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Back To Brady Street Days

Jul. 23, 2008
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If it’s lucky, a city will offer one of those streets that seems to have a magnetic force field running its length, attracting not just a certain segment of the population, but nearly everyone: scenesters and trendsetters, hedonists and daters, lollygaggers and bohemians, and all those that defy a label. Brady Street is an artery of the East Side, a stunning example of Milwaukee’s ample character and growing diversity, and it provides the perfect atmosphere for a street festival.

The first Brady Street Festival was held in 1970, under the direction of the Brady Street Merchants Association. At the time, “There weren’t any major festivals to speak of other than Summerfest,” explains Laura Lutter Cole, owner of Aala Reed and chair of the Brady Street Improvement District, an organization that has planned the event for the last four years. “Our festival was a major event in Milwaukee.”

Photos from the early days of the festival show a sprawl ing sea of people, strolling shoulder-to-shoulder past many of the same shops and bars that exist today.

“Brady Street really became Brady Street in the counter culture days of the late ’60s and early ’70s,” says Julilly Kohler, who many credit with spearheading the effort to rebuild the community. “But then, everything has a cycle, and the heydays of the exciting flower-power Brady Street degenerated into an empty-store-fronted neighborhood with druggies, winos and panhandlers.”

All businesses on Brady Street are encouraged to participate in the festival by offering in-house specials and set ting up tents on the street to interact with customers. One such vendor is Glorioso’s, a famed Brady Street institution that has been selling groceries and operating a deli for more than six decades. Also, Regano’s Roman Coin, a renovated Pabst Brewery tavern built in 1890, has been fami ly owned and operated for almost 40 years. Other restaurant, food and beverage vendors include Casablanca, Cempazuchi, Outpost Natural Foods and Stump’s Hot Olives, a company out of Wausau that sells an award-win ning Bloody Mary mix and, like its name testifies, hot olives.

Milwaukee festivalgoers never fail to bring a thirst, and Brady Street more than delivers. The event is fueled, er, sponsored by Budweiser, Sprecher and New Glarus Brewing Co. and vendors include Balzac Wine Bar and Waterford Wine Co.

What better to accompany beer and wine than cheese? That’s why Brady Street Festival features Cheesefest. In 2004, when the American Cheese Society Conference was held in Milwaukee, the judges used only a small portion of the cheese wheels when sampling the entries. Someone had the idea to sell the remainder of the cheese at what was then called the Brady Street Artisan Festival. The event has expanded to include and promote locally grown and produced food, featuring organic and local farmers alongside artisan cheese makers. Wisconsin cheese pro ducers represented at Brady Street Festival’s Cheesefest will include Roth Kase, BelGioioso, Carr Valley, Crave Brothers, Hidden Springs, Mt. Sterling Co-op, Satori and Cedar Grove. Only one isn’t a native— PastureLand, which hails from Minnesota—but we’ll eat it anyway.


“We want to make sure the event has something for everyone and we encourage families to attend,” Cole says. “There are lots of activities for children during the day, so it’s a great way for families to get out and spend time together.”

Nothing touts family togetherness like matching political and expression T-shirts made by Shirts So Good. Perhaps you want to buy something special for your date. Seek out Bonnie DeSautelle for handmade jewelry or Silpada Designs for sterling silver creations. Because of Brady Street’s eclectic collection of businesses (where else can you get a tattoo, lingerie, darts, designer clothing, fertilizer, a futon and communion on the same street?), the festival itself is well balanced.

Sharing the street with the restaurants and bars is a trove of unique boutiques. At 2:30 p.m. on the Bud Light Main Stage, the fashion show will feature men’s and women’s fashions from favorites like Miss Groove, Aala Reed, Boutique Vieux et Nouveau and Yellow Jacket. See women’s fashions on men in the lively Brady Street Drag Show at 8 p.m. It is, in a word, fabulous!

A street has really made it when it’s immortalized in a song: Simon and Garfunkel sang of Bleecker Street, Bruce Springsteen has E-Street and Bob Dylan has a whole highway: 61. Milwaukee’s own Peter Mulvey sings “The Brady Street Stroll,” a perfect expression of Brady Street’s convivial spirit, not without a nod to the firefight ers at the corner of Franklin.

Brady Street Festival brings an impressive lineup of diverse music throughout the day, including jazz, folk, world and rock. While all the entertainers have something to offer, two truly stand out. Wielding a gift for storytelling and an exceptional mas tery of the harmonica and ukulele, Lil’ Rev is a charismatic performer who should n’t be missed. He’ll be playing on the New Glarus Folk Stage at 11:30 a.m. and again at 5:30 p.m. with acoustic trio Frogwater. Closing the evening will be The Wildbirds, an immensely talented foursome from the backwoods of Wisconsin. Their debut album, Golden Daze, was created with the help of acclaimed producer Greg Fidelman, who has worked with U2, Tom Petty and the Red Hot Chili Peppers. If their show is anything like their album, their performance at Brady Street Festival promises to be soulfully expressive, lively and engaging.

The rapid and widespread development of chain stores and restaurants in America is erasing the distinguishing features of our cities. If you find yourself in a shopping plaza with an Old Navy, a Best Buy and an Olive Garden, you could be just about anywhere in the United States. But if you see original and locally owned businesses like the Futen Dojo, Rochambo or the Up & Under Pub, you know exactly where you are. The Brady Street Festival celebrates and strengthens the neighbor hood’s character and preserves the spirited tone that leaves such a lasting impression.

Brady Street Festival takes place Saturday, July 26, from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.

What’s your take? Write: editor@shepex.com or comment on this story online at www.expressmilwaukee.com.


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