Thanksgiving is a time for taking stock of the year gone by; stuffing your face; and participating in an elaborate, multi-family holiday bowling tournament that has gone on for seven years now, and involves detailed stats, team captains, longstanding rivalries, and severely discounted pitchers of Coors Light. (Just us on the last one? Okay.) For Milwaukee, it’s also a perfect time to give thanks for the many, many things that make the city a wonderful (if sometimes frustrating) place to live. Here are seven of them.
What’s better than one listener-supported local radio station? Two listener-supported local radio stations, of course. 88Nine and WMSE have long provided Milwaukee with a musical pulse that can’t be beat. Each station has its own specific flavor—88Nine servicing the on-the-bubble indie music of the day, WMSE providing a more freeform experience—but both have one thing in common: support of local music. It’s a testament to the strength of Milwaukee’s music and music-fan scene that the city can support these left-of-the-dial resources.
2. Alverno Presents
When it comes to the performing arts, the words “challenging” and “adventurous” usually translate to “How quickly will this be over?” But Alverno Presents—the perennial performing arts series of Alverno College—puts an accessible, populist spin on its oft-unclassifiable shows and programs. Even better, it adds plenty of local flavor and talent. This year’s “Smith Uncovered” found Testa Rosa frontwoman Betty Strigens presiding over a who’s-who of Milwaukee musicians interpreting the music and words of punk icon Patti Smith. (It followed similar local-talent showcases dedicated to Stephen Foster and Marvin Gaye.) Up next for Alverno Presents is the return of Jon Mueller’s Death Blues concern, followed soon after by a tribute to the career of Quincy Jones curated by Jordan Lee.
3. Mayor Barrett
If this Tracklist had been compiled a few weeks ago, Milwaukee mayor Tom Barrett wouldn’t be anywhere near it. More notable for being a double-loser to Scott Walker than anything resembling a visionary city leader, Barrett has long been the definition of a nice but largely uninspiring politician. But all that changed last week when the mayor unveiled a bold plan for the city’s contentious and endangered streetcar system. To the delight of public transportation supporters, Barrett’s plan calls for the starter system of the streetcar line to be under construction by next year. Expect the Downtown boon to continue growing, and the Bob Donovan press releases to continue flying.
4. Milwaukee Film
Something funny is happening to Milwaukee: all the once-dicey boasts of being a “world-class city” are finally coming true. Credit Milwaukee Film, and the ridiculously great Milwaukee Film Festival, for that sea change. For the past six years, Milwaukee Film has slowly made the city a friendly place for film lovers, all while its membership has grown to staggering, nation-high numbers. As for the festival, it’s simply one of the best events of the year, screening hundreds of films, putting on dozens of events, and infusing the East Side with a shot of cinematic and musical life.
5. Oriental Theatre
Let’s stick with the East Side and movies. The eclectic neighborhood has been going through some big changes as of late (hello, East Library), but one thing that remains the same is the nearly 90-year-old Oriental Theatre. The word “gem” gets tossed around a lot these days, but the Oriental truly lives up to the word. Just bring back the monthly midnight screenings of The Room, and we’re golden.
6. Pabst Theater/Turner Hall Ballroom/Riverside Theater
It’s cute when the occasional online commenter claims Milwaukee loses out on big-ticket concerts to Madison and Chicago, because it proves they haven’t been to a show since the rise of the Pabst/Turner/Riverside trifecta. The very best in music and comedy have a home in Milwaukee, and the city is infinitely better off for it.
7. Urban Milwaukee
Speaking of that whole streetcar thing, no one in town does a better job of covering that project—and a myriad of other city-nerd issues—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). The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel may be going through some early death throes, but Urban Milwaukee is going strong.