“I used to be the tour dad when we would be driving around in the van,” Bobby Reitman told me over a cup of coffee at Fuel Café late on a sunny morning in May. By “tour dad,” he’s referring to his roles as designated driver and road manager in his music outfit’s gigging days. His band, Cougar Den, not only put out a couple records, but even got to play a set at South By Southwest (SXSW), the big music industry event in Austin, Texas. “We played some bar on the main drag to about ten people one night at SXSW – just like thousands of other bands all over town,” Reitman recalled. “Didn’t make much of a dent in all that noise, but it was cool to be there!”
Riverwest’s music scene originally lured Bobby to the area from his hometown of Mequon. “This is truly the best neighborhood for musicians. I started coming to Riverwest because this is where all the cool shows were. That was when I was in high school, and we would come in to go to all-ages shows at Mad Planet, and basement shows on the 2800 block of Fratney.” Bobby met his future wife, Anna, at one of those basement shows.
“I took off for a year right after high school to go on tour with the band, and it was a great time. But eventually I realized that if I was going to do that, I really had to go for it – I would have had to commit my life to it.” Cougar Den eventually ground to a close, and Reitman started looking for what to do next. He enrolled at UW-Milwaukee to study education with the goal of becoming a teacher.
After a couple of semesters, Reitman became disillusioned about teaching. “I got really disheartened by the brokenness of the system,” he explained. Inspired by then-girlfriend Anna, a professional baker, he tried culinary school at MATC, but that was short-lived as well. “I couldn’t take the pressure of being the last line of defense for food safety at a restaurant. Plus, I didn’t like the hours. Anna and I had opposite schedules.” Bobby decided it was time for a “9-to-5 type of thing, something with regular hours and a steady paycheck.”
Reitman searched Craigslist and found an entry-level job at Rishi Tea. “That was when you could still actually get a job there that way. It’s a whole different thing now,” he laughed. “Rishi is building a new facility in the Menomonee Valley, and it’s going to be state of the art.” He recently celebrated his third anniversary with the company, and has worked his way up to a position as regional account manager.
In the meantime, Reitman and Anna moved in together and rented in Riverwest for three years before deciding to buy a house here in 2011. “We married ourselves, in front of our families, right in the yard at our place. That was last August.” He may have come here for the music scene, but Bobby Reitman has stayed for love, family and community. “I think Riverwest is a great place to raise a kid. The place just has a great vibe. I’m really lucky.”
The ex-bass player and lead singer of Cougar Den still loves music, even if he’s not actively pursuing the rock and roll dream of his high school years. “Right now I’m really into M. Ward, Dr. Dog, Introvert,” he replied when asked what he’s been listening to lately. “And then there’s St. Vincent. Her music is like a cross between Madonna and David Bowie, and she just shreds on guitar,” he enthused. “As for local bands – man, there are so many great ones it’s hard to name just one, but Call Me Lightning is amazing. And I haven’t seen Spaceraft yet, but I love their psychedelic thing. And I really miss Temper Temper.”
Reitman feels happily rooted in Riverwest. “My wife’s dad built the raised beds and helped us a lot with the garden – he’s been growing stuff for years,” he explained while giving a little walking tour of yard next to his cottage-style house on Fratney Street. An optimistic spirit, he is good-natured about and appreciative of the trajectory his life has taken. “There’s travel involved in my job, but nowhere near as much as would have been required to get to the next level with the band,” Bobby grinned. “Now that we have the house and the baby (a son, Robert Reitman IV, or Bert), my excitement is all right here in Riverwest.”
You might recognize Bobby’s name – he’s the third Robert Reitman, and the son of long-time Milwaukee radio pro Bob Reitman, who’s been hosting the music show, “It’s Alright Ma, It’s Only Music,” on WUWM since 2007. Bobby regularly joins his father on the air to spin new releases and “turn folks on to different stuff.” After their Thursday-night show, the Reitmans have a tradition of going to Real Chili to grab a bowl and hang out. “My dad’s been doing that for years. It’s a great way to be able to spend time with him every week.”
Of course, Bobby’s a music fan through and through, and loves his gig deejaying with his dad. “Hey, it’s the little things, you know? Maybe you can’t fix peoples’ lives, but you sure can brighten up their day by playing them some music.”