Summertime musical entertainment in Milwaukee typically finds a home at the city’s 8,000 street fests, or, you know, that whole Summerfest thing. But look beyond the temporary street stages and the sea of danceable picnic tables and you’ll find plenty of solid shows to keep you busy all summer long. Here are 21 of them.
J.P. Harris + Eddie Crummer & The Good Land Band @ X-Ray Arcade
A road-hardened neo-country great, Nashville’s J.P. Harris is a rare breed of roots musician who actually did many of the things he chronicles in his songs. The musician, truck driver, construction worker, carpenter, and shepherd spent years living in a cabin with no electricity. If his stories aren’t amazing enough, his music more than makes up for it. Last year’s Sometimes Dogs Bark At Nothing garnered its fair share of critical acclaim on the weight of standout songs like “When I Quit Drinking” and “JP’s Florida Blues #1.” Don’t miss Harris when he headlines an early-summer show at X-Ray Arcade. Eddie Crummer & The Good Land Band opens.
Kiefer Sutherland + Raye Zaragoza @ Shank Hall
“Summerfest is rolling out their great schedule between June 26-July 7,” says a Shank Hall press release, “but they do leave a gap when they close on July 1. Problem solved. Shank Hall is proud to present the return of Kiefer Sutherland.” Problem solved, indeed.
Questlove + DJ Bizzon, Dope Folks Records @ The Cooperage
On July 3, at 9:45 p.m., The Roots will perform at the BMO Harris Pavilion during Summerfest 2019. It’ll be a great show. Then, immediately following the set, Roots drummer Questlove will race over to The Cooperage for a special DJ appearance. It’ll be a great show, too! Questlove’s appearance will be presented by Milwaukee Film’s Black Lens initiative, as part of its Groove Theory program. DJ Bizzon and Dope Folks Records will play in support.
Sarah Shook & The Disarmers + Big Eyes, Sunny War @ Cactus Club
Chapel Hill, North Carolina’s Sarah Shook and her Disarmers bring their bold blend of outlaw country and punk rock sensibilities to the Bay View bar just over a year removed from the release of Years, Shook’s latest and greatest effort on Bloodshot Records.
Ha Ha Tonka + Rx Drugs, Dramatic Lovers @ Pabst Milwaukee Brewery & Taproom
Speaking of Bloodshot Records, Shook’s labelmates, Ha Ha Tonka, come back to Milwaukee to headline a stacked show that also features local support from the likes of Rx Drugs and Dramatic Lovers.
The Raconteurs + Lillie Mae @ The Rave
Mere months after the release of The Raconteurs’ long-awaited third studio album, Help Us Stranger, Jack White, Brendan Benson, Jack Lawrence, and Patrick Keeler will play the sure-to-be-sweaty confines of The Rave. And because White is involved, all phones will be locked in those little Yondr pouches before the show.
Ron Funches + Blair Socci, Gabe Dinger @ Turner Hall Ballroom
Roughly two years removed from throwing cookies and stealing hearts at Turner Hall and just a few months after coming to town with Conan O’Brien, Ron Funches will once again grace Milwaukee with his affable and altogether incomparable comic perspective. If you’ve never had the pleasure of seeing him, change that as soon as possible. If you’ve already watched him, you’ve probably already bought your tickets.
Johnny Pemberton @ The Underground Collaborative
On name alone, you might not be aware of who Johnny Pemberton is. Yet whether you know it or not, you’re surely familiar with his face and his voice from virtually every recent film and television show. Okay, that might be a slight exaggeration, but the actor and comedian has appeared on the silver screen in 21 Jump Street (a role repeated in 22 Jump Street), This Is 40, Action Point, and The Watch; on shows like New Girl, It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia, Kroll Show, Superstore, and as the titular Son Of Zorn; and has voiced animated characters on Adventure Time and Bob’s Burgers. Still, Pemberton is a stand-up comic at heart. Some five years removed from his last Milwaukee show, the accomplished comic actor will return to the Underground Collaborative for a can’t-miss weekday outing.
Cinema Hooligante: The Wicker Man (1975, final cut) @ Oriental Theatre
If you’ve been to the Milwaukee Film Festival in the past five years, you’ve probably encountered a peculiar set of films called Cinema Hooligante. This often bloody, disturbing, sick, subversive, and just plain fun program has been proudly sponsored by Milwaukee Record. Now, Cinema Hooligante is a year-round affair, with Hooligante-tastic films screening at the Oriental Theatre every other Friday and Saturday. On July 19 and 20, be sure to check out the final cut of the original Wicker Man, which rules. Even better, we’re told there may be a surprise before each screening…
The Posies + Big Mother Gig, Cabin Essence @ The Back Room @ Colectivo
You know who’s great? The Posies. Jon Auer and Ken Stringfellow have been doing their power-pop thing since the ’80s, and it’s always a treat to see them live. (Their gig at Summerfest 2018 was a gem.) Don’t miss out on this one, especially when you add openers Big Mother Gig and Cabin Essence to the mix.
