Make Green Bay Weird: Episode I

Tom Smith

tom smith | make green bay weird | march 2015

Hello, my name is Tom Smith, and welcome to the debut of Make Green Bay Weird, my monthly column here in the brand spanking new Frankly Green Bay. I'm ecstatic to be in on the ground floor of a project that has a future so bright I got to wear shades. Bam, I just won a bottle of tequila from Corey Hart, who bet I couldn't reference Pat MacDonald in the first two sentences. You're probably asking: so, what will your column be covering every month? And why is it titled Make Green Bay Weird?

Well, you're in luck, cause that's the purpose of the column this month: to answer both those questions in 1,800 words or less.

Let's tackle the name first, because this will shed light on the monthly contents. The city of Austin, Texas for quite some time now has had an expression that has been bandied about by its citizenry who favor the arts, “Keep Austin Weird.” This expression is also used in Portland, Oregon a great deal. This expression, I believe, is used in Austin because of changes to the city, both economically and culturally, that have threatened their unique artistic climate, sort of like a gentrification of the arts. I remember being in Austin in 2001 for Estrus Records Garage Shock and seeing a shirt on the back of someone in a bar on 6th Street called Casino El Camino — great bar, reminded me of the late Speakeasys in Green Bay, but with food. I recommend the Buffalo Burger (also, one time I got a huge kick out of the speed that a group of gutter punks moved from the second to the first floor when they saw someone leave the establishment without finishing his french fries. Those kids should give up punk and go out for the U.S. Olympic team. Oh, it's true. It's damn true), that said, “Don't Move Here.” So I see the struggle some members of Austin are in to keep their oasis of music and arts in Texas properly functioning.

I fell in love with Austin the first time I went to that city. The occasion was to see the reunion of the Texas punk band Poison 13 put on by a really awesome Austin record store called The Sound Exchange. Coincidentally, since I last visited Austin in 2002, The Sound Exchange was forced to close due to rents in that area becoming unreasonable. For all I know it was forced out for a Trader Joe's. This is a loss. That was a great record store. They also hosted live bands inside the store. I was fortunate enough to catch bands inside the store one afternoon. The reason I love Austin is because the city treats original music with the respect and reverence that the city of Green Bay affords the Green Bay Packers. Quite frankly, I am jealous. I wish Green Bay treated original music with such a fervent diligence. So why don't we all make Green Bay weird? Making Green Bay weird is what I will be trying to accomplish with my monthly column. I, for one, believe actions are louder than words, and I myself have been trying to help make Green Bay weird for quite some time now.

In high school, I started working at a record store in the Port Plaza Mall called Galaxy of Sound in October of 1984. I felt like I had won the lottery when given the opportunity to work there by my manager, Ellie Harrison. You see, the only job I've ever really wanted was to work in a record store, and luckily to this day, that's all I've ever done. I left Galaxy Of Sound in August of 1988, by which time, it had been purchased by a chain out of Illinois, making it a JR's Music. For the past 20+ years I have been the manager of the Exclusive Company, and that job has given me the opportunity to have my path cross with many of Green Bay's lovers and practitioners of music and the arts. The days that retail can grind you down, I just have to remind myself that I've been living a Peter Pan existence for almost 31 years. In high school I also briefly wrote record reviews for the school newspaper, but had to abruptly leave when they refused to publish my review of the Blackfoot album “Vertical Smiles.” That pretty much was my extra-curricular activities in high school other than one year selling yearbook advertising, which sucked, and freshman year of JV basketball, where my career point total was one point.

I almost forgot to mention, the high school I went to was N.E.W. Lutheran High School, which had a peak attendance of 91 when I was going there, and my graduating class bottomed out at 13 students. Right out of high school, even before the first classes of my freshman year at UWGB, I started volunteering at the student radio station WGBW. I volunteered there from June of 1985 to June of 1989. WGBW was an incredible college radio station where all the DJs were allowed to program their own music with a great variety of genres being featured on the station. I worked there until the bitter end, when the University of Wisconsin Green Bay decided to sell the radio station to Wisconsin Public Radio. This action by the university came out of the blue, and when students collected a petition to ask the university to reverse its decision, the chancellor at the time would not even look at it. The loss of this station still haunts Green Bay, and the damage done by losing this outlet has been a dark cloud on the city ever since. I had a great time DJing at WGBW. I got to play great underground records, and I got to interview many great musicians such as the Ramones, Motorhead, Metallica, Handsome Dick Manitoba of the Dictators, ALL, Mojo Nixon, Rob Halford of Judas Priest, the Cro-Mags and also local bands like Mission Of Mercy and No Response.

