Brat Fest-Goers Bring Politics To Table

It was about 3:30 p.m. on Saturday and it was hard to imagine the crowds, the entertainment, the food and the rides all started as a simple brat sale in a grocery store parking lot in 1983. But this year, Madison has changed.


After weeks of protests at the state Capitol over a budget repair bill that would strip most state workers of nearly all collective bargaining rights, you’d think a gathering that’s primary focus centers around a Wisconsin staple would be welcomed.

But nowadays, politics can hang a cloud over even one of Madison’s most talked about events.

Residents were making choices, go to the World’s Largest Brat Fest like you may have done for as long as you can remember, or go get your bratwurst somewhere else.

“We tried the one on the Capitol Square, but the lines were too long, so we came to this one,” said Jim Hollar, who attended Wurst Times event. “I wanted to avoid the one at the Alliant Energy Center.”

“I guess it’s kind of protest against Scott Walker and this is a way to show it,” said Roger Bass.

Hollar’s family and the Bass family weren’t alone at the Brass Ring, Brink and High Noon Saloon event on East Washington Avenue. But the political message wasn’t being shouted and there were no drums or anti-Walker signs.

There was live music and, of course, lots of bratwursts, provided by Sheboygan Brat Company. In addition, barrels were set out for food donations to the Second Harvest Food Bank.

“Our brats we bought go to charity and that was important,” Bass said.

“Brat Fest has always been about first of all having some great food, celebrating getting out of the house after being cooped all winter long, celebrating our heritage and raising money for some good people for charity and having some fun,” Brat Fest organizer Tim Metcalfe said.

Metcalfe said weather has been a bit chilly this year, but he said they still managed to sell more than 53,000 brats on Friday, down from last year’s opening day record of 62,880 brats.

“The island is packed. Everyone is having a great time and they are out here to have fun,” Metcalfe said.

Metcalfe said they are expecting to top a significant milestone this weekend and they also have coordinated an event to honor U.S. troops in Afghanistan on Sunday.

“We’re going to go over the $1 million mark for the first time in the history of the event this year, so we’re excited about that and we’re having a lot of fun,” Metcalfe said.

“It seems kind of silly in the sense that it is guilty by association, but we wanted to avoid (Brat Fest),” Hollar said.

Those at the People Brat Fest didn’t see it as silly, but rather a chance to draw connections to Johnsonville, a main sponsor of Brat Fest, and a company linked politically to the governor.

“I definitely oppose Walker and this seemed like a better way to support Madison rather than a big corporation,” said Tom Ver Hoeve.

The event on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard was billed as a Brat Fest alternative and those who were willing to wait for long lines were toting their opinions along with hunger.

Ver Hoeve said he preferred the downtown location because it felt more like a Madison event and he said it was nice knowing that proceeds would also benefit local charities.

Playing off of the Farmer’s Market on the Square, there’s no doubt downtown was hopping on Saturday, aside from the politics.

“We just wanted to be out about and this was a nice place to be today,” said Tim Kingman, who was waiting in line at the People’s Brat Fest with his daughter.

There is a fourth event will compete with Brat Fest on Sunday. Alt Bratfest will be held at Orton Park on Sunday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. It’s being held by the Weary Traveler Freehouse. Proceeds will also go to local charities.

Brat Fest organizers insist the alternative options have not had any impact.

“The turnout has been fantastic,” Metcalfe said.

One thing we can say without debate is that each and every brat eaten this weekend will raise money for local charities and that generosity is what makes Madison such a great place to live.