The 1998 Cohen brothers comedy "The Big Lebowski" is a cult classic reaching epic proportions as Lebowski Fest sweeps the nation. Lebowski Fest is a two-day festival which started in 2002 in Louisville, Kentucky and is now in Milwaukee for the second consecutive year. The festival consists of a movie party and bowling party, including costume contests, special guests, white russians, and what-have-you's. While Milwaukee wasn't as fortunate as the 2005 L.A. Lebowski Fest "Achievers" (Lebowski fans) who were surprised by The Dude himself, Jeff Bridges, they were surprised by special guest Mayor Tom Barrett.
Lebowski Fest originated in 2002 at a Louisville tattoo expo when vendors Scott Shuffitt and Will Russell ("The Founding Dudes") entertained themselves by quoting "The Big Lebowski". After hours of quotes and numerous vendors joining in, it occurred to them to start a convention catered to the cult classic.
The 2013 Milwaukee Lebowski Fest began at 5 p.m. yesterday, Aug. 16, in Cathedral Square Park, where there were several stands set up with food, beverages, and Lebowski-themed merchandise. Alternative folk rock band, Thao & The Get Down Stay Down, played for just over an hour starting at 7 p.m. Afterwards, a huge screen was placed in front of the stage and Founding Dude Will Russell led an unofficial costume competition. There is an official costume competition tonight, Aug. 17, during the bowling party, but the movie party's best Dude, Walter, Maude, etc. received an official Milwaukee Lebowski Fest t-shirt.
But just as audience members were heading back to their seats for the movie, Will Russell announced that surprise special guest Mayor Tom Barrett was present. Barrett shared his enthusiasm for "The Big Lebowski" and the festival's return to Milwaukee. He also expressed hope for its return in future years. Milwaukee most definitely abides.
The film screening, of course, was a hit. Cathedral Square was filled with Dudes, Maudes, Walters, Jesuses, and other characters gathered along with those who were content to cheer and sip white russians while the film played. And while those further back in the park might not have been able to see the film as clearly as some, the sound system was incredible so that everyone could hear it, no matter where they were seated.
The party continued at The Newsroom Pub for "Lebowski-oke", where there were more white russians and Lebowski-themed karaoke.
Lebowski Fest continues tonight at 8 pm. for the bowling party at AMF West Lanes (7505 W Oklahoma Ave.) in Milwaukee. This runs until 2 a.m. and will include trivia, costume contests, bowling (of course), and more. Bowling and shoe rental included in the $25 event general admission.
Finally, Lebowski Fest will come to a close on Sunday, Aug. 18 for Hangover Brunch at Lowlands Group Grand Cafes. This will include half price bloody marys or white russians and Lebowski-themed menu items. Participating cafes include Cafe Hollader (2608 N. Downer Ave. or 7677 W. State St., Wauwatosa), Cafe Centraal (2306 Kinnickinnic Ave.), Cafe Benelux (346 N. Broadway Ave.), and Trocadero (1758 N. Water St.).
For more information on the 2013 Milwaukee Lebowski Fest, visit http://www.lebowskifest.com/UpcomingFests/LebowskiFestMilwaukeeAug1617/tabid/255/Default.aspx or http://pabsttheater.org/show/lebowskifest2013.