“Weird Al” Yankovic @ Miller High Life Theatre
Let’s face it, “Weird Al” Yankovic fans: If you’ve seen one Weird Al show, you’ve seen ’em all. Well, unless you saw last year’s “Ill-Advised Vanity” shows at Pabst Theater, which featured oodles of deep cuts and original songs. And, well, unless you plan to see this year’s “Strings Attached” show at Miller High Life Theatre, which will feature Al’s “usual big production—costumes, props, video wall—supported by his band, background singers, and…a full symphony orchestra!” YES.
Milwaukee Record’s 5th Annual Roast Of Milwaukee @ Club Garibaldi
Okay, it’s not a festival, but our annual Roast Of Milwaukee does informally kick off the Milwaukee Comedy Festival. Once again, we’ve asked local comedians, improvisers, and media personalities to gently (or, in some cases, straight-up viciously) rib the city they love. This year’s installment is sponsored by our friends at Miller High Life. Stay tuned for the lineup in the weeks ahead!
Mary J. Blige + Nas @ Fiserv Forum
Together, Mary J. Blige and Nas have combined for an astounding 45 Grammy nominations, 80 million albums sold, decades of relevance, and countless hits. The king and queen of their respective fields will come to the palace that is the Fiserv Forum as part of The Royalty Tour. You don’t often get the opportunity to see one superstar of this caliber, let alone two.
Gin Blossoms @ Turner Hall
Gin Blossoms are one of the great re-appreciated bands of the ’90s. Popular but decidedly out-of-step in their heyday (it was the grunge era, after all), the group has since become a reliable and warmly nostalgic touring act. Want to hear Gin Blossoms’ major-label debut, New Miserable Experience, played in its entirety. Good, because that’s just what the band has in store for this show.
Joseph Huber (record release) + Driveway Thriftdwellers @ Anodyne Walker’s Point Roastery
Perpetually-touring Milwaukee folk mainstay (and reformed punk) Joseph Huber will return from the road to treat his hometown to a belated release show for his latest record, Moondog, at Anodyne. Driveway Thriftdwellers will play in support.
Judah Friedlander @ Shank Hall
Since telling you Todd Barry and Ari Shaffir would be anchoring the 14th annual event back in April, Milwaukee Comedy Festival booked Beth Stelling to headline an August 3 show at Shank Hall, thus cementing this year as the long-running festival’s biggest and best year yet. But there’s more! Last month, Milwaukee Comedy Festival announced that actor, author, comedian, music video hug-giver, and trucker hat proponent Judah Friedlander will also be taking part in the fest. Fresh off the release of last year’s acclaimed Netflix special, America Is The Greatest Country In The United States, the former 30 Rock series regular will be performing all new material at Shank Hall on Friday, August 2 as part of his “Future President” tour.
Wu-Tang Clan + Madhatter, Bizzon @ Riverside Theater
Wu-Tang Clan is playing Milwaukee this summer. We repeat: Wu-Tang Clan is playing Milwaukee this summer. It’s the group’s 25th anniversary tour—in other words, it’s been 25 (or 26) years since the release of their seminal debut Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers). Hell yeah. Milwaukee’s own DJ Madhatter and DJ Bizzon will get the party started.
The Menzingers + The Sidekicks, Queen Of Jeans @ Turner Hall Ballroom
The Menzingers don’t come around Milwaukee all that often, so when they do, it’s to be cherished. Two and a half years after releasing the band’s latest, After The Party, the pride of Philly (by way of Scranton) will come to Turner Hall to head up a show that also features The Sidekicks and Queen Of Jeans.
Penn & Teller @ Riverside Theater
Forget for a moment Penn & Teller, outspoken Libertarians and skeptics. Forget for a moment Penn & Teller, reality show staples. Forget for a moment Penn & Teller, creators of the brilliant/insufferable Bullshit! Instead, focus on Penn & Teller, entertainers and magicians. For more than 40 years, the self-described “Bad Boys of Magic” have continually transformed their sometimes disreputable and corny profession into high art—all the while keeping things funny and delightfully morbid. Penn and Teller’s live show is a mind-bending Russian nesting doll of lies and deception, and a perfect example of why they’re still vital to this day: they’re really, really good at what they do.
Mondo Lucha! @ Turner Hall Ballroom
Starting in 2008, Mondo Lucha! has brought high-flying wrestling action, burlesque dancers, and live music to its annual Turner Hall showcase. Along the way, the variety show has…aaaand this show is already sold out, of course.
Backstreet Boys @ Fiserv Forum
Backstreet’s back? Alright.