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Gifts for the music lover: Keep it local and support the scene

(Clockwise from left) Tickets and merch from local venues like Cactus Club, Ladies Rock music camp, and vinyl from shops like Rush Mor can help take care of your holiday shopping.
(Clockwise from left) Tickets and merch from local venues like Cactus Club, Ladies Rock music camp, and vinyl from shops like Rush Mor can help take care of your holiday shopping.

You’ve made your list and checked it twice. Inevitably, however, there are still some folks you haven’t crossed off quite yet. If you’re a Radio Milwaukee fan, there’s a good chance your loved ones dig music just as much as you do (well, almost). So what’s a music lover to do when you want to:

1. Gift something heartfelt and cool
2. Keep your dollars in local circulation

Look no further than Radio Milwaukee’s Local Music Lovers Gift Guide to get you started.

Support local live music

To fully support local music, start small. Local venues operate on shoestring budgets, and plenty of blood, sweat and tears (of happiness, mostly) go into running small clubs.

Simply showing up and going to a show is one of the big ways to show your support, but you could also gift a concert ticket to a pal in a “this one’s on me” kinda way by purchasing tickets in advance or at the door. Merch is another option — many venues have their own gear you can buy at the show or online.

We’re lucky to have lots of local venues integral to the Milwaukee scene that you can show up for (and to), including Linneman’s, The Cooperage and Company Brewing, for starters. Below, you can find a few more that offer advance ticket sales, merch and other ways to support if you want to gift something to a community-minded music lover in your life.

Who doesn’t need more vinyl?

Anyone who loves listening to music would be delighted to receive a gift card to a local record shop. Anything their heart (or ears) desire can be ordered for future consumption, and for those who love the crate-digging experience, we couldn’t think of a better way to spend some time than browsing through countless bins of LPs, CDs and tapes. Here are some great local shops to consider:

Local record stores like Lilliput often carry options for the audiophile, like turntables, as well as merch from bands and even the store itself.
Brett Krzykowski
Local record stores like Lilliput often carry options for the audiophile, like turntables, as well as merch from bands and even the store itself.

Turn the page and get inspired

Still haven’t read Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner (aka indie pop artist Japanese Breakfast)? Want to untangle an entire genre with Lol Tohurst’s Goth: A History? Looking to get enlightened and inspired by Chris Terry and James Spooner’s Black Punk Now? It’s all at your local bookstore.

Music books are a perfect way to “burn” vacation days, and reading up on the artist or movement of your choice could inspire your own musical trajectory for the new year. Luckily, there are many excellent local, independent bookstores to browse at and order from. Here are some of our local favorites:

Go camping and start something (for the) good

“Give the gift of rock” by sponsoring a camper’s tuition to Girls or Ladies Rock in Milwaukee, which hosts camps for girls and gender-expansive youth ages 8-16, and camps for women and gender-expansive individuals ages 18+ (both are dedicated simply to “empowerment through music.”

The nonprofit has put instruments into the hands of budding musicians for 11 years strong, giving them valuable musical and team-building experience that helps them make it to the stage to share a song they created with a live audience at a local venue.

The local group offers a couple different ways to surprise the musician-to-be in your life: There are gift cards of various amounts, there’s merch ranging from hoodies to tumblers, or you could just go the benevolent route and pitch into the Ladies Rock scholarship fund.

The exterior of a symphony hall in a downtown setting, with a large blade sign and marquee illuminated against an evening sky.
Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra / Facebook
The Bradley Symphony Center hosts a variety of concerts throughout the year.

Give the gift of culture

Have a musical lover in your life (the stage variety, complete with costumes and more singing than speaking)? Someone who is smitten with string sections, brass and woodwinds? Luckily, Milwaukee has two great organizations within easy reach.

Both the Marcus Performing Arts Center and the MSO offer diverse and exciting concert calendars to peruse and take into consideration when treating someone to a unique musical experience in 2024.

MPAC offers shows such as Funny Girl and Mamma Mia!, concerts from acclaimed jazz vocalist Cécile McLorin Salvant and Black Violin, and plenty more. MSO will host Steve Hackman’s Beethoven x Coldplay, a Mozart Oboe & Symphony concert and “Latin Fire” featuring highly acclaimed Costa Rican trumpeter Jose Sibaja and vocalist Mónica Abrego.

Find complete concert listings and ticket info via the links below.

Tools for the new (or ongoing) musical journey

Know someone who could use new strings? A sweet little Vox or Fender amplifier? Perhaps a new pedal to hit previously unexplored levels of distortion or wah-nderment? Hit up your local, independent music store for all the goods to get going — from picks to straps and horns to sheet music. Some establishments also offer lessons, no matter if someone is starting from square one or just needs a refresher. Here are a few, local-minded options:

Treasure the Back Room memories

There’s a good chance you or your gift target were one of the many people to enjoy the Back Room @ Colectivo since its 2015 opening. The spaciously chill venue “adorned with string lights, hanging plants and the smell of freshly brewed coffee” was a lovely space to be immersed in an intimate concert experience with local favorites and up-and-coming indie artists (all whom 88Nine love and champion).

Local and national artists such as Sleepy Gaucho, David Wax Museum, Rat Bath, Trapper Schoepp, Slow Pulp, Ratboys, Say She She and more played the Back Room just in 2023 — the last year of this East Side venue. Luckily, the recently announced Vivarium will step into those big shoes, but if you still have that twinkle in your eye for the soon-to-be-retired space, this comprehensive concert poster details all the artists who graced its stage (available through Dec. 20).

Sessions, music discovery and stories, oh my

For the music lover in your life who believes in the power of community, the gift of a Radio Milwaukee membership is one-size-fits-all. By becoming a member, they’ll not only get first dibs on special events and Studio Milwaukee Sessions, they’ll truly be a part of Radio Milwaukee’s exciting music programming centered around musical discovery.

Members at the VIP level or above are guaranteed invitations to Studio Milwaukee Sessions in our intimate performance space. We keep the circle tight and the audiences limited for performances that this year included The New Pornographers, Nation of Language, Spoon, Kara Jackson, Say She She, Alt-J and many, many more.

Ultimately, Radio Milwaukee’s members are the community that believe in our mission of being the catalyst for creating a better, more inclusive and engaged Milwaukee. Member support is our largest source of revenue and the fuel we use to create a space that uplifts local music and stories, explores new perspectives with an open mind, and celebrates our ability to connect with each other.

Whether you're looking to give monthly or all at once, you (or someone you love) can become a member here at the level that’s best for you.

Gift pack for the musical adventurer

Know someone that revels in the Big Gig when it comes around in June and July? UScellular 9-day Power Passes are available for those already giddy with anticipation for Summerfest 2024.

The pass “grants the bearer one (1) admission per day to the festival grounds during public operating hours during ALL 9 days (a $234 value) of Summerfest presented by American Family Insurance.” Tickets already bought? You can also find tees, mugs and more at the Summerfest store.

88Nine Music Director / On-Air Talent | Radio Milwaukee