Wisconsin can be proud of more festivals than PrideFest. That event was merely the first in a long string of celebrations hitting both Milwaukee and other parts of the state over the summer months.
We can’t, unfortunately, list every festival event in Wisconsin this year, but we’ve done our best to include some of the largest: Milwaukee’s many ethnic festivals, some Madison celebrations, and, of course, the big two: Summerfest and State Fair. So mark your calendars — it’s going to be one heck of a summer.
Asia Fest || June 17 to 19
$10, $7 children/students/seniors. asiafestmke.com.
Milwaukee’s Asia Fest, at Veterans Park, is a newer addition to the season. The Midwest is home to many different Asian communities, and Asia Fest offers them all an opportunity to collaborate, with Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi, Vietnamese, Indonesian, Malaysian, Nepali and Thai groups prominently represented.
Foodies should be immediately drawn to the festival, since the overlapping cultures lend themselves easily to delicious, authentic Asian fusion options. They and everyone else can also experience visual and performance art, demonstrations and educational workshops. (Colton Dunham)
Polish Fest || June 17 to 19
$12, $10 in advance or for seniors, free for children 15 and under. polishfest.org.
Right on the heels of PrideFest comes Polish Fest, a celebration of Milwaukee’s Polish heritage. As one of the city’s oldest cultural festivals and the country’s largest Polish festival, the event garners high expectations — which it always meets or exceeds.
Many of the usual Polish treats are set to return, with pierogis, Klements Polish sausage and Chopin Vodka. The Sukiennice Marketplace will open again as well, offering authentic crafts, and fluffy Polish sheepdogs will be hanging out by the lake for animal lovers. Don’t forget to visit the non-stop polka stage, where you can dance your heart out from open to close.
Summerfest || June 29 to July 10
$20, $13 weekdays, $8 seniors/children; multi-day packages available. summerfest.com.
What about Summerfest hasn’t already been said? Every Wisconsin music lover knows that this 11-day event (which skips July 4) is the pinnacle of summer festival season, with something for everyone: world-class and local musicians, delicious festival food and all sorts of other fun and games.
One thing worth mentioning: Taking a bus to the Big Gig is an even better idea than usual. MCTS’ new Pre>Fare system allows you to pre-purchase a freeway flyer ticket for $5.50 before June 24 ($1 cheaper) and get a free weekday ticket to Summerfest too. It’s the newest of Summerfest’s many promotions, designed to get as many people there as possible, celebrating with the rest of Milwaukee.
Bastille Days || July 14 to 17
Free, $20 Storm the Bastille registration. easttown.com.
From the first steps on the Storm the Bastille route to the last drops of Champagne in Cathedral Square, Milwaukee’s Bastille Days are an adventurous component of the festival season. The four day event brings numerous French food vendors, wine tastings, merchants and musicians to Cathedral Square.
This year marks the return of the crowd-favorite Carnival of Curiosity and Chaos, a troupe of performers who’ll perform circus and sideshow acts throughout the weekend. New is an official Bastille Days app, similar to the ones created for Summerfest and State Fair, that will help attendees navigate and find the French delights they’re looking for.
Festa Italiana || July 22 to 24
$13, $10 in advance through July 21, children 12 and under free. festaitaliana.com.
One of the more musically focused ethnic festivals, Festa Italiana doesn’t plan to disappoint this year. Teenage soprano prodigy and America’s Got Talent alum Jackie Evancho is the foremost act in an Italy-celebrating portfolio that also includes John Michael Coppola’s A Jersey Voice, Four Seasons tribute band The Four C Notes, The Sicilian Tenors and performances by members of the Florentine Opera.
It isn’t just about Italian song, of course. Festa’s beloved Florentine flag-throwers will be returning, as will the festival’s recreation of the Trevi Fountain, multiple opportunities to enjoy Italian food and wine, and a variety of other fun and games. New this year is a Piazza open market, which will give visitors a chance to view and purchase Italian art, cinema, religious artifacts and vintage photos.
German Fest || July 29 to 31
$12, $7 seniors/students, $3 Friday. germanfest.com.
Tradition is everything at German Fest. A live cuckoo clock, German beer and foodstuffs, classical dance troupes and authentic music are just the tip of the wienerschnitzel for the 36-year-old festival.
But even the best traditions need to be shaken up every so often. The ever-changing culture pavilion will feature information and displays on Germany’s waterways this year, and Sunday will feature a first-ever partnership between four charities (the MACC Fund, Children’s Hospital, Ronald McDonald House and Make-A-Wish) in which ticket sales for that family day go in part to benefit all four. Don’t worry though: The beloved potato pancake recipe remains unchanged.
