[soundcloud url="http://soundcloud.com/vocalo/a-travel-sized-summer-fest"] Vocalo's Morning Amp: A Travel-Sized Summerfest Review in Milwaukee Huge, huge thanks to Molly Adams and Brian Babylon of Vocalo's The Morning Amp! Tune in next Friday, 9:15 AM for more quick trips outside of Chicago from your travel-sized travel guide :)
Getting to Milwaukee (from Chicago) and getting around
The Amtrak Hiawatha line costs $24 roundtrip when I checked for the Summerfest weekends. For $10, call ahead and bring your bicycle on the Amtrak train! Both Chicago's Union Station and Milwaukee's Intermodal Station can handle bikes aboard. Milwaukee's flat just like home.
Got ten bucks? If you buy in advance, you can get a round-trip ticket to Milwaukee via Megabus. One-way fares from Chicago to Milwaukee cost $5 to $12 depending on availability. Sorry, bicycles aren't allowed on the Megabus. As Brian reported, the Megabus does advertise free wifi, however my sources say it's not always good on routes to Detroit and Kansas City...
If you're without wheels, you've got the Milwaukee County Transit bus. Regular one way fares cost $2.25. Use Trip Planner by Google Transit (blue box on the left side of Transit County's home page) or use Google Maps to navigate. Besides having extensive downtown and surrounding service, they offer remote parking and shuttle service for Summerfest for $3 to $6.50.
Wanna drive? (Me, too.) Take the Edens north (I-94) and just keep going. It's a toll road, and yes, there's construction going on once you get into the Wisconsin side of I-94. Gas is cheaper in Wisconsin, so if you can wait to fuel up until after the state line - or at least outside of Cook County lines -, do it!
What's there to do in Milwaukee?
Summerfest 2013! June 26-30 and July 2-7
"NKOTB might be enough to get a Black man to Milwaukee." - Brian Babylon
The annual festival boasts a great lineup of musical acts including Violent Femmes, fun. and triple threat 98 Degrees, Boyz II Men and NKOTB on one stage. Yep, I said NEW KIDS ON THE BLOCK. Tickets to Marcus Ampitheatre shows range from $40 range for lawn section up to reserved seating for $70-90, and include same-day admission to the festival grounds.
The great secret thing about Summerfest is that you can see these A-listers up close signing CDs (what are those?) and swag before the show. One year, I glanced over at this carney booth like That guy looks so much like ?uestlove... Wait a. Then I met The Roots, got a CD signed, and it was amazing. Though now I can't find the picture since those were like the early days of Facebook in 2008, when all my statuses started with the word "is."
Edit, 22 July: FOUND IT!
Besides the Ampitheatre, there are TON of "smaller" acts on stages within the festival, including Talib Kweli on Thursday, June 27, and LL Cool J, on Friday, June 28. The full lineup is chockfull of Billy Idol, Alice Cooper, MGMT, Bad Religion, Buddy Guy, OAR, Femi Kuti, I mean this festival defines the word RANGE. These are all acts that come free with the price of admission to the festival - $17 regular, $9 early bird specials on select weekdays.
The music is the big draw, obv, but outside of that, Summerfest is the best for people-watching, gondola rides, strolling around in the heat with a cold Leinie in your right hand and a funnel cake or brat in the left, fun for the kids if you have 'em, and buying useless stuff you'd only get and wear while at a carnival like airbrushed t-shirts or fake tattoos.
Cubs versus Brewers at Miller Park
Nothing I like better than baseball at 1060 W. Addison, but Miller Park is nothing to sleep on.
They open the parking lots three hours before the opening pitch for tailgating. Bring your little grill up, a cooler full of Jewel brats and PBRs and some lawn chairs, a football, a boom box... You know what to do. Parking costs $10-25 dollars.
