Dave Reid

Milwaukee’s War on Fun

By - Feb 1st, 2009 10:35 pm
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Jazz in the Park

Jazz in the Park

It was just a few years ago when Milwaukee was named the #2 Party City in America, and although that might seem like a funny or insignificant title it was actually a well deserved and beneficial honor.  I believe this title meant more than the number of beers sold at Summerfest or bar stools per capita.  I believe it considered that because of Milwaukee’s great events “party goers” of all backgrounds can come together to enjoy music, art, the outdoors and a good drink.  This ranking didn’t just show that we Milwaukeean’s like to knock back a few but more importantly it showed young professionals, baby boomers, and outsiders that Milwaukee was a vibrant, fun city to live in.  This ranking reflected what those of us who live in already knew, summer in Milwaukee is about as good as it gets.

Then the Winter of 2008 arrived, and as President Obama indicated “change has come to America”.  More specifically change has come to Milwaukee’s summer time events.  Unfortunately not to the betterment of Milwaukee.

First, we heard that after 18 years of allowing carry-in liquor, Jazz in the Park is throwing out the tradition that made the event special.  Next, we heard that Gallery Night is being harassed by the State of Wisconsin over a couple of free glasses of wine.  And now we hear of neighbors whining about music on Bradford Beach.

Understand that I’m not lamenting the loss of cheap liquor or loud music for their sake, but more so regarding what these changes mean.  Furthermore, I know there has been an outrage in the mainstream media over drunk driving in Wisconsin, deservedly so, but going after great events such as Jazz in the Park or Gallery Night isn’t the solution.

The ability to carry-in your own choice of beverage allows groups of friends from all income levels and races to gather and celebrate together.  It facilitates spontaneous gatherings, random meetings, and yes, community building.  By changing this rule East Town has turned Jazz in the Park from a community event into a street festival, and although street festivals are still enjoyable something is lost.

The wine offered at galleries during Gallery Night serves a purpose other than inebriation.  It takes the fairly individual act of browsing art and opens it up to groups of friends and strangers.  Furthermore, it attracts first time art fans which opens a new world of interest to those who may not ever of chosen to explore art.

Bradford Beach

Bradford Beach

For years, some would say decades, Bradford Beach was in decline.  Until last year.  Last year the Hi-Hat Group and X-Ray Marketing took over operations of the Bradford Beach House and began to schedule a variety of events which included live music.  Anyone who made it down the beach last year knew times had changed for the better.  People were playing volleyball, sun tanning, swimming, and enjoying the music.  A great Milwaukee amenity was re-born and enjoyed by thousands of Milwaukeeans throughout last summer.  As with Jazz in the Park and Gallery Night, this great amenity, this great event, this part of Milwaukee’s rebirth is already coming under fire.  Recently a small group of East Side residents complained to the County Board, apparently because they didn’t approve of the choice of music, and now the fun, the rebirth of Bradford Beach is in question.

This “war on fun” needs to be looked at in a larger view, beyond the individual events.  Beyond the individual concerns and complaints.  I hope that we as a city begin to realize that events big and small add to the vibrancy of our great city.  I hope that soon enough we realize the value these events bring to our city, because if we choose rigid and muted, over vibrant and lively, we move a step closer to Generica, U.S.A.


14 thoughts on “Milwaukee’s War on Fun”

  1. Jesse says:

    The sky is falling, I don’t know how to have fun unless I’m drunk and can be loud!

  2. Dave Reid says:

    @Jesse I was kind of wondering what the response would be to this article. The point isn’t about bringing your own beer or music. These are just thing things that facilitate events, that create the environment. For Jazz it makes it possible for all sorts of people to join the event and facilitates new meetings. On Bradford Beach the music tells people something is going on, draws people in, and well is fun.

  3. KS says:

    Congratulations Jesse! You’ve just demonstrated how to be obnoxious without being loud or drunk.

  4. v'ron says:

    Well put, Mr. Reid. It’s NOT just any individual or specific event. It’s this whole idea of people moving into the city and wanting it to be the quiet generic suburb they’d lived in the past years. I remember when people moved into the condos right behind the Riverside Theatre and complained because they heard buses (tour buses from the performers) idling all night. Well, WHAT DID YOU EXPECT MOVING INTO A PLACE BY A DOWNTOWN THEATRE? Or people buying homes in West Allis complaining about the sound of the auto races? Well, WHAT DID YOU EXPECT MOVING THREE BLOCKS AWAY FROM A HUNDRED YEAR OLD RACETRACK?

    I moved to — and stayed in — the city precisely to escape this mindset. And now it’s creeping in.

