Milwaukee has been dubbed the “City of Festivals.” However, I’ve noticed that even though we have such a celebrated nickname, many of Milwaukee’s festivals have become homogenous.
Formerly known as the “South Shore Water Frolics,” this three-day festival is one of the oldest festivals in the city of Milwaukee and, unlike many, it still embraces the same simplicity, charm and character as it did years ago.
On Sunday afternoon Eric and I spent a little over an hour perusing the South Shore Frolics festival offerings that spanned several blocks in the quaint neighborhood of Bay View.
Located in the picturesque South Shore Park, the 59th annual South Shore Frolics boasts typical Milwaukee festival entertainment – food, beer, live music, fireworks, people watching – paired with classic, hometown charisma that’s expressed through the yearly Friday Fish Fry, movie on the beach, kid’s games, and one of the city’s best parades.
The afternoon was beautiful as we drove the 15 minutes from my place on the East Side to Bay View with the windows down in my new car. We easily found street parking and made our way toward the blaring live music and droves of people.
I was surprised at first by the crowd that afternoon, but then it donned on me that perhaps attendance didn’t suffer here like at Summerfest – which they blame on the tough economy – because this family-friendly festival is FREE!
Eric and I strolled along the beautiful tree-lined paths that were scatter with food vendors and children’s games. I caught myself laughing at the kids beaming each other square in the head with enormous water balloons. They reminded me of when my older brother used to ambush my sister and me while we played outside as kids.
Our first stop was the 10th Annual Classic Car Show where we inspected the Novas and Chevelles with glossy paint jobs and their hoods popped. Many of the car owners were spending the late afternoon tailgating, grilling up brats and cracking cans of beer as locals peered through the windows of their four-wheeled babies and gushed over their hefty engines.
Next, we made a beeline for the myriad of white tents that looked like a small village lining the winding sidewalk. Along the way, we passed several carnival games amid towering inflatable bouncers that provided endless fun for youngsters who hopped inside a springy castle, skipped across a soft octopus, or leaped around a two-mast pirate ship – I’m sure this was any kid’s dream come true!
The Festival of Arts was very reminiscent of Cedarburg’s Strawberry Festival. Sponsored by Bay View Arts Guild, the Festival of Arts showcased original artwork and fine crafts from 70 local and regional artists.
The media on display ranged from metal and woodwork, to ceramic and glass creations, to painting and photography compositions. Many works exhibited were quite exquisite while some of the items were a little kitschy, like the fiber handbags and the silverware wind chimes, which reminded me of my great uncle Bert's farm house.
About half of the artists were from the Milwaukee area, so it was a really good opportunity to support local work. In fact, I adored the prints by an artist called "Von Froehlich." She had the most adorable paintings of cats. Being a primed cat lady, I really wanted one, especially because they were only $25 each. Sadly, I didn’t have my credit card on me because I’m trying to cut back on spending, but I did snatch her business card.
Despite my lack of funds, we still spent the most time here, weaving in and out of each tent, poking and prodding at each unique piece of art.
Soon after, we decided to head en route for Lake Michigan. South Shore Park is located right along the lakefront and provides a magnificent view of the sparkling waters and Milwaukee’s skyline in the distance, too. We walked along the gravel path that took us around a grassy knoll where families were already perched on folding chairs or blankets, awaiting the festival’s signature Atomic Fireworks display put on each night by Milwaukee’s infamous Bartolotta Fireworks Company.
Eric and I also wound along the beach and watched the kids chasing shallow waves as they splashed over the shore and onto their tiny feet. We also admired all of the sailboats embarking on a casual day of sailing and wished we were onboard. Eventually, we slid into an open bench in front of a stage near the South Shore Yacht Club – it’s the biggest yacht club in Wisconsin – and listened to classic hits from Tom Petty and Fleetwood Mac performed by cover band Hat Trick.
All of the festival’s quirks and family-friendly activities really added to the delightful atmosphere. The entire area felt like a small village and gave off a genuine feeling of home. That’s what makes the South Shore Frolics so great...and so unique, especially in a lineup of festivals that are so similar nowadays that they tend to fade into one another.
59th Annual South Shore Frolics
South Shore Park
2900 South Shore Drive (at the corner of Superior Street and Rusk Avenue)
Milwaukee, WI 53207
July 11-13, 2008