Brian Jacobson

A funny elegy for summer draws thousands

By - Sep 26th, 2011 03:59 am
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It was the last Point Fish Fry and a Flick of the 2011 summer series, held exactly one day after the official last day of summer on a Friday evening along Milwaukee’s downtown lakefront. The weather had already drawn cooler, so the sported outfits of attendees was long pants, coats, and often winter hats. Yet still the people came. The movie that represented the end of the outdoor screening events was Bridesmaids (in which the story was set between Milwaukee and Chicago), which was released DVD on Tuesday. Yet the people kept coming.

At 5:30 p.m., it was still two hours until showtime. People came for free samples of Point beer, fried fish from Bartolotta’s, and alternate fare from foodie-favored food trucks and carts such as Streetza Pizza, Haute Tacos, and Satellite Crepes. At this moment, every square inch of space available to actually see the inflated screen was either occupied or staked out via blanket or butterfly chair while the occupants stood in massive lines to purchase food tickets. Yet the people kept coming.

By 6:30 p.m., there was no street parking left anywhere and the O’Donnell Parking Structure was full. Throngs of people continued to  stream down the long harbor drive and beyond that, they came over the Art Museum’s bridge. They came down Wisconsin Avenue from structures further away. The food trucks and fish fry caterers began to look frantic as the food was sure to run out.

By 7 p.m., I couldn’t stand to watch any more and left for home. As a reporter and photographer that evening, I had not staked out a seat.  While I often attend crowded, popular venues, it was clear that this was going to be a bloodbath. Even if they had filled the adjacent beer tent (which contained a secondary screen), allowed people to watch from the Pilot House, and swung the S/V Denis Sullivan around so people could watch the reverse image on the screen, there wouldn’t be enough room.  While I can deal with crowds, I can’t deal with people who continue to stuff an elevator after the limit has been reached.

You can’t necessarily fault the organizers of Fish Fry and a Flick for any poor planning. Holding outdoor events will always be a crap-shoot due to unsure weather and cross-scheduling of other events. In this case, a slight shift in the low pressure system would have brought the weird, wet weather of this past weekend to bear. But anytime you present a free event with beer, fried foods, a relaxing view, and schedule it at the end of a long work week — things can go wrong.

It doesn’t help that this “Irish wake for sunshine” happened exactly when all the other major events were either done for the season or holding out until Saturday. It was exactly that dangerous mix of wanting to mourn the end of festival season with having only one option open that combined for this perfect storm. Maybe if organizers had known, they could have guided folks just to the right of the museum and over the bridge onto Lakeshore Park, with the screen positioned in the cove for optimum viewing space. But the tent and facilities were still warm from the Opening Night Party of the Milwaukee Film Festival, and so they set up where they always have.

Milwaukee has become a town filled with those crazed and hungry for entertainment. We rehabbed the factories and warehouses into condos and brought the white-collar back to the downtown. We found that social media and shout-outs on local radio stations can do wonders for advertising events and organizations. In this case, Midwesterners love the comfort-routine of fish-fry, beer and a funny movie. They like free things. They love novelty — in this case a drive-in movie without the car or having to travel into the country.

So what’s the answer to the conundrum of Milwaukee out-growing its venues?  The problem was solved over this past summer by having multiple major events going on at the same time. Winter will solve the problem temporarily via giant snowbanks. But summer will come again, the population continues to grow, and the economy may improve leaving residents with more entertainment dollars. We’ve seen record attendance at State Fair, Summerfest, Bradford Beach, Miller Park and just about every neighborhood street fair and parish festival. Are more choices the option, or bigger fields in which to congregate?

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