Racket Fest 2019 recap

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Year two spreads original music throughout downtown Oshkosh with many firsts and lasts

Noell Kaylene serenades the Oshkosh Farmers Market Saturday

Oshkosh musician Noell Kaylene kicked off a busy weekend of original live music in Oshkosh on Thursday night when she took the stage at Fletch’s Tap House. Twenty-two sets of music would follow, concluding 2:00 A.M. Sunday morning at the Reptile Palace.

Her set marked a first for Water City Racket Fest: live music beyond the walls of Manila Resto and the Algoma Club. The festival, which centers on independent, original bands from the midwest, expanded in year two to include live music at Fletch’s, Peabody’s, the Menominee Nation Arena, the Oshkosh Public Library, and the Reptile Palace.

The festival was also a last for Kaylene. She announced shortly before her Thursday set that this weekend would be her last. Friends, fellow musicians and colleagues joined her for the night, which also featured Oshkosh’s The Present Age and Appleton’s Pudge.

Year two of Water City Racket Fest saw twenty-three bands converge on downtown Oshkosh, with nearly thirty sets of original music.

Another first this year for the festival was the release of Racket Fest 2019 Compilation CD, featuring 14 original studio tracks from Racket Fest 2019 bands. Only 75 of the full-color albums were produced, with limited quantities available at the Exclusive Company ($6.99) and at the OI store ($9.00).

Appleton musician Renée Millard announced that her Racket Fest 2019 sets would be her final set with the Redhawks. The band played Saturday sets at Fletch’s and the Reptile Palace.

2019 Hightlights

ASUMAYA at Listen & Learn with his band

Listen & Learn at the Oshkosh Public Library: When exceptional musicianship is combined with interactive programs, greatness is possible. ASUMAYA, Copper Box and Nickel&Rose put on the highlight of the weekend, with three interactive programs in the library’s marble dome.

A little more than one hundred curious minds attended the sessions, which started with UW Oshkosh graduate and Madison educator and musician Luke Bassuener introducing a group of children and adults to unique instruments and song-writing styles. Together, the audience and Luke produced a looping song of instrumentation and vocals performed by the audience and full-audience choir chorus.

Copper Box sharing their music and stories

Copper Box followed, and delivered their most intimate and skillful set we’ve seen from the local band. Without instrument amplification or effects, the duo of Michelle and Danny Jerabek set aside the band’s party-themed norm, instead talking about their musical history and stories of how they were introduced to their instruments. Danny’s accordion craft shined as the duo performed songs rarely ever played out.

The morning concluded with Milwaukee’s Nickel&Rose, who both captivated the audience with their exceptional classical-inspired guitar work and had those in attendance laughing at the duo’s stories of world travel and songwriting.

Algoma Club sound: Sets on the main stage in the Algoma Club have never sounded better, thanks to the work of Mike Engel of Innovisions and his sidekick David Lamb. The room’s expansive hall with historic wood character throughout makes for a challenging room to manage for sound. The crew and the overall sound was tremendous.

Jesse Koonce from the Algoma Club was also key in helping the team achieve this remarkable feat, contributing guidance, gear support, and time.

Dean Hoffman, Andrew Johnson, and Stephen McCabe were also instrumental in helping with sound and gear at venues throughout town.

Music Lineup: For the fan of indie rock and folk, the 2019 lineup was as good as any in Wisconsin. Racket Fest 2019 offered some of the most talented and creative acts from Milwaukee (Nicke&Rose, Gauss) and Madison (Faux Fawn, Asumaya, Steev Baker), while hosting two of Minnesota’s more creative emerging groups in Good Night Gold Dust and Adelyn Rose. Twelve of the best Fox Valley bands also played at the 2019 festival.

Adelyn Rose from Minneapolis played multiple sets at Racket Fest 2019, photo by Northern Mantle

The lineup also offered unique sets by some of the bands, including Good Night Gold Dust’s first acoustic four-piece set, a duo set from Paul Otteson and Audre Rae Krull (of Faux Fawn), and the unique, revealing sets by the Listen & Learn groups.

Design Work: Seemingly talked about as much as the band lineup, the poster and compilation cd design work by the team at Offbeat Press was one of this year’s cooler surprises.

Collaboration: While the main stage attendance was below the goals set by the Racket Fest organizers, the successful collaborations helped to make this an overall successful year. Many of the new host sites experienced great sets of music with strong attendance, including a collaborative partnership with Vines & Rushes of Ripon, who hosted Nickel&Rose and Adelyn Rose for afternoon session.

According to the organizers, the collaborations helped to both broaden awareness of Racket Fest while introducing new audiences to midwestern original music.

Redhawks at the Reptile, photo by Northern Mantle

Saturday Night Late Night: Ending on a positive note is always a goal for music festival organizers, and Racket Fest 2019 achieved this with a strong late night session at the Reptile Palace that featured three Fox Valley Bands and a jam-packed crowd.

The Reptile’s participation in Water City Racket Fest was new in 2019, though the iconic local rock ‘n’ roll dive bar joined the Independent Racket Nights series at its 2018 inception.

Racket Things 2019 and 2020

On Saturday, the Racket team announced the dates and locations of the Independent Racket Nights Series for 2019, with added venues and dates with the new season. The 2019 series will feature eight nights of original live music at six rotating venues with twenty-four bands.

One of the goals of the event is to help build interest and a community of support for the annual Water City Racket Fest.

Changes can be expected in year three of Racket Fest. In a short meeting of organizers after this year’s Racket Fest, they agreed that the attendance at the Algoma Club has not met their goals, and does not justify all of the work that the Manila Resto and Algoma Club teams put in.

“We owe a great deal to Jesse, Marlo, Wendy and the Manila Resto and Algoma Club team for everything they have done to support Racket Fest and the local music scene,” Racket Fest said in a statement. “More than the exceptional cuisine and beautiful facility, their team has dedicated significant time and resources to help support Racket Fest and musicians from across the Fox Valley.”

Milwaukee’s Gauss on the Algoma Club main stage, photo by Northern Mantle

One idea discussed was to shift Friday night to a smaller, more intimate venue while hosting music at the Algoma Club just on Saturday.

The organizers are also looking to move the festival back to February 27-29, 2020, keeping the festival at three days.

Water City Racket Fest would like to thank their generous 2019 sponsors and hosts, including the Fifth Ward Brewing, Offbeat Press, the Ideal Team Real Estate Group, Northern Mantle Media, Klassy Kids Consignment, Atomic Katz, Vines & Rushes Winery, The Exclusive Company, Rhapsodies, the Menominee Nation Arena, Manila Resto, the Algoma Club, Downtown Oshkosh, the Oshkosh Independent, Fletch’s, the Oshkosh Farmers Market, Peabody’s, the Oshkosh Public Library, and the Reptile Palace.

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