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Riverwest Bars Fill the Music Void

by Eryn Moris

I remember a time when my right hand didn’t go a week without being marked by a doorman for a rock show. The five years I have lived here have been filled with countless evenings spent in the company of Milwaukee music lovers and our favorite local and national acts. For a small city in the Midwest, we’ve had it pretty good as far as our music scene is concerned. In the past six months however, we’ve suffered a bit of a blow with the near-simultaneous closings of two venues that attracted bands from around the country whose names weren’t notable enough to make the marquee at the Rave. The Globe East closed its doors in April after ten years of infusing the east side with some of the best live music Milwaukee’s ever heard. Shortly thereafter, the Reed Street Station in Walker’s Point, which had been beefing up its roster with more popular touring bands, also shut down. This, combined with the debatably unspectacular lineup for Summerfest 2003, made this summer a bleak one as far as many Milwaukee music fans were concerned. Who would come to our rescue? In moves characteristic of the attitude that has helped Riverwest evolve over the past 20 years from ghetto to gentrified (in the best possible way), a number of Riverwest bar owners have stepped in to fill the void. Our resident brew pub Onopa hosted progressively larger exhibitions of some of Milwaukee’s most diverse musicians throughout the summer, and since the pub’s owners hired a booking agent, has hosted a number of under-the-radar touring bands with much success. Stepping up to the plate on the all-ages scene is the Center Street staple Mad Planet. With the help of Marc Solheim–who could be credited for orchestrating much of Milwaukee’s music scene over the past ten years of booking for area venues – owner Rosemary Silagy has decided to return to the live music arena after more than ten years. Before the dance club re-opened its arms in September, the last all-ages show in 1993 featured Milwaukee’s most popular ska band, the Pacers, and a band called Drawback, whose members later went on to become emo icons The Promise Ring. Before Solheim came on board, the club had been having live music for about a month without much luck. “Some of the shows weren’t really the right shows for the right room,” he says. With a bit of tweaking, the club has been drawing large, supportive crowds for its Saturday night 21 and over shows, but the Sunday evening all-ages shows have been less popular. “I still think Riverwest is looked upon from other parts of the city as a bad neighborhood,” says Solheim. “I would say that’s my biggest deterrent for all-ages shows.” Referencing recent problems with crime in our neighborhood, he expresses a desire, shared by many Riverwest residents, for more police presence. “The community is growing and blossoming, but we’re still not getting the cooperation,” he laments. “You’re getting the hassles, but you’re not getting the help.” Still, Solheim remains optimistic. The crowds are growing and problems surrounding the shows have been nonexistent. Renovations are in the works to expand the stage and improve upon the sound equipment, and November’s schedule boasts a number of shows to get excited about — most notably Minneapolis’ insanely talented singer/composer Mark Mallman, Milwaukee alt-country outfit The Obsoletes, and the homecoming of hometown indie-rock darlings The Response after a month-long east coast tour. “Live Music. No Cover Ever.” I don’t know about you, but that’s enough to get me to pull off Humboldt into Treats’ parking lot on an aimless weekend night. A fixture on Riverwest’s south end for the past few years, Treats has also decided to enter the ring, hosting 21 and over shows on the weekends. Steve Gilbertson, the bar’s manager and booking agent, takes pride in Treats’ varied approach to live music. “We’ve done pretty much every part of the spectrum,” he says. “Everything from DJs to hip hop to metal to bluegrass.” This is Gilbertson’s first real foray into the band booking business, and after having successful turnouts for local groups, he hopes to start bringing in touring bands. “Sooner or later we may start having to charge a cover here and there, but if we ever do a cover, guaranteed it’s never going to be more than $5,” he says. Gilbertson is also working on booking more jazz, blues, trip hop, and electronica groups for mellow Sunday night martini specials. “We’re an extremely eclectic bar; we’ve got every part of Milwaukee bar clientele possible, so we’re not putting out any type of music,” says Gilbertson. “We kind of base this bar on the fact that it’s eclectic and that anybody’s welcome.” Rejoining the scene after a bit of a hiatus is Warwick Seay and his bar Circle A. Well known for being Milwaukee’s first selector-style DJ bar, Circle A’s calendar now boasts “Live at 8” performances on Fridays and Sundays. Paul Setser, a man with his finger on the pulse of much of Riverwest’s musical activity as well as the former booking agent for Quarters, has joined Seay to revive Circle A’s status as a live music venue once again. “We’re going to be pretty small time, literally and figuratively,” says Seay of his tiny venue. “I wish we could say that physically there is no kind of band that we couldn’t have here. We’ve just got to make them sound good and not take up too much room,” he says. “The bands will generally be smaller, but again, I’m not going to promise that we’re never going to have a rip-roaring night.” All shows at Circle A will end by ten o’clock to accommodate the neighbors and the regularly scheduled DJ’s. And so all is well once again on the Milwaukee music scene, and my hands are just as marked up as they once were. What do you say Riverwest, are you ready to rock? I’ll see you on the dance floor. Other great places to take in some music in Riverwest: Bremen Cafe 901 E. Clarke St. Linneman’s Riverwest Inn 1001 E. Locust St. Mac’s Red Eye 3865 N. Richards St. Quarters Rock N Roll Palace 900 E. Center St. Riverwest Commons 815 E. Locust St. Uptowner 1032 E. Center St. Woodland Pattern 720 E. Locust St.

The Riverwest Accordion Club