  5. Joe says:

    I’m all for music and fun and all styles of music at Bradford Beach and attended a reggae show there last year. But the neighbors are right to want controls on the volume and number of amplified events. Let’s remember this is a park and it’s in a very urban area. Your thinly veiled and unfounded hint that the neighbors may be racist ignores the fact that music doesn’t have to be so loud it is literally felt by everyone within a mile to be “fun.” A good compromise was reached, where many amplified events will still be held and volume levels watched. That’s good urbanism – respecting everyone rights, including the right to enjoy your home.

  6. Jesse says:

    One point of view I find obnoxious is that you cannot improve any place you choose to move. If the area has crime, you have no right to expect a competant police force. If you live near a bar, you can’t expect them or their patrons to respect the neighborhood. My favorite is if you live downtown, you have no right to complain about anything, because some people from outside the area assume anything goes.

    Joe had it right in that creating a quality environment to live, work, and play doesn’t mean no rules, it means respecting each other and finding compromise.

    A free jazz event that officially doesn’t allow you to bring in your own alchohol, but won’t be enforced unless you’re causing problems is an example of this. Improving the operations of Bradford Beach so that it minimizes the effects on neighbors while preserving many of the things making it a success, that’s an example. Nonsensically complaining/whining to stir debate is more a tactic of Belling than I would expect to see here.

  7. Joe says:

    I agree with Jesse. The us vs. them attitude on Bradford Beach is Belling-like fearmongering that should be beneath urbanists, parks lovers and people who want to build community. Compromise and balance make more sense than extreme all-or-nothing positions. In terms of the beach, the issue is solely AMPLIFIED and LOUD music. Limits make sense. No one is trying to stop all amplified music or fun activities. Let’s not exaggerate. If your neighbor is blasting a stereo in his backyard every weekend, the police intervene if necessary, and they should. It’s all a matter of respecting everybody’s rights instead of supporting only some rights.

  8. Dave Reid says:

    In my neighborhood we have Jazz in the Park and Bastille Days, which bring noise, drunks, and congestion for an extended period of time during the Summer but I see these events as positives not negatives. Because the value of vibrancy and activity for hundreds if not thousands of people.

    Should Bradford Beach turn the speakers and stop at a designated time? Sure, but canceling some weekends, because of the complaints of the few over the lawful desire of the many seems problematic to me.

    PS I’m no Mark Belling you’ll never find me hanging out at Victors

  9. MilwaukeeD says:

    Just wait until The Oriental runs into opposition getting a liquor license.

  10. Dave Reid says:

    @MilwaukeeD I’ll be very curious to see if people turn out for that one.

  11. You may be missing a bigger picture. Boomers are aging. Drinking and loudness are arguably more “fun” for younger people. I was having dinner in a downtown Milwaukee restaurant and four of us at a small table found it impossible to hear one another over the loud “background” music and crowd. It’s simply a fact that as one ages, it becomes more difficult to distinguish background and foreground sounds. I asked the manager about it and received a candid reply: It’s intentional, he said. We want it uncomfortably loud for middle-aged and older people so they’ll finish more quickly and move on. Why? Because they don’t drink as much as younger people who therefore spend more money.

    It usually pays to ask what’s really going on. Maybe the aging of the population points toward a tipping point. Or maybe it is the resurgent puritanism that periodically bedevils our beloved country. You responded to the latter, I think, the notion that a puritan is someone who can’t sleep because someone, somewhere, might be having a good time, as Mencken said. But maybe there’s more to it than that.

    As an aging person, anyhow, I think the city ought to do everything it can to attract and retain younger professionals who often leave Milwaukee, not for drinking opportunities (I think we still have plenty of those) but for more interesting or better-paying jobs. Maybe the mini-depression/deep recession will alter the dynamics but this is a bigger issue that needs attention and meaningful leadership, not just platitudes and denials and defensive sound bites from soft ineffective leaders.

  12. Ler says:

    Okay have a time restriction and point the speakers to the East but why cut down on the amount of preformances? I mean six a year is not really very many. They are doing a great service to Bradford Beach whether or not these complainers like it or not and to penalize these event planners who are revitalizing the lake due to a couple of whiners is pathetic and makes me feel sad to live in a city that use to know how to have fun. I am all about compromise but cutting down on the preformances in not a compromise. We need more younger people to speak up against these out of touch aging people, just like the last election, to finally see some positive change in our community!

  13. Jesse says:

    It’s ironic you complain about whining. Anyway, they limited ‘amplified music’, which would mean you could still have other performances.

  14. Ler says:

    Jesse did you read my post! I’m not the one whining about a little fun, I’m trying to encourage it! We all need a little, no matter what age. Yeah, outdoor unamplified shows, are you completely nuts? Maybe next we should all sit around and sing Kumbaya! Would that make you happy?

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