400 Block Party: A community effort of ‘Rocking the Block’
Saturday afternoon, the Central Wisconsin Musicians Guild teamed up with 8 area bands of various genre for the third annual 400 Block Party event, downtown.
As co-organizer Nick Bretl explains, the event came together three years ago; powered by the Guild.
“Founder Matt Paulson and I had been talking about an all day concert on the square for quite a while, but we met some resistance with it. Both of us play in bands ourselves and we really wanted to make something like this happen. So we decided to form the Central Wisconsin Musicians Guild, to unite musicians from around the area and bring everyone together. It was around 6-8 months later we had our first 400 Block Party in the summer of 2015. It took a lot of work and we had help from great people like Russ Brunette and John Phillips. The Rock 94.7 was and has always been very supportive of us from the start and remain one of our sponsors. They all were instrumental in bringing the 400 Block Party to life” he explains.
The first block party in 2015 consisted of 8 bands as well; all from Central Wisconsin or had ties to Central Wisconsin, which Bretl states remains a requirement for musicians to be invited.
“We had a great show, the bands were great and we had a strong turnout,” Bretl adds, “but we didn’t have any vendors or anything, as nobody really heard of us or knew what we were doing down there.”
However that all changed headed into last summer’s eight-band showcase.
“After our 2015 party, word got out and the community really started showing interest in coming down and supporting us, which was awesome! We had a few different vendors come down to serve food and so on during last year’s block party and now this year we grew to include seven vendors.”
Key aspects the Block party emphasizes on; as evidenced by Bretl and the event’s social media presence, is bringing the Central Wisconsin music community together in an all-ages, family friendly environment.
Although not necessarily intentional according to Bretl, another aspect of the 400 Block Party over the last few years has been that of variation in the genres and style of music brought by various musicians. Saturday’s event certainly maintained that trend with another packed slate of 8 bands; ranging from Mosinee based Hard Rock quartet ‘Un-Broken,’ to Wausau-based ‘Folk Eclectic’ six-piece group; Michael Strike and The God Damn Band, and Indie-Alternative Rock quartet IndigiBliss.
“It’s just the way things have always happened with putting together our line-ups for the block party. To have so many different brands of music meshing at one event is just awesome,” he said.
“But then again that’s exactly what the Central Wisconsin music scene is. It’s just a big diverse community of musicians who enjoy getting together, playing, having fun and supporting each other.”
In speaking with various musicians who took the stage Saturday, it seems as if Bretl’s outlook on the 400 Block Party is shared by other Guild members as well.
5-piece ‘Rock n Roll’ band ‘Toy Guns‘ came up from Marshfield to make their first-ever appearance at the Block Party, and as vocalist Tom Vinnedge explains; the band not only had a blast performing for a great audience, but enjoyed the community-like atmosphere.
“We had a blast! It was a great time getting to know all the bands on a personal level. The crowd was awesome and it was just a great atmosphere. Not just with meeting and supporting other musicians, but seeing so many people of all ages. It was a family friendly atmosphere which was very cool. Little kids were right up there by the stage rocking with their parents. They also had a splash pad for the kids to go hang out at if they wanted to, and that is exactly where my kids hung out for a while. It was just a great event and we were happy to be invited!”
“If you have yet to come out and enjoy the 400 Block Party, ask around” he adds. “Anyone who has been down there can tell you it’s a great time. It’s fun, it’s clean and best of all; it’s open to all ages and it’s free. But on that same note, they rely heavily on the help of the community and sponsors. Even though its free, the organizers still have the same things to deal with as any other big concert that is paid to get in. They still have to worry about permits, getting dumpsters and garbage cans. Not to mention the time they invest in the unseen, under-appreciated behind-the-scenes work; coordinating everything like calling and booking bands and vendors. Anyone can be a sponsor or help support the Block Party and other events the Guild takes part in. If you happen to enjoy music, and want to support the local music community and happen to have a few extra bucks; I would encourage you to find a member and donate to the Guild. They will put your money to good use, keeping music coming back year after year.”
In discussing Toy Guns, Vinnedge hesitates and laughs a bit as many musicians do when asked to “classify” their music. But he replies “The best way I can sum us up man is to say we’re Rock n Roll, a unique sound of our own, but we’re Rock n’ Roll nonetheless.”
His emphasis on ‘unique’, as well as the 400 Block Party’s community oriented foundation, was clearly reflected at the close of the band’s set Saturday evening. As their final performance, Vinnedge and his counterparts-consisting of; Zach Smith-bass guitarist; Mike Pelland- rhythm guitarist; Scott Smith-lead Guitarist; and drummer Matt Mauer-invited the audience of all ages to the stage, and together performed a cover of Rage Against The Machine’s “Killin’ in The Name Of.”
“It’s always fun whenever we can do things like that,” Vinnedge said with a grin.
“Of course safety comes first. We want to make sure the stage is safe for bringing so many people up, but when we can it’s a great time. We enjoy interacting with the audience and sharing our moment with them. No matter what show or where we are playing; it’s not just our show, its theirs too.”
Saturday was also a first for Wausau-based ‘Downgrade‘; a ‘Heavy Rock’ trio who brought a rather unique mix of heavy, throaty lyrics from vocalist/guitarist Nathan Kroening, combined with a bluesy core-rhythm courtesy of Kroening’s six-string, drummer Brandon Lee and bassist Jeremy Essex.
“This was our very first year and we loved it,” Lee said.
“It was an honor to be asked to help showcase the Guild and the local music community. There was such a wide variety of music from around the area that came together, it was great. I think it’s events like this that help build momentum every year and keep the trend alive of making the 400 Block Party better every year.”
“The music is great and so was the audience, but to me the biggest draw to the party was the community atmosphere. Musicians getting together and performing, hanging out and just having a great time supporting each other. What makes the community what it is, is the fact we all come from the same start, no matter what brand of music we play. These musicians you see at the 400 Block Party and other live shows; are or were your neighbors down the street, who started off jamming out in their parents garages or basements. Events like this is the people of Central Wisconsin’s opportunity to come out, have fun and listen to some great music from their own backyards so to speak. Its a local community event, that’s free and family friendly. I would encourage anyone who hasn’t checked it out yet, to check it out, and anyone who has been down there; to come every year and support your local musicians. We would definitely appreciate it.”
The Central Wisconsin Musician’s Guild and organizers of the 400 Block Party would like to thank their sponsors for their support, including: ‘The Rock’ 94.7, Zingers n Flingers, Weston Family Dental, Vapeland Records, Human Canvas and Northern Music Service