Atmosphere at Miller Park for a visiting Cubs game is great. A retractable roof, a Sausage Race, and their mascot dives down a yellow twisty slide every time the Brewers hit a home run (hopefully this doesn't happen too often against our Cubbies). If you arrive in your finest Cub gear, expect some friendly chiding from the Wisconsinites... But you'll have plenty of brethren - they call it Wrigley North when our boys visit.
Cubs visit the Brewers on June 25, 26 and 27. Tickets are $25 and up.
Milwaukee Arts Museum
Aficionados of all things modern and just plain cool will want to see architect Santiago Calatrava's Milwaukee Art Museum. The famed Spanish architect has buildings around the world, and we in Chicago would have had one too if the Chicago Spire not fallen through. Even if all you do is wait for the building to flap its wings as it soars (symbolically) right into Lake Michigan....
Seriously though, go inside the building (it's magnificent inside, too) and see this new exhibit, 30 Americans. From the private collection of a New York City couple, the exhibit encompasses all art forms from African American artists from the late 1960s on. Two of the thirty names I recognized: Jean Michel Basquiat and Kara Walker. According to the 30 Americans minisite, seeing how the artists comment on similar themes
Through their friendships with living artists, particularly young artists, the Rubells collected backwards and forwards, creating networks of intergenerational influence. As a result, the works that comprise the exhibition offer a stylistic conversation among artists of different decades and generations. Minimalism, abstraction, conceptualism, performance, new media, installation art, identity politics, deconstruction, street aesthetics, and the return of figuration—every major development in contemporary art over the past four decades is represented.
For a quick dose of culture try the Express Talks on Thursdays (times vary) - a guided overview of 30 Americans in 30 minutes. Open until September 8. The Milwaukee Art Museum is located at 700 N. Art Museum Drive, Milwaukee, WI 53202 (of course), open from 10 AM to 5 PM and Thursdays until 8 PM. Summer hours through Labor Day, they're open on Mondays, too.
Other Intriguing Activities: Harley-Davidson Museum and A Cheese Tour?
Why else is Milwaukee cool? They make cheese and the baddest-ass motorcycles in the US, and probably, in the world. I mean, if you had the proper licence and money for it, one could probably rent a Harley and drive it up to Milwaukee, eating cheese including a stop at the Wisconsin Cheese Mart? I checked out many a 'sconsin cheesemonger at the Pastoral Artisan Producer Festival this year and THEY WERE DELICIOUS. Let me say: I haven't tried either the Harley Museum or the Cheese tour, but don't they sound like fun?
Where to stay
If you just want a safe, inexpensive and clean place to rest for 8 hours, shower and store your gear, MKE has a lot of basic, two-star chain hotels in the area that will do the trick for $50-75 per night. Consult Kayak. Or if you're going up with a group, renting a house on Airbnb might be a good idea to really feel like a local.
But if you care about things like thread counts, minibars and fancy milled soaps and are willing to pay a premium... these independent properties look tantalizing:
- Iron Horse Hotel on 500 W. Florida. Modern, boutique feel with a motorcycle theme.
- The all-suite Hotel Metro on 411 East Mason. The first hotel in MKE with a Travel Green Wisconsin certification. Hypoallergenic rooms available for the sensitive among us.
- The Pfister Hotel on 424 E Wisconsin. Victorian grandeur with their own art collection.
What to eat
'Tis the land o' plenty - beer, cheese and sausage - but here are some alternates:
- Beans and Barley on 1901 E. North Avenue in Eastside neighborhood. Embracing the veg and vegans with a big granola hug. Grocery and deli and bar/restaurant all in one. When I saw food activist/author Michael Pollan speak at the nearby Oriental Theatre, this place was packed.
- On the complete other side of the food spectrum: I asked a friend and MKE local and reportedly, AJ Bombers on 1247 N. Water is a great place to get a peanut butter burger. I kid you not.
- Milwaukee Public Market in the historic Third Ward boasts only artisan, local and independent food vendors from Mexican, Thai, sandwich joints, seafood places and wine bars... it's got it all.
Milwaukee suggestions I didn't mention? Let me know in the comments! Thanks!!