Milwaukee festivals begin to return

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Photo by Hope Moses

Milwaukee’s newer Taco Fest will host live music, wrestling, a chili pepper eating contest and a chihuahua beauty pageant.

After nearly a year without any large in-person entertainment venues since the COVID-19 outbreak in March 2020, many have deemed this summer the start of life “getting back to normal.” While Milwaukee’s 2020 summer was a bit underwhelming, the city is ready to get back to what it does best. Here are some Milwaukee festivals coming back in 2021.

Irish Fest

Although Cream City is known for its German heritage, the Irish are making a claim for the city with the Milwaukee Irish Festival.

The Irish Festival started in 1980 and has been a showcase for Irish music, food, culture, language and more ever since. Featuring the musical stylings of Celtic bands, the Milwaukee Irish Festival will also host multiple areas where attendees can feel free to drink Irish whiskey plain or with any of the myriad of twists offered, such as the Arnold O’Palmer and Irish Mule. But for those under 21, don’t fret: The Irish Festival can satisfy your hunger for traditional Irish food with options from over 45 locations throughout the grounds.

Charlie Farrar, a junior in the College of Education, still remembers his family’s visit to Irish Fest over 10 years ago.

“I remember there was lots of green, obviously,” Farrar says. “It reminds me of Summerfest, with the food stands and drinks everywhere.”

Irish Fest will always hold a special place in Farrar’s heart, as it is where his father proposed to his mother.

“I wish I could go more often, but because the dates are in August and so close to school, it’s harder,” Farrar says.

The festival runs Friday, August 20, 2 p.m. to 12 a.m.; Saturday, August 21, 12 p.m. to 12 a.m. and Sunday, August 22, 11 a.m. to 12 a.m. General admission tickets are $21 and can be purchased at the gate or online.

Taco Fest

Even though the Milwaukee Taco Fest is one of the newer celebrations on this list, only being created seven years ago, it’s sure to give Milwaukee a lot to taco-bout. Local Milwaukee restaurant favorites like Vagabond and Taco Mike’s will enter a contest August 1, where attendees will decide where the best taco in Milwaukee can be found.

The festival will also host live music (including a mariachi band), wrestling, a chili pepper eating contest and a chihuahua beauty pageant. The Taco Fest website boasts that in 2019, over 15,348 tacos were consumed at the festival. This year promises to be even better, with vendors eager to show off their taco-making abilities. The event benefits the Wisconsin Hispanic Scholarship Foundation & Rescue Gang, and tickets can be purchased online

Wisconsin State Fair

The Wisconsin State Fair has been a staple of summer in the Dairy State since 1851. Last summer, for the first time since World War II, the fair was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, this year it is back and better than ever. The event has taken place at State Fair Park in West Allis since 1892, just a short bus ride away from Marquette’s campus.

Ashley Bodi, a senior in the College of Arts & Sciences, has gone to the State Fair almost every year since she was nine years old.

“My favorite part is definitely the food,” Bodi says. “They have cookie dough balls and cookies on sticks.”

Bodi remembers her uncle taking the whole family every year when she was younger, and says she still loves to go for the food and nostalgia.

“It was probably more fun as a kid, with the slides and magic shows and stuff, but it’s still a great experience as an adult,” Bodi says.

This year the fair will have over 150 food locations (including the famous Original Cream Puffs) and over 400 shopping locations. Additionally, shows on the main stages as well as competitions will be held each day of the fair, including singer Billy Idol and the band, Skillet.

The Wisconsin State Fair will run August 5 to 15 and tickets can be purchased online, via phone or at the State Fair Ticket Office.

Mexican Fiesta

Originally created in 1973 as a celebration of Mexican Independence Day, Mexican Fiesta moved to the Summerfest Grounds in 1977 and has boasted three days of Mexican food, culture and music for almost every summer since. The cultural foundation focuses on “providing education and cultural events for the growing Hispanic community,” and encourages all ethnic backgrounds to immerse themselves in the joy of a fiesta. Although no line-up of music or vendors is currently available, if past years are any indication we can expect classic Mexican food and exciting music.

Armenian Fest

Milwaukeeans looking for a break from bratwursts and cheese will find some solace in Armenian Fest, which offers Mediterranean food like kabobs, burek, lahmajoun and other exotic foods that are harder to find in the city. The festival offers free admission as well as live Armenian music and the chance to purchase books and artifacts relating to the country.

The event will be held at St. John the Baptist Armenian Orthodox Church Sunday, July 18, from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.

This story was written by Nora McCaughey. She can be reached at nora.mccaughey@marquette.edu.