According to the Shepherd Express, "Any Milwaukee native old enough to remember the 1960s will remember the Brady Street Festival. At the time, the street itself was in transition from old-time Italian neighborhood to Milwaukee's hippie mecca, the local answer to Haight-Ashbury. Echoing that tie-dyed spirit, neighborhood merchants and activists organized a festival featuring local bands and vendors. It was a mainstay of summer entertainment in Milwaukee..." (View the full Shepherd Express article at this link.)
The GPU News reported on both a Spring and Fall Festival in the mid-1970s. The September 1974 issue of GPU News for example reported: "The Fall Brady Street Festival was held this year on Sunday, September 1. As usual, Brady Street was closed from Oakland and Farwell to Humboldt Street, with arts and crafts booths lining both sides of the street." (View the full article from GPU News below.)
During its heyday, the Brady Street Festival was one of the fledgling gay community's best means of communicating with the general public and locating other gay people. The Gay Peoples Union (GPU) had information booths at the Festival for quite a few years in the 1970s. July 1973's GPU News reported:
"Among the social organizations who set up booths are Gay Peoples Union and Council for Religion and the Homosexual. GPU's booth featured a display of liberation books on consignmnent from Rhubarb Book Store and Volume ? Book Store. GPU also featured the very popular lavender kissing booth where kisses were sold for 50? cents each. It was reported that some of the kissers gave away more kisses than they sold, but the booth turned a modest profit as well as receiving mention in local newspapers.
"During the afternoon, GPU's blue Cookie Monster, ala Sesame Street, appeared on the street with a big yellow Queer Duck. Children recognizing the paper-mache Cookie Monster ran over to him and were given cookies with the word "gay" on them. Meanwhile, the Queer Duck gave their parents leaflets containing the gay lib rap beginning with "I'm a homosexual. Is this how you thought I'd look?'
"From their booth, the Council on Religion and the Homosexual (CRH) distributed hundreds of leaflets explaining their organization; its aims, beliefs, and goals. The booth closed early because their huge supply of leaflets was exhausted. In mid afternoon, an impromptu parade of gays including people from GPU, CRH and YAWF (Youth Against War and Facism) marched down the street. Various persons carried banners and shouted slogans."
A year later, September 1974's GPU News reported:
"(GPU) had its booth in its regular location at Astor Stret. The gay kissing booth, which had created such a stir at past festivals, was not done this year. However, about a dozen GPU members sold T-shirts with the GPU trademark, handed out GPU NEws, and passed out between 700 and 800 helium-filled baloons with the word GAY printed.
"As usual, a group of neighborghood gays sponsored a 'Queen of Brady Street Contest'. Looking to 1984, all entries were appropriately decorated with electric applicances, including electric fan with curls and ribbons, a hair drier replete with wig. The winner was an old-fashioned Speed Queen washer with a large -- around the wringer."
But, according to the Shepherd Express, "The Brady Street Festival was a mainstay of summer entertainment in Milwaukee until Brady Street fell on hard times and crime in the '80s. The event disappeared for many years."
The Brady Street Festival was brought back in 2004, as the Artisan Food Festival, but in a tenatative form. The day-long celebration featured local food growers and award winning artisan cheese makers from around the state (even refering to it as "Cheesefest – the festival Milwaukee has been missing"), along with a large variety of wines and other beverages, topped off with live, acoustic music. As the number one foot traffic street in the city of Milwaukee, and one of the top urban destination-neighborhoods, the Brady Street Festival was welcomed back by many city residents.
The Festival's first year of a real comeback was on Saturday, July 28, 2007, when it was promoted as follows: "This year the festival is returning to its former rainbow splendor." And "rainbow splendor" it was! The main Festival was still not quite up to its glory days of the 1970s, and there were no booths or displays for any LGBT organizations. Even the Brady Easy STD Clinic, right next to the Main Stage, didn't open for testing or information- maybe that will come back too.
But the 2007 Festival did feature a 45 minute drag show, promoted as "a Fashion Drag Show", and organized by Leroy Buth, owner of the Halo Hair Spa. Scheduled to start at 7:15pm, it didn't kick off until close to 7:45pm (typical queens, always late LOL), but it was a great show. It was obvious that many of the spectators had never seen a drag show before. This observer enjoyed watching the crowd (a lot of eye candy), but most fun was watching numerous "straight" couples: invariably the young woman was entranced, and excited- cheering, clapping, etc.. Meanwhile, the young male partner was in shock- uncertain how to handle the situation, anxious to get away but also somewhat curious, and especially startled by his female partner's reaction to the show. (I overheard more than one young man say to his date "no way that's a man".) It was a great way to bring "gay" back to the Brady Street Festival!
Credits: design and arrangement by Don Schwamb.
Last updated: August-2007.