Bands, Block Party, Bourdain

Tom Smith

tom smith | make green bay weird | july 2018

In order to make Green Bay weird, I need you, the readers, to please consider attending two particular live music events in town this July. Doing this in chronological order, I first require you to go to the Lyric Room on Saturday, July 21. The lineup for this must-see show includes the Choke Chains, Michigan monsters of hypnotic heavy grooves. I'm sure you all saw them slay during my birthday show at Badger State Brewing last summer. Also performing are Rev. Norb and the Onions (who in theory will be playing Lambeau Field opening for the Jesus Lizard on July 4, 2020), Solar Max, these cats from Oshkosh who sound like Steve Howe and Trevor Rabin joined Thin Lizzy. Solar Max is one of my favorite Wisconsin bands; I like them as much as fellow Wisconsinites Space Raft, Dusk, the Hussey, Holly and Nice Lions, the Wood Chickens and Hue Blanc's Joyless Ones. This is just a sampling of the many great bands Wisconsin currently contains. There may also be a surprise guest added to this show, but that currently is still a work in progress. This show is also for my 51stbirthday and additionally to recognize the fourth anniversary of the formation of WWE superstar group the New Day. Coincidently, the show also falls on Rusev Day.

The other show I implore you to attend is the Badger State Block Party on Saturday, July 28 from 12 p.m. until 9 p.m. Once again Badger State Brewing has assembled a dynamite lineup of bands. Milwaukee's Space Raft kicks off the event at noon, followed by Green Bay legends in their fifth decade of rocking Fun With Atoms (the first time I saw Fun With Atoms I was in eighth grade parking cars for Redeemer Lutheran Church at the fairground where the band was performing. This was also the first time I met Atoms guitar player Rick Smith (no relation), in fact, I was the one who directed Rick where to park that day – 38 years later I'll be seeing them outside once again), as well as Midwest Death Rattle, GGOOLLDD, Ha Ha Tonka and Murder By Death.

There is much, much more to the Badger State Block Party than live entertainment. To properly paint a picture or just exactly what the party entails, I sat down with taproom general manager Tom Johnson (also a legendary area music promoter; many of the great bands you see at the Lyric Room are a direct result of his booking prowess) to tap his mind on the whole shebang of the Badger State Block Party.

What was your motivation in coming up with the plan and putting it into action in regards to the annual Badger State Block Party?

The main motivation for creating the Badger State Block Party was to really jump start a music festival in the Green Bay area because we sorely needed one. You see them happening basically everywhere around us and yet there was this void in our city. So we put our heads together over here and decided we wanted to make it happen. The owners here at Badger State are very forward thinking and community oriented. They also love music like I do, so it just made sense to give it try. And year one was a huge success, so we hope to build on that for 2018's party.

What things about the Badger State Block Party are different than other events like this in the area and Wisconsin?

We wanted to incorporate several things into the Block Party besides just great musical talent. Obviously being a brewery, beer is the other big focus of the event. We have so many different beer styles — at any time between 16 to 20 or our own brews and this is a great way to show them off. Especially our big summer seasonals like Cran-Delusion and WI Bien. Expect to see those at the festival this year and in cans for the first time ever. We also wanted to help boost the Food Truck culture in town. So it made sense to make the last major focus of the event revolve around different styles of cuisine as well. It's basically the perfect trifecta: Beer, Music, Food. The only other thing you need is a t-shirt cannon!

Please raise the curtain on your thought process on the bands you curated for this event?

The main goal for this festival is to bring some solid nationally touring acts that normally may not come to Green Bay to our city. Last year was The Menzingers as the major headliner. This year it is Murder By Death. They haven't been to town in 10 years. The other goal is to make sure that the lineup is diverse and appealing to a wide audience. Music that just about anyone can get into and enjoy. You'll see a lot of Indie rock, bluegrass, Americana and folk at the Badger State Block Parties. Upbeat and fun stuff that makes you want to party and enjoy the summer sun.

