This Week in Milwaukee: June 19-25
Thursday, June 19
Juneteenth Day Celebration @ Martin Luther King Jr. Drive, 9 a.m.-6 p.m.
If you’d never before heard of Juneteenth Day but happened upon Martin Luther King Jr. Drive on June 19, you could easily believe that you’d forgotten it was the Fourth of July. The annual commemoration of emancipation is celebrated with particular enthusiasm in Milwaukee, so these four long blocks between Burleigh and Center fill up with a parade and thousands of people as dancers take to the streets and the smell of barbecue fills the air. This year’s festivities include a parade, live music, a variety of family friendly activities and plenty of food.
ComedySportz Championship @ ComedySportz, 7 and 9 p.m.
The concept of comedy as a competitive sport was a novel one when ComedySportz began in Milwaukee in 1984, but over the years it has taken off, spreading to nearly two dozen other cities. This weekend ComedySportz celebrates its 30th anniversary with one of its biggest competitions yet: a three-day, eight-show championship battle featuring comedians from around the globe. How will Milwaukee’s own fare against some of the world’s top improvisational talent? We’ll find out. (Multiple performances through Saturday, June 21.)
Friday, June 20
Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds w/ Warpaint @ Milwaukee Theatre, 8 p.m.
Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds have been around for more than 30 years, making music that illustrates just what an umbrella term the word “alternative” is. From their early post-punk roots, the group has explored garage, gothic blues and minimalist rock, while Cave and several Bad Seeds members have dabbled in a rawer, blues-driven kind of rock with the side project Grinderman. Push the Sky Away, Cave’s critically acclaimed latest album with the Bad Seeds, sees the group trying out a much more restrained sound, allowing Cave’s voice to the forefront and highlighting the introspective and often mysterious lyrics. The dense lyrical content and subtle compositions require a close listen, but the music rewards with hidden surprises. For their latest tour, Cave and the Bad Seeds have gone out of their way to stop in cities they’ve rarely performed in, including Milwaukee, which they have never before headlined.
Lakefront Festival of Art @ Milwaukee Art Museum, 10 a.m.
One of the Milwaukee Art Museum’s largest fundraisers, the Lakefront Festival of Art features more than 180 artists and craftspeople from across the world showing and selling their work, from fiber and metalwork to ceramics and paintings. The three-day festival is held at the museum and on the surrounding grounds, where a wine garden and Blue Moon beer-sampling stand will offer refreshments. Entertainment at the festival includes music from Vic and Gab, Boy Blue and Painted Caves. (Through Sunday, June 22.)
Greek Fest @ Wisconsin State Fair Grounds, 11 a.m.
Although the food is the biggest draw at this Milwaukee festival staple, which recently moved to the Wisconsin State Fair grounds from the Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church, there’s plenty to do while you’re enjoying your gyro, souvlaki or saganaki. Traditional performances, including dancing and music, are a big draw, in addition to a Greek market and carnival rides on the midway. The festival kicks off Friday with a fish fry, and continues through the weekend with plenty of authentic Greek culinary options, including plenty of lamb. (Through Sunday, June 22.)
Saturday, June 21
Milwaukee Air and Water Show @ Bradford Beach, 10 a.m.-4 p.m.
Moved from its usual date in August, the Milwaukee Air and Water Show arrives early to take over the lakefront for a weekend of stunts and exhibitions by local and national daredevils. The Blue Angels are the main draw for the air portion of the show, showcasing precision aerial acrobatics accompanied by window-rattling roars. Also featured at the show is the All-Veteran Parachute Team and several solo and group stunt performances by flight groups. On the water look for racing boats, yachts and fire boats. (Also Sunday, June 22.)
Summer Soulstice Music Festival @ North Avenue, 10 a.m.-midnight
Taking place in the heart of the East Side, Summer Soulstice is a one-day-only event bringing together food, art and music in a celebration of the longest day of the year. Going until midnight on North Avenue, the festival takes full advantage of the long hours of daylight. Attendees will be able to make their own art at the DIY arts station, or just watch some of the many artists and vendors as they work. As usual, music is the main draw. Headliners include Soul Low, Kane Place Record Club, The Fatty Acids and I’m Not a Pilot among other area groups. The festival is free and sponsored by Miller Lite, so expect plenty of beer stands.
Wednesday, June 25
Bruno Mars w/ Aloe Blacc @ Marcus Amphitheater, 7:30 p.m.
Bruno Mars first gained recognition after a series of guest verses on popular songs by artists like B.o.B and Travie McCoy before releasing his first album for Atlantic, which spawned several hit singles of his own. Mars’ sophomore effort Unorthodox Jukebox continued to refine the combination of R&B crooning and pop hooks that made Mars a star, while introducing a wider assortment of influences ranging from reggae to rock. The singer is renowned for his enthusiastic live shows, a reputation that earned him the gig of a lifetime performing at the Super Bowl Halftime show this winter. For this Marcus Amphitheater show, Mars is joined by opener Aloe Blacc. The soul singer’s latest album Lift Your Spirit moves away from the rootsy soul of his second album and toward a bigger and more polished pop sound.
Ray LaMontagne w/ Foy Vance @ BMO Harris Pavilion, Summerfest, 8 p.m.
Ray LaMontagne has garnered steady comparisons to greats like Van Morrison and The Band for his earthy, rugged style of folk music, but with his fifth and latest album, Supernova, released in early May, LaMontagne seems to be reaching beyond his usual bubble. Produced by Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys, the album experiments with ’60s influences and a greater sound palette, including electric guitar and organ riffs. Titular single “Supernova” is a rather uncharacteristically upbeat love song where LaMontagne shakes off the weariness as he sings “Every time I turn around baby there you are / Just shining down on me like a blazing star.” It’s a song that inches this seasoned singer-songwriter closer to the wider audience he deserves.
Arctic Monkeys @ Miller Lite Oasis, Summerfest, 10 p.m.
The British indie-rock group Arctic Monkeys have embraced their bluesy side on their latest album, AM, sounding at times like a British answer to the Black Keys. Known for their propensity to change sounds between albums, the band has evolved from the garage rock and pop-punk of their early work to a heavier, more classic-rock-informed sound that’s a far cry from their hyper-youthful 2005 breakthrough single “I Bet You You Look Good on the Dancefloor.”
Ben Harper and Charlie Musselwhite @ Harley-Davidson Roadhouse, Summerfest, 10 p.m.
Though Ben Harper retains a devoted cult audience in America, he’s an even bigger star abroad, where his bluesy mix of folk, soul, world music and gospel has found open ears. Harper’s most recent two albums have been collaborative efforts. 2013’s Get Up paired him with harmonica master Charlie Musselwhite, and this year’s Childhood Home found Harper working with his mother Ellen for a series of quiet, acoustic duets focused on themes of home and family. His mother probably won’t be appearing on stage with him for this Summerfest show, but Musselwhite will, so expect plenty of interplay between Harper’s electrifying slide guitar and Musselwhite’s vibrant harp.