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Underage Students Scrounge For Entertainment

Aug. 27, 2008
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Kevin Christensen had heard promising talk about Milwaukee’s music scene and was eager to take in as many local bands as possible when he enrolled in UW-Milwaukee as a freshman last year. He was in store for a letdown.

“Most of the music venues in the city are 21-plus, so I never get to go to any of them,” Christensen laments. “Milwaukee is a drinking city.” Christensen, a performance percussion major, found friends to jam with in the dorms and now drums for the band Atlatl, but when his older band mates hit the bars, he’s left behind.

“I guess I’m pretty jealous,” he admits. “They get to go out to these bars and meet all these other musicians, but I have to find other ways to spend my time. I get a lot of practicing in by myself.”

Christensen’s experiences are shared by countless college students who, without the money for Milwaukee Rep season tickets or the ID to enter the Cactus Club, feel shut out from the city.

All-Ages Music

The situation isn’t entirely dire for underage students, however. Although bars still form the epicenter of the local music scene, Milwaukee now hosts more all-ages concerts than it did just five years ago, when the Globe East, one of the few club-sized venues with regular all-ages shows, shut down.

Whereas the Rave was once one of the only all-ages venues to book large touring acts, the Pabst Theater/Riverside Theater/Turner Hall Ballroom conglomerate now flaunts a full roster of all-ages concerts.

Meanwhile, proactive young promoters have begun to book their own all-ages shows at smaller venues around the city. These promoters have moved out of the prover bial basement—though, to be sure, the iconic basement shows of yore are still as plentiful as ever—and now book concerts at locations as unlikely as the Shorewood Legion Hall and the Bay View Post. Thanks to the Internet and sites like MySpace and ExpressMilwaukee.com, it’s easier than ever to find out about these small shows.

Meanwhile, the Borg Ward, an alcohol-free arts space at 823 W. National Ave., has become a particularly invaluable hub for all-ages music. In addition to a full roster of local per formers, in recent months the Borg Ward has hosted up-and-coming touring bands, like Health and The Mae Shi, that would otherwise likely have played 21-and-up clubs.

Intramural Options

The universities, of course, do their best to give students options, hosting activities and entertainment in their unions. Marquette University’s student center, for instance, offers bowling and karaoke, and its Weasler Auditorium welcomes an annual film festi val. The Milwaukee School of Engineering’s Todd Wehr Conference Center uses its ties to the university’s radio station, 91.7 WMSE, to host semi-regular concerts and novel events like the station’s annual Music Rummage Sale Blowout.

The UWM Student Union flaunts one of the larger entertainment lineups, with many events that are free and open to non-students. Its recreation center is open late and features an arcade, bowling alley and billiards hall, while other corners of the union invite poetry readings, open mics and concerts.

The crown jewel of UWM’s union is its Union Theatre, which packs its schedule with Milwaukee film premieres, documentaries, experimental programming, classic favorites and historical relics. This fall’s schedule includes series on filmmakers Jean-Luc Godard, Hou Hsiao-Hsien and Wong Kar-Wai; a four-day Turkish film series; the 11-day Milwaukee LGBT Film/Video Festival and recent films like No Country for Old Men and There Will Be Blood.

Between the UWM Union Theatre, the neighboring Downer and Oriental Theatres (which emphasize indie and art films) and the driving-distance Times Cinema (which reg ularly screens cult- and classic films, often with Saturday midnight showings), cinema is one area where Milwaukee students are well covered. The Oriental Theatre’s semi-regu lar midnight Rocky Horror Picture Show productions are also a Saturday-night favorite for students.

Co-Ops and Shared Spaces

As convenient as they are, university-sanctioned events come with a stigma and school-spirit peppiness that turns off many. For those who wouldn’t be caught dead at a homecom ing, the city offers a plethora of co-ops and collectives always looking for fresh faces. Many of them operate out of the Riverwest neighborhood, the bohemian haven near UWM’s new RiverView Residence Hall.

The Riverwest Co-Op Grocery and Cafe, in many respects the social center of the neighborhood, is always open to new volunteers, while the neighboring Cream City Collectives building welcomes a younger, more overtly progressive clientele. An info-shop and silk-screening center with generous hours, Cream City Collectives also uses its space to host potlucks, film screenings, lectures, acoustic music and waffle breakfasts. Meanwhile, another neighborhood nonprofit, the Woodland Pattern Book Center, aims for the literary crowd with its lineup of readings and workshops.

For the bicycle enthusiast there’s the Milwaukee Bike Collective, which organizes rides and teaches bike repair; and for feminists, there’s the Broad Vocabulary bookstore in Bay View, which, though a business, attracts a loyal patronage with its book clubs, author appearances and “Femiknits!” knitting group.

And for those who just need to borrow a little space for their latest project, there’s Bucketworks, a nonprofit that provides its members access to its dance studio, theater, comput er lab and artist workshop, complete with areas for painting and sewing. Bucketworks’ shared space features exercise programs, acting lessons and gallery showings.

Wii Parties

Where video games were once primarily recreation for an exclusive niche of gamers, a newer line of party games with wider appeal has made gaming a popular weekend activity for students.

Adam Kubler, a recent UWM graduate, says that the Nintendo Wii system, with its simple, motion-sensitive controller, has particularly broad appeal. In college, Kubler hosted regular, informal Wii parties.

“It’s really no different from just hanging out with a bunch of friends, except you play Nintendo instead of drink—or some people do both,” Kubler says. “It’s a good conversation starter, too. Someone new always comes over and thinks it looks stupid, but eventually they’ll be wearing a sweatband and playing the Wii tennis game, as into it as any of us.” Like the Guitar Hero games, which use a toy guitar instead of a traditional controller, the Wii system attracts novice gamers who might have been turned off by the complicated joysticks of previous game systems.

“There’s just something about all the buttons on controllers that really turn people away,” Kubler says, “but the Wii controls are really intuitive, so it’s inviting to everyone.”

That’s likely why the Wii games that UWM now offers in its student recreation center have proven to be such a popular addition.

Neighborhood Hopping

Most Milwaukee colleges equip students with perhaps the most important tool they need to fight boredom: a bus pass. Milwaukee’s public transportation system caters particularly to students. Route 15 alone cuts through several cam puses and cycles through some of the city’s most desirable neighborhoods, from the Brady Street business district, through the Downtown arts district, to the Historic Third Ward, the lively Fifth Ward and Bay View.

Many students stick near the East Side and Downtown, missing out on the businesses and entertainment that Milwaukee’s other neighborhoods offer. For instance, the Bayshore Town Center, in the northern suburb of Glendale, is a hub for trendy chain stores, while the Third Ward is known for its upscale boutiques. Bay View boasts one of the city’s most vibrant main streets, Kinnickinnic Avenue, and some of the city’s more cutting-edge independent boutiques, like the Fasten Co-Op Clothing Gallery, Fashion Ninja and, most recently, Chartreuse, which specializes in environmentally friendly designer clothing.

West National Avenue is the heart of Milwaukee’s unofficial “Latin Quarter,” and home to many of the city’s most popular Mexican restaurants, including La Perla, which entices Marquette, UWM and MSOE students with weekend shuttle service to campuses. West Lincoln Avenue and South Cesar Chavez Drive, meanwhile, flaunt even fuller Hispanic business districts, with plenty of specialty bakeries, restau rants and grocers.

Milwaukee’s bus system can also direct students to the city’s many parks, farmers’ markets, street parties and eth nic festivals. A bus pass may not be a substitute for a valid ID, but it can make those years before students turn 21 a lot more bearable.

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


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