It’s been a week since the inaugural Mile of Music kicked off in downtown Appleton, and my ears are still ringing. Perhaps I was standing too close to a blaring speaker, or I just can’t get the amazing music I heard during the four-day fest out of my head.
Created by Fox Valley native and musician Cory Chisel and marketing guru Dave Willems, Mile of Music brought 100-plus artists to more than 40 venues in the College Avenue area. Hoping to capture a similar feel to festivals such as South by Southwest, the first-ever event did one better. It created its own authentic experience that was electric and unforgettable.
I’m sure most of us will never forget Norah Jones’ surprise appearance at Lawrence Memorial Chapel or break-out stars Swear and Shake leaving those at Stansbury Theater awestruck. Anyone who attended Mile of Music will probably carry a special moment like these with them for the rest of their lives.
The festival not only brought in a diverse selection of entertainers, but also connected them to the community. When not performing, it was easy to find an artist enjoying the flavor of Appleton. Whether it was Rodney Crowell dining at Taste of Thai or PHOX out on the town, you could see the connection the bands developed with the city.
The Blakes Play Heavy Set in Appleton
I caught up with brothers Garnet and Snow Keim of The Blakes outside the Mile of Music headquarters and asked them about their experience.
Garnet replied, “We were just talking about how wonderful Appleton is. I mean first and foremost, let’s talk about how many bars you guys have in one mile. I think this community, this little city, this little town, whatever you want to call it, is unique in itself. I haven’t experienced anything like this in the U.S., anywhere.”
“Maybe Austin or New York,” added Snow Keim.
“That’s what it reminds us of. East Village, New York or Austin, Texas,” said Garnet. “We were trying to wonder how you guys even cultivated this. How did this even happen? I’m sure people realize how unique it is, but maybe they don’t. It’s awesome, I think it’s fantastic. We’re pretty blown away.”
“It’s like the kid whose been starved for so long for original music, they’re mainlining original music this weekend. It’s incredible. I had no idea what to expect coming out here,” said Snow.
“If I lived in Appleton, I’d be very proud of my community. Proud of what’s going on here,” said an enthusiastic Garnet.
The Blakes unleashed that vigor in a heavy two-hour set Friday night at Chadwick’s. And they continued that with two more performances the following day at Anduzzi’s and Mill Creek.
Garnet told me the band relishes the opportunity to play its songs in front of a new audience.
“In my opinion, I don’t think our albums have ever done justice for what we try to do live.”
Snow further added that when playing a live show, unexpected things can happen or you can just get lost in the moment.
“Some old jazz guy said it once, ‘If it’s original music no matter what you do you’re not making a mistake.’ So you’re interpreting what you’re doing. That’s what’s weird about recording stuff,” Snow said. “That’s the nature of the business, but it’s not the nature of being a musician.”
California Wives Give a Lesson in Art History
Throughout the day I managed to catch up with a number of bands, including California Wives after their set Saturday afternoon at Anduzzi’s. The Chicago-based quartet played a tight show dominated with tracks from their 2012 release Art History. If you haven’t listened to it yet, do yourself a favor and track down a copy. It’s indie pop rock perfection.
While talking with California Wives, they had strong praise for Mile of Music and the city of Appleton.
“For a town of 70,000 to put together a festival like this and have all these people come out, it speaks volumes for how interested people are in music and art,” said drummer Joe O’Connor.
Lead vocalist Jayson Kramer expounded upon that by saying,“Everyone’s been really gracious to us and really kind. It seems like when they see a new band play they stop and they listen, which is all you really want them to do. They’ll form their own judgments about us.”
“You can hate us, but as long as you give us a chance,” Joe added with a slight laugh.
The hardworking band just got off a six week tour and you could tell they were enthused to play Mile of Music.
“For us to get back immediately after a tour and come up here and play these shows — it means we really want to be up here. Cause if we didn’t want to be up here, we wouldn’t be up here right now. After being on the road for six weeks in a van that’s super small, we obviously want to be here. We heard a little bit about it,” said Jayson. “They made it feel like it was going to be a really great place to be for the weekend.”
California Wives also had strong praise for how organized the festival was and how helpful the volunteers were.
“We’re not used to having all this staff carry our gear, which is really nice. When you go to South By Southwest you don’t get that,” Jayson stated.
Local Band Makes Lots of Noise at Mile of Music
For me, the biggest surprise was one that was right under my nose. The Traveling Suitcase was simply mesmerizing. The Oshkosh-based trio is a full throttle, loud, in your face, bona fide rock band.
I think my wife said it best about Nicole Rae’s voice — it’s cinematic. You mix that with Bill Grasley’s confident guitar skills and Brandon Domer’s stellar bass and keyboard playing and you’ve got a band with infinite promise.
I think it’s amazing that Mile of Music not only helped me discover artists from across the country, but also helped me find a gem right in my own backyard.
I approached Rae after the band finished loading up and she clued me into the group’s origins.
“There used to be seven members of the band. I used to play guitar and sing. Drummer moved away, things got really weird. Tried to keep it going. I was just like fuck it, I’m going to play drums and sing. Then slowly but surely it blended into a three piece. I feel like it’s great. There’s less souls involved.”
She went on to say, “The thing to embrace about music and being in a band is always embrace change and not expect anything but to grow with your music and with your bandmates as friends.”
As with the other artists I interviewed, Rae couldn’t refrain from praising the efforts of the Mile of Music organizers.
“Mile of Music is incredible. I think the communication between all of the volunteers, the bands, the sound crews. Everyone that’s involved generally knows a lot of what’s going on, which is good. You have a lot of festivals where there’s lots of miscommunication. Bands and people are pissed off. The communication is great. Cory (Chisel) is a very good person. I have nothing but infinite gratitude toward him and Dave (Willems), the guy who really really helped push a lot of other things along financially. Which is beautiful. What he’s done for Appleton is incredible. Same for Cory. I just think this is a great thing to have and I hope it happens next year.”
Final Thoughts on Mile of Music
I can personally say Mile of Music exceeded all of my expectations. Not only did I get see some of my favorites like Fort Frances, Caroline Smith, and Nikki Lane play local stages, I also got discover a plethora of new bands. I wish I could walk down the street everyday and hear the amazing sounds that echoed down College Avenue during the four-day festival. But I guess I’ll just have to wait to see what next year brings.
If you got to enjoy Mile of Music, WhooNEW would love to find out which bands you got to see. And if you have your own Mile of Music story, blog post, or video link, feel free to share it in the comment section below. After all, part of WhooNEW’s mission is helping people discover the best of Northeast Wisconsin.