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Milwaukee Storms the Bastille

Annual French festival returns to Cathedral Square

Jul. 11, 2012
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It was Paris, 1789. The impoverished and exploited masses, fed up with the tyranny and wonton indulgence of their rulers, stormed the Bastille fortress prison, the hated symbol of royal authority. This revolt became the catalyst of the French Revolution, and is celebrated annually as a national holiday of independence.

Now it's time for you to escape the confines of your own Bastille prison and head down to Bastille Days this Thursday through Sunday to experience la culture Française. The free festival, located for a few blocks around Cathedral Square, is a Parisian wonderland, whose centerpiece is a 43-foot-tall Eiffel Tower replica that dazzles with hourly light shows.

The open space, and freeness of it all, gives this festival a certain joie de vivre. With a myriad of activities, every friend and family member will have carte blanche for any sort of fun. Strolling through the streets, you can browse more than 80 marketplace vendors offering wares from around the world. The crowd can take in music, watch belly dancers and can-can dancers, and take mini French lessons. Enjoy the roaming impromptu street performers such as chalk artists, jugglers, minstrels, gypsies, accordion players, mimes and face painters.

On opening night, runners will storm through the streets for the annual BMO Harris Bank Storm of the Bastille. The 5K run, which attracts more than 4,000 runners and walkers, begins at 9 p.m. Thursday, July 12, on North Jefferson Street, and goes through Downtown and the Third Ward. Participants can register the day of the race for $25 to receive a T-shirt and goodies, but this is a "fun run," and thus times are not officially recorded.

New this year is Mardi Gras Friday. Catch some beads and enjoy some N'awlins style celebrations and giveaways. Parades will march west on East Kilbourn on the hour from 7 through 10 p.m., featuring jokers, roaming buskers, brass bands and more. Dressing up and participating is encouraged.

Look for specialty events, like Saturday's Pooch Parade, beginning at 11:30 a.m. Contestants will be judged on fashion, obedience, personality, beauty and talent par excellence, competing for prizes valued up to $400. Sunday brings the Waiter/Waitress Race at 1:30 p.m. as Milwaukee's most agile servers traverse a precarious obstacle course while balancing a tray. On a more solemn note,
the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist will hold a French Mass on 5:15 p.m. Saturday.

Wine, Food and Music

What would a French-themed festival be without wine? Tastings will be held Friday and Saturday, 5:30-7 p.m. Tickets are $35. Sommeliers will be on hand to help you compare delectable wines from around the world, served with cheese, crackers and fruit.

For some, the force majeure of the festival may be la cuisine. Liberate some crepes and beignets from one of the approximately 25 restaurant vendors. Francophiles can enjoy popular French and Cajun delicacies, such as a brie and tomato sandwich. However, there will be plenty of other international and American foods represented, as well. There will also be beer and cheese seminars, as well as haute cuisine chef demonstrations.

Like any summer festival in Milwaukee, there will be music. Four stages will feature an eclectic mix of performers with traditional French ballads as well as Cajun blues, Louisiana soul and zydeco. Make sure to catch Jeffrey Broussard & the Creole Cowboys, who will close Mardi Gras Friday, at 9:30 p.m., and Big Sam's Funky Nation, a New Orleans funk band, on Saturday at 9:30 p.m. Milwaukee favorites such as Paul Cebar and The Love Monkeys will play as well.

Bastille Days will be held 11 a.m.-midnight, Thursday and Friday, July 12-13; 10 a.m.-midnight, Saturday, July 14; and 11 a.m.-9 p.m., Sunday, July 15. For a complete lineup, visit easttown.com/events/bastille-days.


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