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Especially in this moment, when we can't be together and when the weather certainly doesn't look much like what you see in these photographs, it feels like stepping back in time and outside to the Brady Street of yore for the annual Brady Street Festival.
The event – organized by the Brady Street Merchants Group beginning, it seems, in 1971 –captured in these sunny photos by the then-17-year-old Jill Koutroules-Bruss, who gifted them along with many others to Adam Levin to share with the members of the Old Milwaukee Facebook group, took place on June 10, 1973 from 10 a.m. until 6 p.m.
The weather that year was less than cooperative that year. Rain showers stymied the original date a week earlier, though the dampness didn't prevent between 10,000 and 15,000 people from showing up that day anyway and crowding into stores and around booths to browse and shop, and, in the words of one newspaper, "Creating their Own Fair."
Most of the 200 vendors, however, waited it out until the rescheduled date, which turned out to be a hot one. Still 15,000-20,000 showed up and, the Journal noted, "the heat apparently cooled any rowdy instincts. ... Everyone from motorcycle gangs to gay liberationists to senior citizens gathered to munch tacos and buy arts and crafts."
There we no arrests and no incidents reported to police, the paper noted.
"It was a big deal for the East Side hippie/counterculture community," remembers Koutroules-Bruss, who also photographed the 1974 event. "A gathering of souls that didn't fit into the norms of society. You dressed the way you wanted to, toked and drank. I was 17 and a pretty free spirit. So that day was like being surrounded by friends and not 'the establishment.'
"Street musicians busked, people just hung out and partied, many artists sold their wares. I still have a few things I bought. I was crashing at a few houses that year, so I knew a lot of different groups. I also hung out at the River Queen, so there was the whole gay thing going on – that was more accepted on Brady Street."
That is definitely the vibe that comes through in these photos – taken, recalls the photographer, "while consuming wine and weaving between people" – of an event that continues to this day.
Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.
He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.
With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in an episode of TV's "Party of Five," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.
He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for OnMilwaukee.com and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.
In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area.
He can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.