5 Things to Remember About Milwaukee 2015; a candid op-ed

by: Johanna Rose

1) 2015 witnessed the birth of several incredibly successful festivals and events which raised huge amounts of money and awareness for great community causes.

Arte Para Todos

Conceived as a response to the defunding of art and music programming in schools, Arte Para Todos (Art for Everyone) is a true homegrown festival that featured over seventy of Milwaukee’s best musical acts at fifteen venues, spread throughout three neighborhoods over the course of three days at the end of February.

This local music festival is based on the idea that culture is an act of will, and that if we want a healthy, vibrant city where the arts can flourish then we have to act on that desire.  

Arte Para Todos raised over $21,000 dollars which was split between three different local schools' art programs. Arte Para Todos is scheduled for late April in 2016. Visit their website for updates.                                                                 

Local Coverage

Milwaukee Record put on a benefit concert and raised almost $1,200 for Girls Rock Camp. The show found eight different, way-talented Milwaukee acts from various stylistic backgrounds and assigned them to cover one another.  A huge success and extremely entertaining! This year Local Coverage takes place Jan 15th, 2016 at Turner Hall.


Riverwest FemFest

While paging through this year’s best of lists, I noticed music covered by local media is seemingly male dominated. I’m not sure why that is. The media that covers local music is indeed male dominated itself, but I’ve had enough interaction with many of Milwaukee’s great music writers to trust that they are not misogynist assholes.

I'm guessing more local female artists put out albums this year than reached the media's ear.  Is there is a lack of encouragement for women who want to put down an album beyond, "can you sing this hook?" Are resources to literally record an album not as readily available to women?  Is the atmosphere of the music scene not apt for inclusion of female artists?  

It’s disenchanting for me, as a women in the music scene, to have the voices of male musicians in the general forefront of what we got going on here. Women experience different struggles than men, often at the hands of men. Music is an integral way of expressing that.

However, the best-of lists were more diverse in genre than in previous years. In 2015, many of Milwaukee's great hip hop acts acquired well deserved appreciation.There was not a “local best of list” that didn't include at least one of Milwaukee's finest rappers. Some of 2015's breakthrough articles, like the Shepherd Express, “New Face of Rap,” and Vice's, “DIY Hip Hop Haven” article, shed overdue light on Milwaukee's blossoming hip hop scene, yet these articles left the women of this scene in the shadows. 2015 saw the rise of Zed Kenzo, Queen Tut, Chakara Blu, and the continuing reign of Kia Rap Princess.

This is why events like Riverwest Femfest are so important! 2015 saw Milwaukee's first RWFemfest, and 2016 will see another (Jan 21st-24th). The Fest now spans over four days and features over sixty women artists from diverse musical backgrounds.   

FemFest is also a fundraiser, with all proceeds from the fest going towards organizations within our city of Milwaukee that aim to help and protect women: Date Rape Awareness Milwaukee (DRAM) and The Milwaukee Women’s Center. Riverwest FemFest celebrates Women in the community while helping women in the community.

The Spot 4MKE

Another notable effort to improve Milwaukee through art and music was The Spot 4MKE. This year, Mikal Floyd-Pruitt and Fondé Bridges completed a six week artist residency at The Spot 4MKE. The team enlisted collaborators such as Vedale Hill, Tia Richardson, Adam Carr and Anjail Floyd-Pruitt. The residency, titled Concrete Dreamers, generated a visually vibrant environment while also programming novel events and activities to engage the public. 


2015 witnessed the shutdown of a magnificent all ages DIY space, the Cocoon Room. This venue answered a need for the our community’s art scene. Milwaukee lacks an all ages venue where young people can witness the local music scene. Back in olden times… when I sixteen, I saw Two Gallants in a basement and it blew my mind! Basements are great, but unsupervised. It’s much more comfortable for parents to send their kids to legit venues for live music.   

Cocoon Room was that. It was above ground, monitored and maintained by a dedicated volunteer staff who had each other's backs. Cocoon Room was a welcoming space, open to all genres and all ages. That's what Milwaukee needs, a good all ages venue (don't even say the words Miram...shhh).

With the fall of Cocoon Room, we saw the rise of two new key Riverwest venues: Company Brewing and High Dive. Company Brewing offers a huge venue with quality run sound, handcrafted beer and great vibes. Perfect for big shows, album releases or giant fundraisers.

