Nine Fox Valley original live music events you need to attend in 2019

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From small local events to national acts, here is your Fox Valley music festival guide for 2019

The opportunities in 2019 to catch quality original live music in the Fox Valley are many, thanks to a collection of long-standing large-scale festivals and a handful of community-based independent events.

Here’s a quick preview of the events you need to be at in 2019:

MILE OF MUSIC (APPLETON)

August 1-4

Faux Fawn @ Mile of Music by Northern Mantle

For the fan of the independent artist, no other event in Northeast Wisconsin compares to Mile of Music, which boasts four days of original live music centered in downtown Appleton with nearly 1000 sets. Musicians from across the country (and some international) converge around College Ave, joining an estimated 70,000+ fans for a chaotic and wonderful week of music.

PROS: The array of exceptional national musical talent; The shows are almost entirely free; Parking is surprisingly easy despite massive numbers of fans and musicians; Overall folks attending most of the pre-10pm sets are very (uncommonly) focused on the music.

CONS: The only real negative to the week is that there is so much good music happening, you are bound to want to see three or four bands at the same time, and have to make the excruciating decision of which bands to skip this round.

WATERFEST (OSHKOSH)

Summer dates TBA, expected to kick off June 20

This feature is focused on single music events, but we made an exception for Waterfest, which is such as staple of Northeast Wisconsin’s summer music scene that we felt any list without it would be inadequate.

Waterfest 2019 will be year 34, which means that for pretty much my entire life the organizers of Waterfest have been hosting live music. Year seven for Mile is impressive, and year 34 for Waterfest is legendary.

Hosted along the Fox River in downtown Oshkosh at the Leach Amphitheater, Waterfest hosts an array of national touring emerging artists, once-glorious rockers, and local musical celebs all on early Thursday evenings throughout summer.

PROS: The public venue on a fair-weathered night is as beautiful as any in the midwest; you can see back-to-back-to-back outstanding lineups for under $20 a night; volunteers staffing the event help raise money for local nonprofits; food is typically sourced from a local restaurant; concessions are ridiculously affordable; we’re stopping the list here for space purposes only – this series is everyone’s favorite.

CONS: The biggest challenge to Waterfest organizers is that they don’t have a control panel for weather, and sometimes you just don’t know what you’re going to get; We at the OI are strong advocates of original music, and Waterfest understandably books quite a few popular cover bands to fill local slots.

WATER CITY RACKET FEST (OSHKOSH)

February 14-16

DUSK at Racket Fest 2018 by Mandy M. Mitchell

The first main original live music event of the 2019 calendar year, Water City Racket enters year two with an exceptional lineup that features many of Wisconsin’s premiere original, independent artists performing throughout downtown Oshkosh.

“Racket Fest” is centered in the historic hall of the Algoma Club, with four bands slated both Friday and Saturday evenings. Manila Resto sits on the lower level and will host strong lineups of acts opening the Friday and Saturday evenings.

Racket Fest 2019 is also expanding to include some pretty cool new shows including pared down acoustic sets at the Menominee Nation Arena and Fletch’s Tap House, as well as late night sessions at Peabody’s (Friday) and the Reptile Palace (Saturday). The event is also adding a kick off date of Thursday Feb 14, with a 3 band lineup at Fletch’s. The Library is also hosting three educational sets titled Listen & Learn on Saturday morning.

2019 Racket Fest also includes a compilation album that features 14 original tracks from midwest bands, with a limited print run and creative design work from Offbeat Press.

PROS: The best small event original band lineup in Northeast Wisconsin; Many free sets while the main stage at the Algoma Club is only $6/night; Craft beer throughout the weekend from Oshkosh’s Fifth Ward Brewing; The food at Manila is beyond splendid

CONS: February can be cold in Wisconsin

OSHKOSH MAIN STREET MUSIC FEST

July 24-28

Good Night Gold Dust @ Main Street Music Fest 2018 by Northern Mantle

Downtown Oshkosh’s largest live music celebration, Main Street Music Fest spans five solid days and offers more than 100 sets. The event has been running along Oshkosh’s Main Street for seven years, and has hosted many of the area’s favorites including the Dead Horses, the Traveling Suitcase, Copper Box, and the Haunted Heads.

