Tuesday, July 18, 2017

An Open Reply to My Friend, Bruce

This is Bruce. Bruce is unique. 
My friend, Bruce, recently posted the following to Facebook:

“I'm considering trying to convince my wife that we should try Mile of Music in a few weeks. Anyone who has been, would you recommend and if so, any tips you wish you had been given?"

My head nearly exploded with responses and ideas. To me, the four days of Mile of Music is the most wonderful time of the year. This will be our third consecutive year of attending this unique and incredible festival. After our first (Mile 3), we instantly booked the following year’s accommodations and we did the same following Mile 4. I see no reason why we won’t do so again after Mile 5. This festival is an explosion of fantastic aural art and musical camaraderie. It’s the finest four days of the year.

So with that introduction and only 16 days to go until the festival starts, I give you -- in no particular order -- 30 things (tips) you should do, Bruce, at Mile of Music 5...
  1. Download the app, start listening and discovering new artists now. I cannot emphasize this one
    Get the app.
     enough. It’s hard to see a bad performer at Mile of Music, it really is. The artists performing here are pros. The only thing separating them and many bands you hear on the radio is that they either haven’t written that one mega-hit or, more likely, they’ve just haven’t caught a break from a radio station executive. My money's on the latter.
  2. Buy something. A CD, bumper sticker, t-shirt, anything. Most of these artists are dedicated professionals, but that doesn’t mean they’re rolling in greenbacks. It cost them a lot to get here, so reward your favorites by buying some of their sounds or wares. I've even helped musicians move their gear in the few short minutes they've got to get on or off a stage. They've always been appreciative.
  3. Discover your band. With 900 performances by 250-ish musicians in four days, there’s bound to be a band that you discover. That means none of your music-head buddies have ever heard of them (yet), but you'll become convinced that you’ve just seen the next big thing and you can’t wait to tell others. This may happen multiple times a day, but by festival’s end, there’s certain to be one band that you remain obsessed with. 
  4. Do not yell Freebird. This is an original music festival. Freebird yellers will be removed from the festival and forced to spend the remainder of the weekend in Kaukauna. 
  5. Compliment an artist when you see them on the street. This is a favorite feature of the Mile to
    With Parker Gispert of The Whigs moments after I
    helped him carry gear to his car.
     me and this does not happen at Milwaukee's Summerfest. One hour you’ll see an amazing musician blowing your mind on stage and the next hour you’ll notice him/her next to you enjoying a beer. This is always so cool. I’ve met Lex Allen, Anna Vogelzang, Parker Gispert, my pals 1913 (Victor DeLorenzo and Janet Schiff) and Brother O’ Brother (Warner Swopes and Chris Banta), one of the guitarists from Sun Parade (Jeff Lewis, I think), Kate Tucker of Kate Tucker and the Sons of Sweden, Jay Matthes, and many, many more this way. One time we were admiring a huge poster of Milwaukee band GGOOLLDD at the exact same moment GGOOLDD passed by. Lots of guffawing and horsing around ensued. Take advantage of this unique opportunity. 
  6. Arrange accommodations or transportation. Mile of Music isn’t the most kid-friendly event -- though there are plenty of performances in civic areas -- you’re going to enjoy a few adult beverages. Just make sure your accommodations are walking distance or arrange a ride. I’m not certain of the availability of Lyft or Uber in Appleton, but it’s a pretty progressive town. I’m sure they’re here. 
  7. Don’t let the fact that a band that hails from Oshkosh, Green Bay, or Neenah deter you. Seriously. Even though there are performers there from around the globe at Mile of Music, bands from the triangle of the Fox Valley to Madison to Milwaukee should not be disregarded. This region is proving to be fertile soil for amazing talent. Be sure to check them out. (The Traveling Suitcase immediately comes to mind.) 
  8. Spot Graham Washatka. You can’t miss him. He’s a deft photographer who seems to be in more
    Play Mile of Music Bingo...
    Spot Graham. This is him!
     places than is possible for a single person. Nice guy and a friend of mine too. 
  9. See Brother O’ Brother. They’ll melt your face off. (The Ghost Wolves will too, for that matter.) See their video for 'You Would' at the bottom of this blog.
  10. Have a beer from Appleton Beer Factory. They’re an official venue, so that makes it easy. Drink local. 
  11. See a performance at the Lawrence Memorial Chapel; get goosebumps. This may or not be possible, many performances are restricted to Music Maker badge holders, but if you get the chance, see someone play here. It’s just awesome. 
  12. Fly solo. Yep. You’ve got smartphones and your own interests. Don’t hesitate to split from your beloved for a bit and then reconnect elsewhere. We did this last year when my wife went to see Lily Winwood (Steve’s daughter) while I found something more suitable for my head-banging self. (I did catch Lily’s act another day at a different venue.) 
