Madison, WI – Twice a year, tens of thousands of people descend on Willow Island at the Alliant Energy Center to gorge themselves on brats – high-fat pork sausage stuffed with spices inside an intestinal casing. Sconnies go bonkers for brats. So much so that over the course of the last four days, 209,376 of them were consumed on Willow Island alone, a new record.
Welcome to Bratfest, held eight days annually over Memorial and Labor Day Weekend.
Being from Wisconsin, I understand the love affair with brats. Boil them in beer, char them on the grill, then eat them with a beer. They’re a staple of summer. A genetic code in the Sconnie palette. A thread in the fabric of our culture. Babies are basically fed beer brats from the time they’ve cut teeth. I’ve happily devoured hundreds in my life, including many at Bratfest, which began in 1983 as a charitable fundraiser.
Back then, Bratfest was simple. But over the years, it has grown into a gawdy over-commercialized spectacle of concerts, neon, product peddling, overpriced funnel cakes, expensive beer, carnival rides and impossible parking.
It’s been several years since I’ve been to Bratfest, but yesterday I made it. I must say that I felt more than a little nostalgic for the old days when Bratfest meant standing in a parking lot at Hilldale Mall, 50 cents brats, free soda, a few picnic tables and oldies played through a cruddy PA. Brats now cost $1.50 and require standing in massive lines in the brat tent, then slogging through even slower moving lines the condiment tent. Odds are you won’t find a place to sit. On Willow Island, there’s little shade. The music is too loud. The crowds are too huge. Bottled water, like everything else, is crazy expensive.
But nothing, absolutely nothing, it seems, can deter Sconnies from coming out en masse to gorge on brats and drink beer. Myself included. The bigger, noisier, more ridiculous it becomes, the more brats are devoured, as evidenced by a routine breaking of previous years’ sales records.
This Memorial Day Weekend, The Feral Scribe strolled around Willow Island to photograph Sconnies and their brats.