All sets are free throughout the week, and many are on outdoor stages in music-centered spaces that can produce the feeling of a close musical community.

The past two years have seen the festival release a locally-crafted Main Street Music beer, and we look forward to the tradition continuing in 2019.

PROS: Great opportunity for local bands to perform; free sets; Sound quality is surprisingly great at all of the venues thanks to the efforts of lead organizer Ben Vosters and his sound team;

CONS: Very little to complain about here; 2018 saw an increase in featured cover bands

COUNTRY USA and ROCK USA (OSHKOSH)

June 27-29 and July 18-20

2019 will see more focused events from the organizers of CUSA and Rock USA, with the events limited to three days each. However, consistent with prior years, the music festivals will be heavy on national acts and camping.

Located at Ford Park south of Oshkosh and just west of Highway 41, the festivals host a number of major acts that probably don’t work well anywhere else in the area. 2019 will see Oshkosh hosting Marilyn Manson, Brad Paisley, Disturbed, Dierks Bentley, Rob Zombie, and more.

PROS: Ford Park is surprisingly a fun spot for a major show, with a plethora of festival food options, cheap beer, and ample space to run around; Music acts that you won’t catch anywhere else in Northeast Wisconsin; Good ticket prices for the weekend music warrior

CONS: Walking safety – the city council balked on their duty to provide safe transportation options for pedestrians a few years back, and as a result walkers often share a slim roadway with drivers; As an outdoor fest, weather is a huge factor, and it is not uncommon for rain to make driving and performance nearly impossible; Confederate flags and sloppy drunkenness

ELECTRIC CITY EXPERIENCE

June 6-10

Electric City Experience 2017, photo by Northern Mantle

Five days of quality original music (plus a few cover bands) in the center of Kaukauna. The festival offers more than 60 sets of music from established regional artists paired with great local craft beer.

PROS: Volunteers are everywhere, making for quick support and great customer service; Support of regional musicians; Traditional Wisconsin festival cook-out foods; the most family friendly event on this list

CONS: 2018 saw the festivities shift from local tavern spots to outdoor tents, which led to a bit of overlapping of music (you’d be hearing music from two performers at the same time) – we are confident the organizers will continue to refine the event to achieve a balance between venue sets and tented sets

EAA WEEK (OSHKOSH)

June 22-28

Yes, an airplane event isn’t necessarily a live music event, but recent years have seen the EAA putting on one hell of a music show, with acts such as Chicago, Steve Miller Band and more.

And 2019 just happens to be year 50 for EAA, so we’re anticipating something legendary.

PROS: Probably the one time the act – whomever it may be – will be in the Fox Valley; Flawless execution of every detail as has come to be the norm with the EAA; You also get to see a few mind-blowing airplane shows

CONS: EAA is on the pricier side of the events detailed in this feature; Folks should expect to walk a good distance (not all that bad now, is it); Absence of a featured local act

CHARLEYVILLE (NEENAH)

February 23

Every year, musicians converge on the small, iconic stage at Cranky Pats in Neenah to play for a cause greater than any one of them as part of Charleyville. The annual event is focused concretely on raising funds to support the important causes of music education and emerging creative writers.

More fundamentally, the day is a remembrance of a friend and fellow musician and writer lost far too soon.

Charleyville, named after Charlotte Nooe, brings together a collection of local and national acts for a full afternoon and evening of music, highlighted by a wonderful collection of beautiful people, great pizza, and community.

PROS: No event on this list has a greater cause; Cranky Sticks are unmatched in the world as a satisfying snack; Some music sets are only offered once per year in the Fox Valley; Year after year the line up is strong

CONS: Not enough people attend this event each year

Stay tuned for the 2019 Live Music Series Guide, planned for early March

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Justin R. Mitchell

Justin is the founding editor of the Oshkosh Independent.

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