  13. Contemplate living in Appleton. Whether you want to or not, this thought will likely pop into your head. It’s a vibrant city with lots of art and culture. During these four days Appleton really comes alive! 
  14. See Diane Coffee. A must I tell you. An absolute must. A rock 'n' roll glamour extravaganza.
    Diane Coffee - a must-see!
    Very likely the most entertaining band/person I’ve seen in 10 years. No joke. 
  15. Plan your day. The Mile’s app and website make it very possible to make a detailed plan to hear the maximum amount of music on a given day. The app lets you favorite (heart) artists you enjoy and then when you’re at the festival, it’s easy to see where and when those artists are to perform. 
  16. Let the festival come to you. In other words, screw the previous tip and just find a comfortable place to enjoy the day. The schedule is tight and bands play one after another with only a short break in between. Appleton’s got a lot of comfortable bars to relax in to watch the more sedate bands, but Mill Creek is where you’re most likely to get the maximum power. Of course, Houdini Plaza or Washington Square will be good places to hang out like at any good Wisconsin festival. (Also The Alley Project) 
  17. Look for cameos. Last year Tommy Stinson (The Replacements, Bash & Pop, Guns 'n' Roses) showed up and jammed in an alley. Who knows who’ll show up this year. The Mile’s on stars’ radars. 
  18. The festival doesn’t end on Saturday. Interesting things happen on Sunday too. In fact, if you stick around until Sunday evening, you could find yourself invited to something unique like an artists-only party. It could happen. 
  19. See Cory Chisel on the street. Not only is he a Grammy-nominated performer, excellent songwriter and singer, he’s an Appleton native and founder of this festival to channel money to music education programs. He’s a fine Wisconsinite and seemly ubiquitous during the festival.
  20. See Corey Chisel perform. He may be by himself or he may be with others. Keep your eyes open. 
  21. See a band on the Mile of Music Bus. This is another must and a blast. The Mile of Music Bus is an
    Jay Matthes rocking the Mile of Music bus
     easy way to cover the great distance that may exist between some venues. Bonus: the Bus is a party. They, too, are a venue -- a rock and rolling (literally) venue! 
  22. Make friends. It’s easy here. The people of the Fox Valley are friendly and interested in having a good time as much as you are. 
  23. Have a Stone Arch Brewery beer. Another venue that’s off the College Avenue strip. It’s a short hike (or grab the bus), but it’s a cool business and fun to visit. 
  24. Don’t worry about me. I hope to see you there, shake hands and have a beer together, but this is a festival of personal musical exploration. Spend it finding your thing. If we’re in sync, great, but otherwise, have a great time and we’ll discuss our experiences when the festival is over.
  25. Catch a performance at Houdini Plaza. This can be the most vigorous and crowd-packed venue.
    Motherfolk at Houdini Plaza. Catch them first
    at Tosa Tonight, July 26th!
    With great weather on tap for early August, it can be a fun place to hang. In fact, a star-packed one-two punch is scheduled there Thursday evening: Diane Coffee followed by San Fermin. That’s about as headline as Mile of Music gets. 
  26. Sing in a shower. This is fun. Sponsored by Tundraland, there’s a shower in Paper Valley lobby that you can perform a song in. They’ve even got a guitar to use! 
  27. Porky’s Groove Machine. Just go. Sofa King entertaining. 
  28. Be a Music-Maker. This is the major individual sponsorship program. It gets you stuff that the ordinary fan doesn’t get. We did it last year and it was fun, but you don’t have to do it have a good time. (I think this is one of the big misunderstandings newbies have at the Mile I’ve heard more than one person exclaim that they thought they need this pass to enjoy the festival. You don’t need it, but it does get you into a few exclusive shows, but not enough to make it a must. I’d consider it, too, if I lived near Appleton, as one of its benefits is off-season access to shows.) 
  29. Visit Appleton’s amazing farmers market on Saturday morning. This one’s a doozy, filled with produce, bakery, performing artists, and more. It’s worth the drive to Appleton even when the festival is not occurring! 
  30. Ask the right questions. The right questions to ask regarding Mile of Music are “Who are you looking forward to seeing?” or “What band or artist do you recommend?” In the months leading up to Mile of Music the unfamiliar ask, “Who’s there this year?” like it’s Summerfest, Country Thunder, Eaux Claires, or Lollapalooza. This ain’t those fests and perhaps that’s why I like it so much. It’s personable, accessible, open, and an absolute blast. 
That’s my shot-from-the-hip list of my 30 things (tips) you should do at Mile of Music. I cannot recommend it enough. It’s well organized and the most four fun days of Wisconsin summer.

