Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Street Festivals in Milwaukee

Summer in Milwaukee is famously a time for the great festivals, especially Summerfest, the world's largest music festival, and the other festivals which take place at the Henry W. Maier Festival Park, or what we normally just call the Summerfest Grounds.  These include big festivals like German Fest ("Milwaukee's Original Haus Party"), the largest German festival outside of Germany; Polish Fest, the largest Polish festival in the U.S., maybe North America; Irish Fest, the largest Irish themed festival in the world, and the largest of the ethnic festivals in Milwaukee; Festa Italiana (which we usually just call Festa), the largest Italian festival in North America, the highlight of which is the Italian fireworks; Indian Summer Festival, the highlight of which is the Pow Wow; and of course Mexican Fiesta.  There are also festivals which are not quite as big, but just as interesting and enjoyable, such as Arab World Festival, and African World Festival.  (African World Festival, incidentally, made its comeback this year, after being down for the past two years.)  Besides these, of course there is the State Fair, which, for those not intimately familiar with Milwaukee, takes place not at the Lakefront, but at its own home in West Allis, State Fair Park.

These are great festivals, which are iconic of good times in Milwaukee.  And I have enjoyed all of them over the years.  The problem is that the cost of these events, just the entrance fee alone, becomes too much of an expense, at least for me, especially with our present economic realities.  The good news, however, is that those are not the only festivals in Milwaukee.  For example, there are some fantastic street festivals.  Some of these, in fact, are among my favorite annual events in the city. 

Allow me to share a bit of my experience this year with three of Milwaukee's choicest street festivals.  First, there is the Locust Street Festival.  This year, Ruth and I enjoyed it with our friends Mike and Amy (with their baby daughter Jillian), who were in town that week for the annual Retreat of the Society of Saint Polycarp.  The Locust Street Festival takes place just two and a half block south of our apartment, right in the middle of Riverwest, one of the greatest neighborhoods in the world, by the way.  So we walked over to the action.  There was an abundance of music, all sorts of vendors, and all manner of people.  Oh, and there was also a wonderful plenitude of dogs, dogs of many breeds, all of which were very happy to be greeted and shown affection.  We even saw a priestess, dressed in her clerical collar, selling smoothies.  If there's one place in the world where a priestess is at home, it is at the Locust Street Festival. 

Then there is, of course, Bastille Days, probably my all around favorite.  Bastille Days is the largest French themed festival in North America, and it fills up not only Cathedral Square Downtown, but surrounding streets as well.  Obviously, one could find tasty crepes and any number of vendors offering items related to French culture.  Yet there are so many other things to see and experience as well.  There is good music throughout the festival.  I particularly enjoyed one band's very jazzy version of "Saint James Infirmary."  There's the dog show, and the waiter competition, and the food demonstrations, and the street art.  At the Milwaukee French Immersion School booth I had the chance to meet the new superintendent of MPS (Milwaukee Public Schools).  I shared with him that I have been thinking of looking into teaching, and he encouraged me because, even though MPS is making cuts this year, they are looking for teachers in certain areas.  More on that some other time.  I also had the opportunity to get my fortune read, but I passed on that.

Another great street festival, which I always enjoy, is the Brady Street Festival. More than all the others, at the Brady Street Festival I always tend to bump into friends. It's like a normal day on Brady Street, except magnified by a thousand. There are things you'd expect on Brady Street, like the fashion show, the music, the good food, and the vendors, and then are are some things you might not expect, like the camel ride, the rock climbing, and the BMX stunt team show. Indeed, I cannot tell a lie. Brady Street Festival also features the famous drag show. In some parts of the country people go to drag races. On the East Side of Milwaukee we have drag shows. It just goes to show that a traditionalist Lutheran is capable of enjoying a great festival while not necessarily endorsing every aspect thereof. The festival also features an excellent cheese tasting tent. This year I hit the festival a couple times, once with my friend and fellow Polycarpian Mike. I remembered to bring my camera with me this year to the Brady Street Festival, so let me now share with you a few pictures, some capturing festival scenes, and some just showing certain characteristic Brady Street scenes.

This is Yellow Jacket, a vintage clothing shop.



This is the front window of Eco Pet.
A very theologically astute window at Saints and Sinners Tattoo Company
Dogs can party too.
Boutique Vieux et Nouveau, a women's fashion clothing shop.
Another happy partier.
Brewed Cafe.  A great coffeehouse for reading, socializing, or enjoying all the art on the walls.
Hosed on Brady, a fire house themed bar, located right next to Milwaukee Fire Station Engine 6.
Okay, so it's not a real rock.  But it was still fun to watch.
Dragonfly is another vintage shop.
Saint Hedwig, one of Milwaukee's great examples of ecclesiastical architecture, had three weddings in a row that day.
I seized a moment between weddings to take a picture or two inside Saint Hedwig.  This is a shot of the sedelia.
This musician was happy to have his picture taken.  The guy in the cowboy hat next to him is my friend Todd.  He and I used to work together at Downtown Books.
The Up and Under, one of the great bars of the East Side.
The front window at Brewed Cafe.
The Dragonfly is on the first floor of this building.  Note the creature perched at the top of the building.
The front doors of Saint Hedwig.
Brickwork above the portal.
good music.
more good music.
Art for festival's sake.
This dancing chicken had some really good moves.
Finally, just to show that I'm not the only guy in the modern world in a beret, this man was also very willing to have his picture taken.  He is one of the cheese vendors, hawking his fine cheeses. 

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