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Summer Fun on the Cheap

Jun. 3, 2009
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Despite all the energy and excitement surrounding our city’s summer events, Milwaukeeans remain a frugal lot, demanding low-cost diversions during the all-too-short warm-weather season.Happily, there are free and low-cost entertainment and activities in spades this summer.

Free For All

This weekend marks the city’s traditional kickoff to summer, RiverSplash! (June 5-7). Located between Juneau and Kilbourn avenues along the river, RiverSplash! features seven stages of music and an entire Sunday devoted to kids. Bastille Days (July 9-12) sees the area around Cathedral Square Park transformed into a celebration of all things French, including delicious food, zydeco and Cajun music, street performers and certain military surrender.

Bay View’s South Shore Frolics (July 10- 12), at South Shore Park, is as wholesome a slice of Americana as you’re likely to find, with plenty of daytime activities for small-fries, live entertainment, fireworks and an eclectic Saturday morning parade down Kinnickinnic Avenue that must be seen to be believed. Notable one-day events include the Locust Street Festival (June 14), with free music aplenty and featuring the ever-popular Beer Run (or walk), Summer Soulstice Music Festival (June 20, North Avenue between Oakland and Prospect), Brady Street Festival (July 25), and Silver City’s Asian Festival (Aug. 22), a celebration of Milwaukee’s Asian cultures centered at 35th Street and National Avenue. Rockerbox (Aug. 8) is a distinctly Riverwest celebration of the motorcycle, paying particular homage to the cafe racer. You don’t need to be a wrencher to appreciate the bikes, the local color and plenty of free music at this singular event.

If laughter was truly the best medicine, it wouldn’t be available over-the-counter, and you can bet that your insurance plan wouldn’t cover it. If a cheap laugh is what you need, check out the Milwaukee Comedy Festival (Aug. 6-9), a mix of improv, stand-up and sketch material at the Off-Broadway Theatre (342 N. Water St.).


Twenty-four-hour party people with juice left in the tank can enjoy late summer wingdings such as TosaFest (Sept. 11-12) in the historic Wauwatosa village (76th and State streets) or Bay View Bash (Sept. 19, South Kinnickinnic Avenue), both of which offer multiple stages of live music and activities for children. And while far too numerous to itemize, local parish festivals are held almost every weekend throughout the summer, offering free entertainment and cheap eats.

Minor Fun, Minor Cost

Speaking of kids, parents attempting to keep their ankle-biters entertained on a budget have several good options this summer, the most obvious being the welcome return of the Great Circus Parade on July 12. An estimated 350 horses pulling more than 50 festooned circus wagons, 30 musical bands and a benevolent clown posse pull scads of wide-eyed young’uns from far and wide to the Downtown parade route. The main event is preceded by the Great Circus Parade Festival (July 8-11) at Veterans Park, a throwback to the days when the highlight of every kid’s summer was the whistle of the circus train pulling into town with all its attendant spectacle and mystery. Live circus performances under the big tent, animal rides and cotton candy await.

Guaranteed to empty the suburbs are the U.S. Bank Fireworks at the Lakefront, with the first salvo fired at dusk on July 3. Both the Circus Parade and the fireworks see all available sidewalk and park space staked out early in the day, so make sure to pack a cooler full of treats and diversions to keep the little ones happy while they wait for the main event.

A family excursion to the multiplex nowadays equals a month’s rent, so take advantage of River Flicks on Friday nights in August at Pere Marquette Park, where you can enjoy family-themed movies under the stars beginning at dusk.


More Money for Beer!

Milwaukeeans passionately support their local music scene, just as long as we don’t have to pay to do so. We’ll slap down the Visa card without hesitation to buy multiple rounds of Jager bombs, but hurl incredulous invective at any door guy asking us to pay a $3 cover.

Enter Parks Director Sue Black, who’ll be putting the County Parks System to full use this summer, with free music available almost daily. Cathedral Square (520 E. Wells St.) sees the return of Jazz in the Park on Thursday nights from June 4 through late September. The Humboldt Park Bandshell (3000 S. Howell Ave.) hosts the Chill on the Hill Tuesday night concerts now through September, with a varied lineup including Pupy Costello, De La Buena, Swing Nouveau and the American Legion Band. Washington Park’s (1859 N. 40th St.) At the Shell program of Wednesday night shows begins July 1, and sees performances by The Eddie Butts Band, Reverend Raven & the Chain Smoking Altar Boys, and the 50-piece Eastbrook Symphony Orchestra, to name a few.

The serene surroundings of the Boerner Botanical Gardens at Whitnall Park (9400 Boerner Drive) become even more refined with sets by both the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra on June 18 and the Concord Chamber Orchestra on Aug. 20. The Thursday evening Concerts in the Gardens card isn’t all highbrow, however—other scheduled acts include the psychedelia of Toad King, The Britins, local favorite Blonde on Blonde, and bluesmen Rick Holmes and Johnny Rawls.

Other noteworthy freebies include the Florentine Opera’s six free performances at Alterra on the Lake (1701 N. Lincoln Memorial Drive), beginning at 7 p.m. June 4 and 18, July 9 and 23 and Aug. 6 and 20. Indie rocker Stephen Malkmus will headline a free July 4 street party outside Bay View’s Burnhearts bar (2599 S. Logan Ave.), with music starting at 1 p.m. and likely continuing into the next morning.

Endless Summer

The cleaned-up, revamped Bradford Beach has enjoyed a revival as a favorite sunny-day destination—and with good reason. Offering a panoply of events all season, highlights include the Ms. Bradford Beach Pageant July 4, a Sports & Reggae Music Festival July 24-26, and the Sand & Bands Beach Party Sept. 19. Just up the hill, onlookers can enjoy The Great Downer Avenue Bike Race July 25, another neighborhood party with free live outdoor entertainment and a children’s parade.

Watching athletes while slurping suds and sausages is all well and good, but if you’d rather be more active, check out the Urban Ecology Center in Riverside Park (1500 E. Park Place), where a family membership of $35 ($25 for individuals) lets you borrow their equipment to enjoy hiking, rock-climbing, canoeing and kayaking adventures within the city. The County Parks System, with pools in many locations, features three lowcost, bona-fide water parks: Pelican Cove in Kosciuszko Park (2201 S. Seventh St.), “Cool Waters” in Greenfield Park (2028 S. 124th St.) and the new David F. Schulz Aquatic Center in Lincoln Park (1301 W. Hampton Ave.).

Enough. If all this talk of wholesome, beneficial physical exercise has you craving a couple of tall colds, then make sure to take frequent advantage of the tour at Lakefront Brewery (1872 N. Commerce St.), where a paltry $6 reaps you a humor-soaked tour and four pours of product to boot. Closed Sunday, Lakefront offers daily tours beginning at 2 p.m. most days. Keep the glass, and we’ll see you in September.

Comment on this article at ExpressMilwaukee.com.


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