I hope to see you there, Bruce!

Your pal,


The following lists are not complete; they are fluid and will be edited, but only by addition, not by subtraction.
Artists I’m planning to check out: Art’s Fishing Club, South Hound Smith, Terra Lightfoot, The Traveling Suitcase, Swear and Shake, Ron Gallo, Valley Queen, Tenement, Fast Romantics, ...


  1. A few others to check out Bascom Hill, Boom Forest, Dan Rodriguez, Desert Noises, J-Council, Mo Lowda & the Humble, LOLO. Great to hear you promote this amazing festival.

    1. Good suggestions. Desert Noise is definitely on my list. I used to listen to them a few years before they disbanded. Great stuff!

  2. You absolutely need to check out Miles Nielsen & the Rusted Hearts. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3-soWiSl0Lg) Good call on the Fast Romantics. They are amazing! Great blog and great tips, from a born and raised Wisconsinite :)

    1. You're right about Mike Nielsen & The Rusted Hearts. We saw them last year at Wauwatosa's Tosa Tonight Summer Concert Series and they were superb!

  3. Great article! I've been to MoM all four days all four years so far and offer these extra tips: Do "breakfast" (sandwich and bloody Mary) at one of the venues early in the day and ask the barkeep or waitstaff who rocked the joint the night before... I've never failed to get good tips for excellent bands I might not have considered. A local band to add to the list are Appleton's own Cool Waters Band, who always put on an energetic show in front of a hometown crowd. Two more great venues to add to the list are OuterEdge (a converted church on the east side of town with a bar in the back) and the Radisson Courtyard.

    1. Funny that you mention Cool Waters Band. They were one of the bands I had in mind when I wrote tip #7. I've been listening to them on Spotify and I dig their rock 'n' roll vibe!

  4. And don't forget the Music Education events! If you're up early on Saturday, do the Deep Listening Walk, which will be life-changing, not to mention soothing on tired ears.

    1. This is a great suggestion. Thanks for adding this important comment!

  5. Hi Mike, awesome article! Thanks for the the heartfelt words for our community and our community festival. I remember this story, a story of a man walking his dog one chilly February night while thinking of a recent business meeting at a downtown Appleton establishment. While at the downtown Appleton establishment, this man was reminded of how the downtown businesses could use some help from the community and then immediately reminisced about his time going to Austin's SXSW festival many years ago and how that event greatly improved the local economy. This man felt that this community, our community was ready for something different, something that could transform our local economy like SXSW, an event that could bring us all together. A few days later, and after a recent meeting with a locally connected singer/songwriter, this man made a phone call in a parking lot to said musician, a discussion ensued and that March, Dave Willems unveiled his idea for Mile of Music. This vision that Dave had in early 2013 has not only transformed our downtown, but an entire region into one great place for live original music that now transcends year round. So, Thank You, Mike for supporting us and Thank You to all who continue to support and show up to live original music events on Monday, Wednesday and Saturday nights, who discover and experience amazing talent that has traveled up to our little community because of what is being fostered here... we are in a renisance for creating a destination of music and art. We continue that mission of economic development for our downtown and waterfront. We continue to be about our community and bringing music from all over the world to this community. We continue to be about the artists who create and work so hard at what they do. Thank you to a man who had a dream and thank you to a dog who needed to go out when he did. :) Peace, Love, Music!

    1. Thank you for the detailed story of the genesis of Mile of Music. Very interesting. I did not know it. Thanks, too, for the kind comments. Peace, Love, Music to you too!!

  6. Hey Mike!! GREAT tips! Thanks for loving our festiVal as much as we Appletonites do! One local band definitely worth mention to see is Kyle Megan and The Monsoons. If you can fit them I to your schedule, you will be happy you did! See you at "The Mile"!

    1. Thank you. I did see Kyle Megna & The Monsoons at Summerfest this year. They're a very entertaining and tight band!