I did a great job at WGBW, and I recall getting letters of recommendation from not only the station manager, but also the dean of students, the chancellor, and even the chancellor's wife. My only regret of my career at WGBW was that due to the station going off the air three days early and unexpectedly, my phone interview with GG Allin was cancelled. While attending UWGB I also started setting up live punk rock shows, and that is something I still do and am very passionate about to this day. I had a great run from 1995 to 2001 setting up shows at and eventually owning the Concert Cafe, which eventually changed its name to Rock and Roll High School. In fact, I get to set up a band I fell in love with while attending UWGB called The Lyres, a legendary garage rock band from Boston at Phat Headz on Thursday, April 16. Fellow WGBW DJ Rev Norb will be opening for The Lyres with his band, Rev Norb and The Onions. I've always believed a live show must include area musicians. Another show I'm very fired up to promote is the Choke Chains from Michigan. This band contains Tom Potter, who played at the Concert Cafe many times in the band Bantam Rooster. Also appearing on this bill at the Crunchy Frog is Aluminum Knot Eye, The Foamers?, and one of Green Bay's brightest young bands, Motra. This five star bill is taking place Saturday, March 14.

The Crunchy Frog and Phat Headz are two of the growing number of venues in Green Bay that are booking great original music. Other venues on the list are The Lyric Room, Meyer Theatre, Frets & Friends, Gasoline, Eagle's Club, GB Distillery, Kavarna, Luna Cafe and the Watering Hole. Green Bay also has two record stores that host original music, The Exclusive Company and Rock N' Roll Land.

I believe Green Bay is looking up for original live music. Making Green Bay weird may not be as hard as we all think. I do hope that the Riverwalk area downtown will start hosting more original live music. The same goes for Leicht Park. Another wonderful thing I just witnessed in Green Bay was visiting the WC Gallery for the first time, run by Stephen Perkins. They had a great exhibit of band posters from San Francisco 1983-1989. One of the posters, a Dead Kennedys poster from 1984, even had Wisconsin's own Die Kreuzen on the bill. Green Bay has a lot more to offer than meets the eye, you just have to look for it.

That's what I'll be doing with this column, trying to spotlight things via record reviews, previews of upcoming live events and publicizing exhibits that might fall under the radar. I've always rooted for the underdog. I also will be this publication's go-to guy on professional wrestling. I remember asking my dad where he was when he heard the news that JFK was assassinated. He told me he had left work early that day and was at a bowling alley. At that time my father lived in Milwaukee (I was also born in Milwaukee, but don't worry – I've been in Green Bay since I was four). I hope someday my daughter comes up and asks me where I was when Seth Rollins turned on The Shield. I'll also be covering professional football. I must point out that last September I correctly predicted in a publication I previously wrote for that Packer fans would be cheering for the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl. I also will be doling out free fantasy football advice — follow at your own risk. Let's not even bring up the fact that I was championing Toby Gerhart last year.

I also will chime in with my two cents on what television shows I consider to be worth watching currently. Yes, we all know “The Walking Dead” is the best drama on television, but do you know that “Longmire” is the second best drama on television? Its fourth season is coming to Netflix this year. What comedies do I currently recommend? Well, of course at #1, and to paraphrase Dwight, “If you're not watching ‘Archer,’ you are an idiot.” Heck, they even fly into Green Bay this season! “Broad City” is this past year's best new comedy by far.

Hope you enjoyed this first installment of Make Green Bay Weird.

Since 1984, when he first began selling records at Galaxy of Sound inside the Port Plaza Mall, Tom Smith has been part of the Green Bay music scene. Promoting his first show 1986 and hitting his stride with the Concert Café (1995-2001), Smith continues to promote shows in Green Bay. He first honed his journalistic chops while serving as a student DJ at WGBW, interviewing such icons as Motörhead and the Ramones. Today you can find him championing live music and managing The Exclusive Company in Green Bay.

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