Everything You Missed at Mile of Music 2014

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With over 620 live performances, 35,000-45,000 people, and four solid days of original music dominating downtown Appleton last weekend, Mile of Music 2014 was loud, crazy, and utterly fantastic. If you didn’t make it down, here’s what you missed.

Before we get into the nitty gritty, let’s reflect for a moment on the sights and sounds Mile 2 brought the area. My favorites included:

  1. An older man in a hat being accusing of copying the signature style Cory Chisel
  2. The really-quite-pregnant Adriel Denae absolutely killing it onstage
  3. More sleeve tattoos, fedoras, and beards in one city block than Appleton has ever seen period
  4. Richie Ramone, yes, the former drummer of The Ramones, just chillin’ downtown
  5. A twenty-something sprinting down the street in flip flops carrying a ziplock bag full of cigars

I can only imagine what cigar-related-emergency the twenty-something was rushing off to resolve. Is he a super hero? But we’re getting off track.

With 218 different artists playing in over 60 venues between Thursday and Sunday night, there was no way to see everything. In lieu of becoming omnipresent, here’s the highlights from MOM2014.

A Songwriter Salute to Tom Petty

I’ve already written at length about this night, but I couldn’t let this article pass without mentioning the awesomeness that is Richie Ramone.

When Ramone took center stage to sing, “Somebody Put Something in My Drink”, he said something to the effect of, “Everyone is so f**king nice here. It must be something in the water.”

Seriously, I’m all for starting a petition to change that to our town slogan. Anyone else in?

The Traveling Suitcase & My Girl Crush on Nicole Rae

Creating a sound that seems impossibly loud given that it’s only a three piece band, Oshkosh trio The Traveling Suitcase is made up of Bill Grasley on guitar, Brandon Domer on bass and keyboards, and drummer/lead singer/possible magical being Nicole Rae on my heartstrings.

All three are insanely talented, but seeing Rae double on drums and vocals is truly awe inspiring. Her raspy voice and ability to dominate on drums is effective at converting nonbelievers. All while rocking a raccoon tail on the three day of Mile of Music, I might add.

Throughout the course of the song we also got to see a pretty epic solo from Grasley and see Domer perform double duty jumping from bass to keyboard.

Best of all was the song “Thirty Below” about trying not to go insane during Wisconsin winters. (Answer: it’s impossible.) With a chorus ending in, “there’s beauty in silence” you couldn’t help but get chills, even in the heat.

The Artists Panel Everyone Missed But Shouldn’t Have

Every question you’ve ever had about trying to make money as an artist was answered at this round table with Stephen Kellogg, Melissa Golz and Eve Wilczewski from Seasaw, Tyler Anthony from the band Cereus Bright, and Richie Ramone. And what did we learn exactly?

To sum it up, everything is a constant balancing act. Trying to find viable revenue streams without taking away time from making music. Weighing the cost of a booking agent against the freedom that comes with getting more creative space. And hardest of all, making sure you connect with the fans that are, after all, the most important thing in the industry.

From Stephen Kellogg’s good natured stories about going through various different agents to Melissa Golz admitting that running social media is basically a second job to Richie Ramone’s wisdom on how much the industry has changed,every moment was fascinating and important.

If that host something like this next year, you should go. Seriously.

All About the Kids

In the midst of other harder acts, Mile of Music also presented plenty age inclusive events. On Saturday, kids and adults alike gathered around to drum on overturned buckets and perform body percussion out in the open. (Awesome.)

Then on Sunday, I caught the beginnings of a show from West Bend children’s entertainer Mr. Pete, aka Peter Schwantes.  Dressed in a ridiculously classy gray three-piece, slate gray suit, the former teacher sang about fish and shapes while even inviting former students up onstage to help him.

If you’ve got kids, Mr. Pete is a lot of fun and pretty much seems like the nicest guy you’ve ever met. And if you’ve ever seen Parks and Rec, he’s seems like a real life version of Andy Dwyer’s kid singer persona. Which is a great thing.

