From its humble beginnings, The Inquisition strives to discover and reveal the hidden gems in the music and art of The Fox Cities. One of the most important revelations was simply the enormous quantity and quality of original music of all types emanating from artists and bands based from Fond du Lac to Green Bay.
The Inquisition leads by example, of course, and, with trademark humility, refuses to accept credit for anything other than a minor role in the growing mega-trend generating momentum towards turning all of Northeast Wisconsin into a music and arts “destination.”
One need look no further than the impressive success of Mile of Music and the growing emphasis on original music included on the playlists at 91.1 The Avenue, just two of a rapidly-developing number of examples.
Marc Golde, a musician-composer-arranger-producer and owner of Rock Garden Studios, has not only been in an excellent position to observe the growth of local original music, he’s played a key role in its development. It’s something about which he is very passionate.
Golde left a management job in 2002 to start Rock Garden.
“It was just a dream I had of having a great studio and producing awesome records,” he said. “I found a way to get it done.”
Rock Garden achieved the goals of a five-year success plan in three and has been expanding ever since. While it is one of the favorite studios for musicians, a significant portion of the business is corporate video.
“In 2002, there were not as many (local) gigs. There were only two festivals, Celebrate and Octoberfest. You had to travel. Now there is a festival in every town,” he said. “There have always been great artists and great bands, but the opportunities to see and hear them were fewer and farther between.”
As the local music scene expanded, Golde’s passion turned into a mission.
“I want to make the Fox Valley undeniably important in the national scene,” he said, “and I’d like to see some local artists break out of the Fox Valley. I want to play a part in those artists gaining much larger national exposure.”
While the Mile of Music has been one of the catalysts, the major impetus for the growth of local original music is the musicians themselves.
“There have been enough artists who have stuck to their guns and done their own thing,” he noted, “that the gates had to open.”
While the music is local, the reasons that many musicians and bands fail are global in nature.
“You have to have something unique to offer,” Golde said. “Many artists make the mistake of following trends or thinking that there is a ‘Nashville formula,’ but the key is to be themselves. Many of the artists creating original music are not good at promoting themselves, nor do they have agents and management to shop their records. They are not looking at it as a business and at themselves as entertainers. Art and commerce are like oil and water. The music is yours to do whatever you want with, as long as you sell it.”
Golde says you cannot be introverted.
“You have to deliver your songs and the band to the audience,” he continued. “The music can be heartfelt art, but you still have to see it as ‘product.’ If you want to make money, you have to deliver.”
While the Fox Valley does not have the industry infrastructure of Chicago, New York, L.A., Nashville and other major cities, Golde points out that “Corey Chisel has shown people in this area that you can do bigger and better.”
Golde is not just a dreamer, he has plans.
“I’d like to see an organization and an outlet that offers artists hope,” he said, “and that can happen on the business side. We need to build some bridges to larger companies like record labels and radio stations that can help the artists gain greater exposure. I’ve been waiting for 20 years for someone else to do this, but I believe I have to get involved in connecting the artists with these companies.”
Golde is thinking, hoping and dreaming big.
“I’d like the Fox Valley to be like Motown in the ‘60’s or Seattle in the ‘90’s,” he said. “I’d like to make it so undeniably cool that it has to be recognized nationally and internationally. We have the talent but we need to start developing it earlier. It takes time to grow, but we are already starting to see it happen. I’m very excited for the next 10 years, things are going to get really good around here…and you can put money on that.”
One of the more intimate venues that has been a strong supporter of local music and musicians is The St. James Lounge in the Town of Menasha, more commonly referred to as “Michelle’s.” Among the many outstanding artists who have appeared at the St. James are Janet Planet, John Harmon, Antonio Wigley, Jim Rosetti, Erin Krebs and Jeff Johnston, KWT and The Bob Levy Little Big Band.
The bad news is that the current location is being torn down; the great news is that owner-manager-bartender Michelle Kersten is moving to a somewhat larger location just 500 feet or so north. While the new location will retain the same, comfortable but classy intimacy and ambience, the stage will be larger and the room will feature a better acoustic set-up and design.
Kersten plans to stay open in the current location until September 12th and expects to open in the new location on Tuesday, September 29th with a Grand Opening Celebration slated for early October with some very special musical guests. The current hours, Tuesday-Friday, 4:00 p.m.to close and Saturday, 5:00 p.m. until close, will remain the same.