On November 6, 2019, the Pabst Theater Group dropped an exciting announcement: legendary ’90s feminist punk band Bikini Kill would play Milwaukee as part of a rare North American reunion tour. The show was scheduled for May 24, 2020 at The Riverside Theater.
Now, nearly three years after that show date—and nearly three and a half years after the announcement—Bikini Kill is finally set to play the Riverside this Wednesday. It only took a pandemic, multiple reschedules, and one venue flip-flop to get here.
“This show has been effectively punted two to three times in terms of the date, and then the venue,” says Matt Beringer, longtime talent buyer for the Pabst Theater Group. “It’s been quite a journey.”
That (bumpy) journey began, of course, when the COVID-19 pandemic landed in March 2020. The Bikini Kill show—along with every other show and live event in the country—was canceled. It was rescheduled for July 24, 2022. At the time, that two-year delay seemed impossibly long.
“We really wanted to hang on to this show,” Beringer says. “So in this case, when you’re sitting around in spring of 2020, the thought is, ‘What is the furthest date out that we can move this, where the show will be unaffected by COVID?’ In my mind, the logical answer was sometime in 2021 or early 2022. But all of that felt really, really far out. We had shows that were rescheduled from March 2020 to June 2020, thinking everything would have blown over by then.”
Things had not blown over by then. The pandemic raged on. As the months passed, Bikini Kill’s two-year delay proved to be a (sadly) prescient call.
“Just when you thought you’d gotten out to the furthest possible time where it would be safe to do shows, the news told you you were way off,” Beringer says. “So Bikini Kill rescheduling out as far as they did, they turned out to be more perceptive than most artists who were touring, many of whom were understandably hungry to get back on the road.”
But even as the once-distant 2022 date approached, it was clear things were still not back to normal. The Bikini Kill show was about to see another delay.
“As we got closer to the date last summer, you were still getting periodic peaks and valleys with COVID,” Beringer says. “[Bikini Kill] were headed towards the Midwest leg of their tour, but then we got a call that somebody was sick—whether it was band, crew, or whatever—and they were unable to do the show. We needed to reschedule.
“I thought, ‘Great, maybe we can reschedule to the fall or something?'” Beringer continues. “They said, ‘No, Bikini Kill is not getting together to do weekends in the fall.’ So the next time they could get us was in April, a very tightly routed date of April 19, 2023.”
But the journey wasn’t over quite yet. The Riverside Theater was booked for April 19, so the Bikini Kill show was moved to the Miller High Life Theatre—and, eventually, back to the Riverside.
“The Riverside was not available for the day because of another show,” Beringer says. “So okay, we’ll take it over to the Miller High Life Theatre. That was a good option for a while, but about two weeks ago, because of a cancelation with another show, the Riverside became available again. We looked at it and said, ‘We really feel this show deserves to play in the room that it was originally intended to play in. We’re going to move it back over to The Riverside Theater.”
And thus, barring any other bumps in the road (FINGERS CROSSED), the reunited Bikini Kill will play The Riverside Theater on Wednesday, April 19, 2023. For real this time.
“I’m really grateful to Bikini Kill and their management for hanging in there with us and identifying that Milwaukee is still important,” Beringer says. “It’s exciting to see that vote of confidence in Milwaukee.”
As for the Pabst Theater Group, Wednesday’s show is significant for another reason: it is the last of PTG’s rescheduled pandemic-era shows to take place.
“For us, it definitely represents the ability to say that the ‘cancel, reschedule, wash, rinse, repeat’ era is done,” Beringer says. “Even if COVID is still a threat, we’ve at least figured out how to live with it in the concert world on a day-to-day basis that I think was hard to understand three years ago.”
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