Wisconsin State Fair || Aug. 6 to 16
$12, $7 seniors/military, $6 children 6 to 11. wistatefair.com.
When you get to State Fair, get the cream puff first. Then focus on everything else happening at this super-packed celebration of all things Wisconsin. The 11-day event pairs traditional county fair standbys — agricultural showcases, carnival rides, delicious fried foods — with a stellar music lineup, shopping areas and more.
Details on what will join the grounds’ selection of novelty food items aren’t available yet, but the minds behind fusions like apple pie wontons, donut grilled cheese and the Wis-Cone-Sin (a soft pretzel cone stuffed with chicken schnitzel, potato pancakes, German rotkohl, cinnamon apple straws and a beer reduction) are surely brewing up some bizarre culinary concoctions. In between stuffing your face, you can check out this year’s big musical acts, including rising star Shawn Mendes, ‘80s icons Berlin, duo Melissa Etheridge and Pat Benatar, and The Beach Boys.
Irish Fest || Aug. 18 to 21
$20, $15 seniors, $5 Thursday, children 12 and under free. irishfest.com.
Most cities only celebrate Irish culture in March. Milwaukee gets to do it again in August, when Irish Fest sets up shop. But rather than simply giving any and everyone license to wear green and get drunk, Irish Fest focuses on authentic Celtic culture.
Irish step dancers will be around en masse throughout the grounds, and mainstage headliners include Gaelic Storm on both Saturday and Sunday. Visitors should also step by the Celtic Kitchen for a Milwaukee iteration of the classic Irish pub experience.
Madison Pride || Aug. 21
In Madison, LGBT Pride isn’t just for June. There’s a lot of celebrating left to do in August, when the Madison Pride Parade provides an afternoon of community engagement sponsored by Madison’s OutReach community center.
The parade route is simple: a straight shot up State Street to the Capitol Square, where the event shifts into a rally to support LGBT rights. That rally will feature performances by local artists, along with booths along the square for vendors and nonprofit groups supporting the festivities.
Mexican Fiesta || Aug. 26 to 28
$15, children 8 and under free. mexicanfiesta.org.
Mexican Fiesta has always had its eye squarely on education. Its primary sponsor is the Wisconsin Hispanic Scholarship Foundation and the festival features a variety of informative elements at locations on the grounds like their cultural pavilion.
But this fiesta isn’t just a place to learn about Mexican culture — it’s a place to celebrate it! Individual musicians including Espinoza Paz and Intocable will be performing throughout the weekend, along with various mariachi bands. There’ll also be performances and contests of merengue and salsa dancing, with amateurs and professionals alike turning out to show off their skills.
Indian Summer Festival || Sept. 9 to 11
$15, $12 advance or for elders, children 12 and under free. indiansummer.org.
This year’s Indian Summer Festival is all about bringing back fan favorites. The biggest draw is the return of Brulé, a contemporary Native American music group known for its mix of cultural rock and traditional dancers in full regalia. They’ll join acts like hip hop artist Supaman, the Dinah Tah Navajo Dancers, and a multicultural drum jam.
Indian Summer isn’t as well-known for its food options as other fests, so make this the year you try them and tell all your friends — food demos will take place throughout the weekend, and vendors in the Indian Summer Marketplace will offer traditional foods like frybread and roasted corn. Plus, this year marks the return of fireworks, punctuating the final ethnic festival of the year with a literal bang.
Willy Street Fest || Sept. 17 to 18
Milwaukee gets all the festival press, but Madison has a bunch of bashes too. One of the biggest is Willy Street Fest, the city’s longest-running neighborhood gathering. Over two days, three blocks of Williamson Street is turned into a festival akin to street fairs of the ‘60s and ‘70s.
Details remain sparse for this year’s festival, but what’s sure to appear three months from now are five stages of entertainment, impromptu performers and a one-of-a-kind parade on Sunday. Profits from the event support the Wil-Mar Neighborhood Center and Common Wealth.
Petfest || Sept. 24
This festival may take place late enough in the year that it’s only barely “summer,” but how could we not recommend you take the time to celebrate your furry friends? Both dogs and cats are welcome at this one-day event, with pet-friendly activities available throughout the day.
Currently companionless? Petfest is still for you! The event’s “Adoption Avenue” unites dozens of rescues and nonprofits, exponentially increasing the chances that you’ll walk out of Petfest with more animals than you came in with.