High Dive offers a small intimate, unique setting with great vibes and familiar faces both behind and on the other side of the bar. The venue hosts shows with a diverse range of music and does not charge a cover. High Dive is perfect for touring bands, weird cover band shows, Packers games and after parties.  Both places are owned by open-minded and community oriented folk. Their businesses completely revitalized Center Street, which is major for Riverwest.  

3) Black Lives Matter

As a nation, we are in the midst of a revolutionary movement. Police brutality is rampant. Racism is spewing from the mouths of presidential candidates and self-proclaimed vigilantes are gunning down young Black men. This year, Kendrick Lamar released 'To Pimp A Butterfly'. In my opinion, this is the purest example of how music can shake a nation to date.  

Milwaukee is repeatedly listed as one of the worst cities for Black Americans to live in. It's the responsibility of the people of Milwaukee to show up and do their part in whatever way they can to improve the lives of members in their community. Organizations such as Mothers For Justice were created as a grassroots effort to raise awareness and justice. We have an incredible music scene.  I am confident that there is a way to harness it in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. Music has and will change the world. Music in the 1960s created a culture of love during the beginning of the civil rights movement. It forged a culture of freedom. In Milwaukee, it can create a culture of compassion, love and solidarity. Arte Para Todos and Riverwest FemFest are fitting examples of 100% volunteer based events and organizations that channeled music for change.


The most defining part of this year for me was my father's death in May. I thought I had felt it all in my rough-traveled, troubled, transcending 20s. But none of these experiences could have possibly prepared me for this enormous loss. For me, the trajectory from death to dismantlement in a fatherless universe was a quick upheaval to nauseating self-doubt. I wondered if I was insane for pursuing music so unwaveringly. I had no idea how to measure my worth or how to recognize myself amongst all the faces in the spinning bar. However, I was lucky enough to have wonderful friends, family, and musicians to help me through this time.

I also met some particularly strong and intelligent women (#B8R) who helped me come to some quiet conclusions that I am forever developing:

Life is full of bullshit that you must do so that you can experience small moments that are bullshit-free.  

This is especially true as a musician. It's crazy to play music. There is very little compensation for the work that you are doing. It takes years of practice just to play the damn thing. When you finally feel competent enough to do so in front of people, it’s a long, hell-paved road of mostly loading and unloading extremely heavy things in and out of cars and buildings so you can play for half an hour in front of a barely listening, almost entirely inebriated crowd - or four people depending on the gig. Bands break your heart, fall apart, blow up your ego, and then deflate it in your face. It's a total fucking nightmare and you love it.  

You love it because you're passionate about it.  

You need to be able to stretch your solidified self-crippling doubt like silly putty into thinly veiled self-confidence so that you can pursue your dreams, your art and your passion! Otherwise life is a wash you repeatedly brush on the wall you spray painted #YOLO on when you were drunk but can never really cover up.

It's those moments of recognition when you reach out and share an understanding with someone who saw and recognized you through your art, that you live for. Audience members who I've connected to via a song will probably understand me more than any boy I've ever dated.

And all of that and this maybe means:

I am worth what I love.    

Many bands have formed, changed their line-up, or disbanded completely in the past year and that's okay. It's a long road my friends and melodies can travel on many musical vehicles; the important thing is to keep playing. As a wise friend of mine once sang, "keep your sunny eyes on the trail."


5) Things Come Together

In basements, bars, on basketball courts, and in living rooms:  things come together. Support is a major part of what keeps musicians playing. Milwaukee showed up this year! Eclectic lineups, a notable unique characteristic of Milwaukee’s music scene, continued to expose different genres to each other causing cross pollination of support and mutual respect between artists and fans. Hip hop got behind rock, rock supported bluegrass, bluegrass dabbled in metal and metal... probably stuck to metal but it was a wonderful mess. No one knows what they are going to get when they go to a show anymore. Musicians from all backgrounds rallied behind the scene and made it stronger and better. Out of this togetherness came unusual collaborations, inspiration and after-hour cyphers (2016, the rise of sister cyphers). It's absolutely beautiful and we need to keep it up. It’s a long and hard road but with strength, drive, support and mutual appreciation, we can build our community and each other. Milwaukee rallied in 2015 and I can't wait to see what 2016 will bring.

I Love You Milwaukee!