It is one of the greatest collections of talent ever assembled in the Fox Cities. It includes two members of the Wisconsin Area Music Industry (WAMI) Hall of Fame.
On May 26th at The Grand Opera House in Oshkosh, Fire & Ice will reunite to celebrate Oshkosh music, radio station WOCT and The Friends of Oshkosh Music.
WAMI Hall of Famer pianist-composer John Harmon and vocalist Janet Planet will be joined by guitarist Tom Theabo, saxophonist Tom Washatka, bassist Andy Lincoln Sachen and drummer Tony Taylor.
“The reunion of Fire & Ice is set as a way to celebrate 10 years of community radio in Oshkosh and as a way to honor the local musical talent that is part of our community,” said Joe Wiedenmeier, president of Friends of Oshkosh Community Media, a non-profit organization. “Oh, and by the way, John Harmon turned 80 this year. We, as a community, are fortunate to be able to celebrate it all.”
The Friends of OCM, a registered 501C (4) managed by a nine-member Board of Directors, supports Oshkosh Media programming and facilities through membership, underwriting and fundraising projects. The vision is to develop an appreciation for Oshkosh Media that reflects a sense of community with a mission to provide and underwrite quality programming, to plan and implement fundraising activities, to develop a supportive membership and raise awareness.
“In addition to music, we also provide public service advertising for local events and other non-profits,” Wiedenmeier said. “We also simulcast city meetings, such as City Council, Parks Commission, Zoning Commission and others. Our purpose is to provide a way for the community tell its stories and promote the things the city has to offer to us all.”
Listening to Harmon play planted the seed for the reunion.
“Last summer, my wife, Mary, and I were having dinner at Gardina’s and John Harmon was playing piano,” Wiedenmeier recalled. “We began to reminisce about when we had first heard John. It was in the ‘70’s at the little cocktail lounge at the new Howard Johnson’s on 41 & 21. One of our friends said we just had to hear this piano player, one of the best he had ever heard. That led to us talking about other local musicians that had played with John. I’ve been friends with Tom Theabo since he and I attended Webster Stanley Middle School in the 60s. It was through Tom that we met Janet Planet, Tom Washatka, and Tony Taylor over the years and in the various musical groups they formed and played in. We both thought, ‘wouldn’t it be great to see all these people together again?’ Mary said that since I was now President of the Friends it might be an opportunity to do something like that.”
Wiedenmeier took that loose idea to the Friends Board as a possible way to promote and celebrate the rebranding of the Oshkosh Media.
“At the board meeting I also pointed out that in addition to the rebranding,” he said “WOCT was turning 10 years old and that at the launch of the radio station, Tom Theabo and Janet Planet played. Things started to happen. I contacted Theabo and he forwarded the info to Janet. He liked the idea and Janet thought it would be great, but would have to talk with the other musicians. It so happened that she saw John Harmon that weekend and proposed the idea to him. He also thought it would be great to do.”
“After Joe talked to me, I contacted the rest of the band and everyone was very receptive. It’s very exciting,” Theabo said. “Looking back, just being invited to join the band was a milestone for me and I know Janet feels the same way. I have the highest respect for all of the musicians.”
In November talks with the Grand began.
“We looked at possible dates after the first of this year,” Wiedenmeier said. “Then had to coordinate those with the musicians to come up with one that would work for all. No easy task. We had several fits and starts, but finally May 26th was settled upon.”
“We’re all excited and I think it’s going to be a lotta fun,” Harmon said. “I’m very pleased that someone would have the affection for the group to carry this through. It was a really fun group. We played a lot of very difficult music – Tom Washatka had started writing a lot – played a lot of gigs and had a lot of fans. We opened for Spyro Gyra once, and found we were better than they were.”
Ten years ago, the FCC offered a number of Low Power (LP) FM licenses.
“The Friends Board was able to acquire one of these for 101.9 FM,” Wiedenmeier said. “The broadcast reach of the station is pretty well limited to the city. The radio call letters are WOCT, which at the time stood for Oshkosh Community Television. The Friends still holds the FCC License to WOCT and we also have purchased the automation and transmission equipment for the station. The Oshkosh Media staff maintains the day to day operation of the station. The whole of the city broadcast operation underwent a re-branding that was unveiled at the State of the City on March 20th. This brings us to one of the reasons for the concert. WOCT has, in the past two years, changed its format from a daily block schedule of various genres of music to a daily mix of music that combines jazz, blues, modern country, swing, contemporary, pop, local artists, etc. We have moved the block programing to the weekends highlighting vintage country, big band, cocktail, polka and local artist specific blocks. The schedule can be found online.”
Tickets are available online at: www.grandoperahouse.org or by calling the Grand ticket office at 920-424-2350.