home brewing challenge, a dachshund derby, and yes, brats and beer.
Brady Street Festival @ Brady Street
If you missed the Summer Solstice Music Festival and absolutely need to attend a similar East Side fest (with less emphasis on Earth’s tilt) a few blocks away and a little over a month later, head to Brady Street Festival. The nine-block parcel of shops, restaurants, bars, and juggling emporiums plays host to various local food/beverage and retail vendors, belly dancers, drag performers, and multiple stages worth of local music.
Milwaukee Brewfest @ McKinley Park
Celebrating its seventh year in 2016, Milwaukee Brewfest offers hopheads an opportunity to enjoy unlimited samples from more than 300 craft breweries over the course of four hours. Though the beverage selection hasn’t been announced yet, it’s sure to be worth the (actually pretty reasonable) price of admission. Have we mentioned the lakefront beer bash at McKinley Park offers unlimited beer? Because it totally does.
Milwaukee Comedy Festival @ various locations
The Milwaukee Comedy Festival has been a late-summer fixture in the city since, to be perfectly honest, before Milwaukee even had a viable comedy scene worth celebrating. More than a decade after what was jokingly referred to as “the first annual” fest (since a second wasn’t expected to occur) and the incalculable growth and development of local stand-up, festival founder, co-producer, and Milwaukee comedy godsend Matt Kemple is preparing yet another rib-tickling Milwaukee Comedy Festival in honor of its 11th year.
Wisconsin State Fair @ Wisconsin State Fair Park
You have to give the Wisconsin State Fair credit for its self-awareness. One doesn’t schlep out to ‘Stallis every August to catch cutting-edge bands, eat organic small plate cuisine, and witness especially evocative performance art. People go to the fair to eat cream puffs or random shit with an irresponsible amount of bacon on it, catch performers they faintly recall from a bygone era, and compete in livestock, textile, and horticultural contests. This year’s musical accompaniment includes the likes of Rascal Flatts, Berlin, and a “I Love The ’90s” show featuring Salt-N-Pepa, Color Me Badd, and Coolio.
Center Street Daze @ Center Street
In 2014, stung by a few years of lousy late-summer/early-fall weather, the organizers of Center Street Daze decided to move their fest up to early August. The new date paid off, and what was once a bittersweet end-of-the-season blowout became a dog-days-of-summer celebration. The musical lineup for the 19th annual fest has yet to be announced, though, like Locust Street fest, you can count on it being especially Riverwest-y.
Milwaukee Irish Fest @ Henry Maier Festival Park
If the blur of whisky, corned beef, green beer, and “Blow me, I’m Irish” novelty shirts enjoyed every mid-March isn’t enough Irish heritage for you, Irish Fest strives to extend the celebration into August—without leaning on all the broad/borderline offensive generalizations of St. Paddy’s. Instead, attendees milling about Henry Maier Festival Park can imbibe in popular Irish fare and enjoy a heft of Irish and Celtic music from dozens of acts (both North American and European), including, thankfully, Red Hot Chilli Pipers…again.
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel A La Carte @ Milwaukee County Zoo
What do you get when you combine the Milwaukee County Zoo, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, food from around the city, and live music? The annual and ever-popular “Fest with the Beasts,” that’s what. Finally, your chance to hear chow down on some local food, take in some local music, and watch monkeys quietly groom themselves all at the same time has arrived.
IndiaFest @ Humboldt Park
Authentic (and delicious) Indian food, authentic (and colorful) Indian outfits, and authentic (and terrific) Indian music dominate this mid-summer celebration in Bay View’s Humboldt Park. Launched in 2013, IndiaFest is one of the newer fests on the block, but its low-key vibe and inclusive spirit has already made it a sleeper favorite. Will there also be some Bollywood-inspired dancing? You better believe it.
Mexican Fiesta @ Henry Maier Festival Park
Mexican Fiesta has called Henry Maier Festival Park home almost as long as Summerfest has. Starting on the south side in 1973, the fiesta moved to the lakefront grounds in 1977. The longstanding event is rooted in pillars of community, education, Mexican heritage, and cultural advancement. That’s cool and all, but we’re all about the delicious food and the jalapeño-eating contest. Watching the jalapeño-eating contest, of course, not competing in it.
Indian Summer Festival @ Henry Maier Festival Park
There’s no better way to wind down the summer and prepare for the impending fall than by checking out the final cultural fest on the Summerfest grounds, Indian Summer Festival. Nationally recognized musicians, traditional dancers, hands-on demonstrations, and oodles of arts and crafts highlight this fest, along with festival-mandated fireworks. 2016 marks the fest’s 30th anniversary.
Bay View Bash @ Kinnickinnic Avenue
Bay View Bash is a bittersweet affair. The bitterness is brought by the stinging realization that festival season is over and yet another awful winter is on the way. We’re all going to die and there’s nothing anybody can do about it. Ugh. The sweetness comes with the fun festival finale that’s taken root in the heart of Kinnickinnic Avenue. By this point in the summer, you’ve likely seen many of the acts taking the three stages. But have you seen them while eating an elephant ear? Yes, you say? Oh…
September 22-October 6
Milwaukee Film Festival @ various locations
Since 2009, the Milwaukee Film Festival has transformed Milwaukee from a drab, black-and-white wasteland into a dazzling, Technicolor utopia every fall. (You know, like in The Wizard Of Oz and that one part in Bon Jovi’s “Livin’ On A Prayer” video.) The 15-day extravaganza features hundreds of films lighting up the screens of the Landmark Oriental and Downer theaters, Fox-Bay Cinema Grill, and more. Crowd-pleasing features, all-too-timely social documentaries, plenty of local love, and fucked-up midnight screamers are once again to be expected for the fest’s eighth year.
Fromm Petfest @ Henry Maier Festival park
Want to see the Summerfest grounds go to the dogs? Perhaps you want to check out a fest that’s most decidedly the cat’s meow? Our maybe you’re that lizard guy from Summer Soulstice, and you just want an excuse to take that damn thing out one last time. Whatever the case, the obviously pet-friendly Petfest is for you. Doggie obstacle courses, dock diving, groom rooms, and adoption services highlight this furry function, which finds itself closing out the Milwaukee summer festival in 2016. Woof!