In Movies & TV

The Dudes abide.

Mix a White Russian and hit the lanes for Lebowski Fest

Not much can match the odd cast of characters the Coen brothers created for their 1998 film sensation "The Big Lebowski." These big screen icons have gone down in history as one-of-a-kind fixtures in pop culture cinema.

Attend Lebowski Fest, however, and you're likely to come face to face with droves of Walters, Donnys, Jesuses, Maudes and enough Dudes to drain an entire city's supply of vodka, cream and Kahlua.

Milwaukee fans won't have to hit the road to join the ranks of these doppelgangers this year, though. For the first time since it began in 2002, Lebowski Fest is coming to Milwaukee June 22-23.

The touring festival, which makes multiple two-day stops in cities across the country each year, has met with an ever-growing show of support since co-founders Scott Shuffitt and Will Russell held the inaugural festival in Louisville, Ky.

"When we did the first event, we were expecting 30 or 50 people from around Louisville to show up," said Shuffitt. "It wasn't like, 'Yeah, let's do this thing so we can tour it around the country,' it was, 'Let's do this thing in Louisville and some of our friends will come out, and maybe we'll do it again.'"

Lebowski Fest ended up attracting over 100 people its first year, despite Shuffitt and Russell's modest preparations.

"The first venue that we used was a small bowling center. It had 20 lanes, and only 17 were working. It was in the shady part of town, and literally it was positioned between a strip club and a trailer park," laughed Shuffitt. "It's owned by, I think, a Baptist organization, so that was a little tricky. There was no cussing and there was no drinking allowed. Even with those restrictions, everyone had a great time."

Thankfully for Lebowski "purists," the festival's humble PG beginnings didn't make it past the first year ("The White Russians have become a pretty important part of the event," asserts Shuffitt.). A mention in Spin Magazine sent Lebowski Fest's popularity soaring, and the festival was soon in demand in Los Angeles, New York and as far away as London.

"Normally what we try to do are five or six events a year," said Shuffitt. "I'm kind of into trying new cities. We went to Atlanta for the first time this year, and that was a lot of fun. This is the first time we're coming to Milwaukee, and the reaction is just amazing."

Like other Lebowski Fest stops, Milwaukee will host two nights' worth of events. Friday will include live music, a White Russian "liquid lunch" and a free outdoor screening of "The Big Lebowski" in Cathedral Square Park. Saturday's itinerary will feature the Lebowski Fest Bowling Party at AMF Lanes West, 7505 W. Oklahoma Ave.

"[The first night] is a lot of fun, because a lot of folks are usually yelling the lines and whatnot. There's usually a handful of people in costumes on the first night, but the second night in the bowling alley is kind of the real party," said Shuffitt. "It's just amazing all the different kinds of costumes people bring. You know, you don't have to come dressed up like The Dude or Walter. You can make something up. They'll create a costume from a line of dialogue."

It's this kind of fan enthusiasm, according to Shuffitt, that really ties the festival together, so to speak.

"The main thing really is the community that we bring together," he said. "It's so much fun to see all these people dressed up and interacting with each other. You might be dressed up like The Dude and some strange Walter will walk up to you and tell you it's your roll."


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