4 diverse summer festivals to experience the real Milwaukee
The segregation of our community is our cross to bear.
This small city of great duality offers something unique in its duplicity. The ability to experience two towns in one, the uncanny opportunity to move forward or backward in time by traveling less than five miles. Milwaukee, and its divided neighborhoods, allows for a particular type of deep cultural exploration – without a passport.
On the positive end, we are the unequivocal city of festivals. During the summer months, Milwaukee explodes with activity. The attractions aren't just limited to Downtown and the Lakefront. Even the suburbs can provide flavorful escapes from boredom that we only dream about during the shortened days of our long Wisconsin winters. But one of the unfortunate, and arguably most punitive consequences of our original sin, is that some festivals buried deep in the core of our city have never been experienced by some lifelong Milwaukee residents.
With these four festivals – and so many others not listed here – one could fix that and, in the process, see a side of Milwaukee they may have never witnessed before.
1. The Garfield Jazz and Blues Festival (Garfield Days)
Close your eyes and imagine a grand outdoor street party featuring some of the best local and national music talent. Envision the thick aromas of sweet soul food wafting in the warm summer breeze and the good vibes that come with being outdoors. When you open your eyes, you will realize that Milwaukee's Garfield Jazz and Blues Festival is life.
Typically held on the third Saturday in July, this street festival celebrates the two uniquely African-American art forms that are jazz and blues music. The event takes place on West Garfield Avenue from King Drive to 7th Street. The Garfield Jazz and Blues Festival, celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, features multiple music stages and scores of vendors. Better yet: The family-friendly event is completely free of charge. For more information – including the music lineup and vendor information – check out the Garfield Days page on Facebook.
2. Milwaukee County Parks beer gardens
Want to enjoy an old tradition and explore Milwaukee County's beautiful, nationally renowned parks at the same time? Then the Milwaukee County Parks beer gardens are for you. Running from April 19 through Sept. 27, the beer gardens offer over a dozen traveling and fixed locations. The permanent locales include South Shore and Estabrook parks, while the traveling events span over a dozen sites scattered about the entire county.
All beverages offered are provided by the Sprecher Brewery, and each beer garden is staffed by the very friendly Milwaukee County Parks employees. The stops on this seasonal traveling beverage tour feature beer, soda, hard root beer, ginger beer and other refreshments. All revenue raised by the traveling and fixed beer gardens will be reinvested back into our Milwaukee County Parks.
3. Bronzeville Week
Bound by Brown Street on the north, Juneau Avenue on the south, MLK Drive and 12th Street, Bronzeville was once the cultural mecca of early to mid 20th century black Milwaukee. A resurgence of interest in the untold stories from this almost magical neighborhood are ushering in the 21st century return of this very special slice of urban geography. When the elders reminisce about Bronzeville, they recall a thriving business district with nightclubs – such as Metropole Club and the Moon Glow, featuring performances by the legends. Billie Holliday, Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Dizzy Gillespie and Nat King Cole all hit the Bronzeville circuit.
To celebrate the glorious historical and cultural significance of this Milwaukee neighborhood, we are fortunate to have Bronzeville Week.
Typically held during the early weeks of August, Bronzeville Week offers a different focus on each of its six days: spoken word poetry, displays by local artists, dance performances, group settings for social commentary, free health screenings, resources for entrepreneurs and much more. For additional information about Bronzeville Week, contact the office of Alderwoman Milele Coggs or visit the city of Milwaukee Bronzeville Portal.
4. Juneteenth Day
Commemorating the day U.S. Marshalls liberated that last American slaves in Galveston, Texas, on June 19, 1865, Juneteenth festivals are common throughout America.
Milwaukee has the unique distinction of having one of the longest running Juneteenth celebrations in the country, as 2017 marks the 46th year of Milwaukee's commemoration of this special holiday. The event takes place on MLK Drive between Burleigh and Center Streets, and is always held every year on June 19.
Juneteenth Day kicks off with a parade and classic car show. There's a Miss Juneteenth Day beauty pageant, face painting and games for kids, live music, delicious food and more vendors than you can shake a stick at. There are novelty, information and corporate booths as well. The festival and the good vibes held within are both completely free and open to the public. For more information about Milwaukee's Juneteenth Day, contact the Northcott Neighborhood House at (414) 372-3770.
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