Riverwest Parties On

The temperature finally dropped to the normal bone-chilling cold weather expected of a Milwaukee winter, but that didn’t stop locals from attending the weekend’s Riverwest Fest.

The winter Riverwest Fest boasted nearly fifty bands in two days sponsored by local radio stations and business, all held in the neighborhood west of the Milwaukee River.

Although usually a summer affair, the second annual festival was held in the winter and is referred to as: “Riverwest Fest 2.” Organizers describe the festival as one that “celebrates DIY Milwaukee music and local businesses.”

The venues were located all over the neighborhood in hopes to promote people to go from venue to venue and explore the area: despite the weather.


December finally felt like winter after days of 40 degree highs. Yet locals were hanging out side of bars spotted around Riverwest smoking cigarettes and chatting with one another.

Festivals are typical in Wisconsin and notorious for Milwaukee. Riverwest hosts multiple festivals in the warmer months such as Locust Street Days and Center Street Daze. A festival in the winter months is an uncommon occurrence.

Outside of breweries, various genres of music could be heard. Like the distinct differences between Milwaukee neighborhoods, the music proved to be just as diverse.

Milwaukee’s music scene has had a long history. Few popular musicians from Wisconsin extend beyond their Midwestern home (Milwaukee heroes Violent Femmes and post-punk icon James Chance being few exceptions).

Yet Milwaukee has a new batch of bands that circulate in the local circuit.

Myles Coyne & the Rusty Nickel band performed both nights at Riverwest Fest. Often also performing as a solo act, Myles Coyne is a familiar face in Milwaukee folk scene. Music influences are as easy to pick up in the music as it is to hear in song titles such as “Woodie Guthrie.”

The band opened for Undercover Organism, a self-described “jamtronica” band, the second night at the Stonefly Brewery.

“There’s so much good music in Milwaukee right now,” said Coyne.

According to Coyne, the first night of the festival went well for the band with a receptive crowd. Often a solo-performer, Coyne will be without his band throughout the following months. The Riverwest Fest was one of the last gigs for the band as a whole.

The festival was sponsored by locally-owned businesses and radio stations such as Beans & Barley and WMSE 91.7. Keeping it local was what the festival was all about.

Riverwest Fest was a festival created by two local musicians, Sean Heiser and Kelsey Kaufmann. The two created the festival in hopes to encourage people to explore and support their community.

The Riverwest Fest posters were printed and designed by Milwaukee artist David Arnevik. Arnevik also designed the festival’s first annual run that was held in August 2010.

Out of the eight venues, three of them were all ages. There is, after all, music lovers of all ages. To make the participants work, venues (many of them pubs and breweries) were located throughout the Riverwest neighborhood.


Garden Park is usually a site for farmer’s markets and neighborhood gatherings. Amidst the celebrations of the weekend was the Occupy Riverwest, which has been occupying the area of Garden Park for over 60 days.

Saturday night the fires were blazing at the site. Curious concert goers walked past staring at the teepee that marked the occupation site.

Several other homes were hosting bon fires. Heat from the fires could be felt from the street creating a contrast to the sharp, cold breeze.

Riverwest has a reputation that is in the process of being repaired. Riverwest resident and local-concert frequenter Brandon Evans believes that there is a community in Riverwest worth being a part of.

“I was surprised that there was a festival in the winter,” said Evans. “It’s cool, though. There are a lot of good musicians to see in Milwaukee.”

Riverwest is a neighborhood investing in community. The Riverwest Public House Cooperative is a DIY (do it yourself) inspired pub that has the mission of a local meeting place. The Public House served as a venue for the weekend’s festival.

“We’re proud to host this local event,” said the pub’s website. “The organizers share out DIY ethos and take no personal profit from the fest. Just good old-fashioned love for Milwaukee’s music scene.”

Riverwest Fest is not over. According to the fesitval’s tumblr website, an after party will take place after the holidays on Dec. 28th at the Quarter’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Palace.

“There will be record spinning and maybe some pizza,” promised the festival’s tumblr.

Party on, Riverwest.