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Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Bastille Days Welcomes the Storm

Milwaukee Festival Favorite Offers Wine, Cheese, Music and More

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On July 14, 1789, violence broke out in France when overtaxed, angry Parisians stormed the Bastille prison. It was a symbolic and bloody start to the French Revolution, a tumultuous conflict of class warfare between the rising bourgeoisie and the established nobility punctuated by the Reign of Terror and followed by Napoleon’s imperial rise and fall. Some 220 years later, Milwaukee’s 28th annual Bastille Days festival (July 9-12) will once again use the French Revolution as a loose point of departure for a four-day celebration of French culture and Milwaukee-style summer revelry in Cathedral Square Park.

Fortunately, instead of being a bastion of class warfare, Bastille Days successfully mixes culture and camp. Oenophiles and beer drinkers alike convene to eat beignets and wash them down under the schmaltzy charm of the miniature Eiffel Tower. While it may lack historical re-enactments and public recitations of Rousseau’s Social Contract, the festival is full of entertainment sure to please even discerning Francophiles.

For foodies, Bastille Days plays host to French epicurean delights. For those whom the term “culture” holds a secondary meaning, the festival introduces cheese-tasting seminars at the Beaux Arts stage on Friday and Sunday, where aspiring gourmands can sample fromage from France. If you’ve ever wanted to know a Burgundy from a Bordeaux, daily demonstrations by local chefs will be followed by discussions with experts well-versed in regional French wines.

On Saturday at 11:30 a.m., dogs in outfits will participate in the Pooch Parade, where one hopes a few snub-nosed French bulldogs will make an appearance among the costumed canines. Friday’s activities include a Kiss-A-Thon, where couples will compete to see who can lock lips the longest, garnering the adoration or abhorrence that such a spectacle of endurance justly deserves. (No word on whether there will be a breathalyzer test to compete.)

For single folks or those who prefer not to indulge in public displays of affection and still want a workout, the 25th annual Storm the Bastille Run/Walk takes place Thursday at 9 p.m. This peaceful iteration of the historic event begins on Jefferson Street, where last-minute registrants can sign up as late as 8 p.m. at the corner of Jefferson and Wells.

Dance fans should visit the Kilbourn West Stage, where cancan girls, African drummers, and a belly-dance troupe will brave the July heat daily from 11:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. Local dance and drum group Jam Ak Jam brings the rhythms of Senegal, and Madame Gigi’s Outrageous French Cancan Dancers promise titillating turn-of-the-19th-century entertainment.

For lovers of visual art, Eliot Patterson, artist and co-founder of TRUE Skool, a nonprofit dedicated to replacing illegal graffiti with community mural projects, teams up with local artists Ben Stark and Seth Sanders to re-create ephemeral versions of French masterworks along Jackson Street.

In traditional Bastille Days form, acts from across the musical spectrum and the country are interspersed with Milwaukee festival staples. On the Cathedral Square Stage, Winnipeg-based quintet The Duhks brings its Grammy-nominated melange of countrified soul to the 9:15 p.m. headlining slot on Friday. Hailing from the beignet capital of the United States, New Orleans electric blues guitarist Tab Benoit headlines the Cathedral Square Stage on Saturday. On Sunday at 4 p.m. at the Beaux Arts Stage, Bastille Days’ veteran chanteuse Robin Pluer returns to the festival for the 14th year in a row.

There’s something for nearly everyone at the festival this year, and in the true spirit of the French Revolution, the tyranny of high ticket prices is left to other festivals: Admission to Bastille Days is free.

For more A&E coverage, visit ExpressMilwaukee.com.



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