Besides the live music what else is going on at the Badger State block party to entertain those who attend?

We are going to have some lawn games and tents on site from our partners and they'll be running some games. We are doing prizes in between bands and we will be firing off the t-shirt cannon again. Henna tattoos. Other than that just good old fun in the sun with a cold beer, some dancing and great food.

Last year I was very impressed by the food trucks you had. What food vendors will be serving this year?

We will have a few of last year's vendors back, as well as a few new trucks. The lineup is The Booyah Shed, Smoked To The Bone, Weasel's Mini Donuts, Taste of Ethiopia, Caribbean Cruiser and The Dough Shoppe. Very wide variety and some desserts thrown in there as well.

Badger State is known for their great beer. What beers on tap currently should be tried?

As I mentioned earlier, our summer seasonals will be in full swing. We've got the Cran-Delusion, which is a light and tart cranberry wheat ale. Then there's our Mexican lager, the WI Bien. We brew that with real lime and it's all I've been drinking lately. Beyond that, for the IPA lovers out there we have our Grassy Place Hazy IPA. It's a nice juicy IPA that is citrus forward and not too bitter or hoppy. We've been doing interesting dry hop additions to the base beer, so check out our current style when you're at the party. And of course all of our flagships and staples will be available as well.

Looking into your crystal ball what bands or changes to future Badger State Block Parties do you hope to see?

The only thing we really want to see is growth. If we can grow this event year to year we can continue to improve the talent we are bringing in. Eventually we want to see this as a two or maybe even three-day event. Continue to bring in solid local talent mixed with amazing national acts.

Anything you would like to add?

Tell all your friends! Oh and also a big thanks to all of our sponsors who are helping make this possible: Jimmy John's, Northeast Insurance Center, Whiteclaw Hard Sparkling, Jim's Music and Mr. Brews Taphouse. The community is really getting behind us and it's really great to see and it's helping grow the event.

The recent and sudden death of Anthony Bourdain shocked and saddened me greatly. Seeing a bright light like that extinguished much too early is soul crushing. The world right now needs more people like him, definitely not fewer. His ability to unite people or at the very least get people to consider aspects of another culture will be sorely missed. I know he came to fame because of food, but his passion for music and my realization that he was chock full of integrity is what really impressed me about him. I'll never forget the episode of “Parts Unknown" filmed in Jamaica where Bourdain interviews Island Records founder Chris Blackwell. When Bourdain introduces Blackwell and his impact with Island Records, the first band Bourdain mentions is Roxy Music, and I'm like, “Damn, this cat didn't go with U2! Street cred rocketing up." Bourdain then proceeds to bust Blackwell's balls out on air in regard to problems facing the poorer people of Jamaica and I go, “Damn, this guy's got balls. Brass balls." Another thing that impressed me about Bourdain was the fact that Harley Flanagan of the Cro Mags had Bourdain write the forward to his autobiography and I'm like, “Damn, Anthony Bourdain wrote the forward for Harley Flanagan's biography? That's upper echelon street cred! Rarified air, I tell you." The Cro Mags, needless to say, were, are, and always will be a big deal to me. Their debut album, “The Age of Quarrel," besides being one of the most brutal hardcore albums ever, is also one of my personal favorites of all time. I fondly reminisce overplaying this album on my radio show on WGBW. I also got to interview Harley Flanagan in late-'86 in Harford, Wisconsin, when they opened up for Motörhead on the first US leg of the Orgasmatron tour. I mention this so you all realize that I saw Motörhead with Pete Gill of Saxon on drums. That morning when I woke up and turned on the TV and heard news of his passing, I must admit I teared up. I can't help but think that somewhere there's a table of four, drinking and eating while spinning tales, and seated are Bourdain, Hunter S. Thompson, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway.

Live long and have a great time while you're here.

--banner image of Choke Chains courtesy Windy Sibbersen


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 in 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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