If anyone knows the music scene in Riverwest, it’s Johanna Rose. You can find this immensely talented Milwaukee musician with her upright bass as part of the folk duo Nickel&Rose with Carl Nichols or amongst some fierce ladies in the seven-piece all-women band Ruth B8r Ginsburg. When she’s not on stage, she’s behind the scenes, co-organizing music festivals and fundraisers such as Riverwest FemFest and Arte Para Todos. We asked her a few questions about why she chooses Milwaukee, and specifically Riverwest, to call home.
Describe the Riverwest music community. Why is it important to you to be a part of it?
Riverwest is one of the most creative and diverse neighborhoods in Milwaukee. It’s home to many artists, musicians, writers, activists, and bike enthusiasts. Something musical is always happening. From various music festivals to 24-hour bike races, Riverwest definitely keeps it interesting.
For musicians I think it’s a great neighborhood to meet people, collaborate, and bounce ideas off of each other. People are supportive of each other’s musical pursuits even if they don’t necessarily play the same kind of music. There are tons of great venues to showcase your work, and there is always someone new to meet and something new to see. From morning porch practices to 2 a.m. jams, music is always a part of life in Riverwest.
Favorite place in Riverwest to play and/or book shows and/or see shows and why?
Company Brewing is an excellent place to catch a variety of local and touring musicians. It is one of the largest venues in Riverwest and has a wonderful patio that is especially nice during the summer. They brew their own beer and serve delicious food until 10 p.m. and brunch on Sundays. It’s a great place to get dinner and catch a show!
Just down the street is an eclectic little bar called High Dive where you can usually find a decent crowd of Riverwesters enjoying everything from punk to hip hop or an awesome dance night curated by some the city’s finest DJs. High Dive also hosts midweek hip-hop to rock jam nights featuring various Milwaukee musicians every Wednesday and every other Monday.
Speaking of jam nights, another little bar just across Humboldt on Wright street called The Gig has been hosting live music on Wednesdays for over ten years. Jordan Krueger, a member of one of Milwaukee’s finest bluegrass outfits Chicken Wire Empire, leads a singer-songwriter night of music with bluegrass, jam band, blues, and folk tendencies. The Gig occasionally hosts weekend shows, has a regular open bluegrass jams on Sunday afternoons, and has a closed patio that’s nice during the summer.
Also on Wednesdays at Linneman’s Riverwest Inn, you can find an attentive audience at the longest standing Open Mic in the city. Linneman’s is a staple of the Riverwest music scene and has been around for 25 years; so many local legends have played there. It’s a favorite venue for local album release shows and folky touring acts. Linneman’s is an excellent place to catch live music on any given weekend or weekday.
Just up the street is one of America’s only cooperatively owned bars called Riverwest Public House. It’s located right next to a little park that has Farmer’s Markets on Saturday mornings (which also has live music). Public House hosts a variety of local and touring bands on weekend nights as well as community events. It’s a great place to see live music or jump on stage for their Monday night karaoke.
Also worth mentioning is Bremen Cafe, a quirky bar with affordable drinks, frozen pizza, and a backroom that hosts local and touring live music of every genre under the sun. It also has a number of great pinball machines and sidewalk patio seating with a lovely view of the massive community garden across the street.
Over on Humboldt there is a new venue called After Gallery. They host a variety of music events as well as art shows and community events for all ages. Definitely worth checking out! Another all ages favorite is FREESPACE events, a free, all-ages monthly showcase at Jazz Gallery on Center Street, giving local youth artists opportunities to perform alongside established names in Milwaukee music and cultivate their culture and community.
Another great Center Street location is Club Timbuktu, one of my favorite Riverwest destinations for Reggae, Caribbean, and Afrobeat music. They feature regular Friday Reggae dance nights but host the occasional punk or folk show too (Nickel&Rose released our EP there!). I definitely recommend trying the Jamaican food when the kitchen is open!
Across the street from Club Timbuktu is the legendary club Mad Planet. It’s a great venue to catch live shows, but they’re really known for their retro dance nights, playing hits from the 80s and 90s, as well as The Get Down, one of Milwaukee’s most celebrated soul and funk dance nights where DJs play records all evening.
Lastly, if you want to experience some serious punk and metal, as well as the occasional DJ night, go to Quarters Rock ‘n Roll Palace on Center and Bremen. Quarters is home to leather jackets, combat boots, cheap drinks, and generally loud energetic music!
Why do you choose to live/play in Milwaukee over other cities?
I was born and raised in Milwaukee. Home is where the heart is, and I think that’s especially true in Milwaukee. We have immense talent and commitment to our community here, so it’s a fantastic place to call home at the end of a tour.
Other than seeing local musicians, what is one thing everyone who visits the Riverwest neighborhood should see or do?
The Riverwest Co-Op is an awesome cooperatively owned grocery store and cafe, it’s definitely worth checking out and getting something to eat!