If You Liked It Than You Should Have Put a Beard On It

Mid-morning at Fox River House I found myself unexpectedly floored by the NY soul trio Wild Adriatic. Featuring Travis Gray on vocals and guitar, Rich Derbyshire on bass, and Mateo Vosganian on drums, the band had a tight beat and heavy dash of soul that was impossible not to adore.

Between Vosganian’s epic beard, Derbyshire’s epic fro and unflinching efforts to walk out in the crowd and get everybody pumped, and Gray absolutely nailing the high notes with his crazy pipes, it was a wild morning.

And, “If you liked it than you should have put a beard on it” is not me being clever, it’s a tagline from their band t-shirts. A collection which also included the slogan, “Fro Choice.” That wins them the “best band t-shirt of MOM2014 contest” that I started just now. (Better luck next year.)

Cory Chisel Broke My Heart & Brett Newski Fixed It

I had every intention of seeing Adriel Denae and Cory Chisel at the Riverview Gardens Sunday afternoon when disaster struck. They were over capacity and not letting more people in the indoor venue.

Rather than trying to creep around the back, I decided to catch a show I had passed at the Stone Cellar Brew Pub which lead me to another one of my favorite finds in the festival. The offbeat, self-depreciating Brett Newski.

After seeing acts like The Traveling Suitcase and Wild Adriadic that bring the energy of a big band group, it was refreshing to enjoy the quieter, quirky offbeat world view of this sometimes snarky singer/songwriter.

My favorite song of all was, “Move to Berlin”, a tale about feeling aimless in life and moving to the city Newski lovingly referred to as “The Burnout Capital of the World.” Some of the lyrics included, “I want to make art that no one sees, let’s move to Berlin. I want to get drunk at noon for free let’s move to Berlin.”

Sounds good to me.

One Final Song Before We Go

The final act of MOM was star studded to say the least with Christopher Gold, Sc Mira, Robert Ellis, Cory Chisel, Adriel Denae, Freddie Haas, Noah Harris, Hugh Bob, Jim Oblon,  and a brief appearance and brief appearance by Jimmy Chamberlin, former drummer of Smashing Pumpkins.

Every act was amazing. I kicked myself especially for not seeing Canadian act SC Mira and Christopher Gold and Adriel Denae both tugged at the feelings by singing songs to their children. (Or unborn children, in Denae’s case.) As on Thursday, Chisel is always a great MC and pleasure to watch perform.

But far and away the best song of the night was Robert Ellis with “Sing Along”, a heartbreaking tale about growing up in the Bible Belt and fearing damnation from a young age. Only the second song of the night, it got a standing ovation. Wow.

All in all, it was a great end to a great festival.

So What Does Mile of Music Mean for the Community?

The big question, the one on everyone’s mind. What does this really mean? It’s hard not to go back to the numbers with 35,000-45,000 peopleand approximately $2-3 million in revenue coming to the downtown.

For Dave Willems and Cory Chisel, this festival was always about showing off what Appleton has to offer and opening up new opportunities for the area.

“Having an event like that that’s taken hold so quickly allows us to dream about and to brainstorm what other things could to Appleton, what other things could happen that are along the creative economy mindset,” said Dave Willems.

And the festival itself is certainly set to grow, with Willems planning to add another day and possibly a second weekend. They also plan on bumping up the number of “Extra Mile” events throughout the year including the return of the New Year’s Encore Eve.

As for the rest of us? Well, Mile of Music just goes to show what we all knew all along. Wisconsin isn’t a cultural wasteland full of hicks as we’re so often painted, it’s a place where art can thrive. And seeing artists from around the country saying, “Huh, Appleton is pretty cool after all,” is just the icing on the cake.

Here’s to many more festivals to come and keeping track of some fantastic original artists that live right on our doorstep!

Want More Mile of Music News?

Like the photo from the top of the article? Then check out the work of photo gallery from Mile of Music 2014 or more work from photography Josh Himes at joshuaphotography.org.

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