Great Memories: Waterfest Retrospective in Pictures

waterfestBy George Halas

Over the past 30 years, Waterfest has grown from a good idea into a full-blown summer music series that is one of the highlights of the season in Oshkosh every year. In addition to bringing some outstanding national acts and showcasing the best local talent, Waterfest has generated other positive outcomes as well.

“I’m convinced Waterfest is the reason we have the Leach Amphitheater,” said Don Stolley.  “Having that long track record made the whole project make sense.”

Stolley is in a unique position to make a statement like that. One of the Fox Valley’s best photographers – he teaches photography as Senior Lecturer in Art – Emeritus at UW-Oshkosh and owns Stolley Studio – he and his camera were there at the first ever show and he’s been to every one since. His photographs provide a rich history of the growth and development of Waterfest.

Many of Stolley’s best and most memorable photos will be on display at Becket’s in Oshkosh starting on April 2nd and running through April 29th as well as as part of the Gallery Art Walk on April 4th.

As part of the celebration, New Orleans-based band, The Tin Men, will be making a special appearance at Becket’s on April 2nd. Janet Planet and her trio will perform on Saturday, April 4th, at Becket’s as well.

An astute move by Waterfest founder Mike Dempsey brought Stolley’s camera and his eye into the fold to create a historical record in pictures.

“Mike Dempsey and I are old pals,” Stolley said. “I’m an advertising photographer, I like music…the first Waterfest happened and I photographed it. No reason to stop.”

“The first year of the Leach Amphitheater the sprinklers came on during the show. THAT was pretty amusing,” he continued.  “Other than that there have been the unexpectedly great shows: David Sanborn followed by Tower of Power; Lukas Nelson; Alice Cooper; Here Come the Mummies.”

“Some of the other highlights include hanging out with New Monsoon at a barbecue before they played,” he added, as well as talking to Lukas Nelson at Beckets after his show and meeting Joan Jett”

There are a couple of aspects to Waterfest he enjoys in particular.

“I love security rails so I don’t have to weasel my way thru the crowd to get back to the edge of the stage, although this is Wisconsin where people are pleasant and they will usually let me in,” he said. “But the best part is hanging out with friends and family listening to live music outside in the summer in Wisconsin. In the words of Kurt Vonnegut, ‘If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is!”

Preparing the exhibition proved to be an interesting challenge.

“Going through all these years of photography was fun, but not easy,” he said.  “Although I have photos from the days of film, I decided to just go back to when I started shooting Waterfest digitally; 2002. I only figured to have room for 30 framed prints. My first edit ended up with over 200 possibilities.” 

Stolley remains very grateful for the opportunity.

“Waterfest is truly a community-based event where you can see great live music for the cost of a movie ticket,” he said. “Thanks to everyone who works so hard to make it happen.  Rocking it on the Fox for 30 years!  Bring it on! I hope everyone likes my photos and that it reminds everyone of many fun times in Oshkosh.”

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