By Joe Bachman
Before there was a league champion baseball team, or a cranberry legacy, there was music in Wisconsin Rapids — most notably a band that has been around for 154 seasons.
Perhaps the music scene in the region is so vibrant because it is ingrained in the city’s history. The band first originated in the 1870s with the partnership between the Lyon Family band and the Odd Fellows band, from which the Fellowship Lodge still supports the band to this day. In 1890, the Twin City band blossomed from these members, and eventually led to the official city band in 1902.
From Grant White, E.A. Lambert, and Frank Bliss to Joe Merrill, the band has seen many leaders come and go throughout the decades.
“I think the big calling point is that it has over 50 members from the area,” said City Band Administrator Mary Beth Rokus.
Community involvement has always been at the cusp of the city band — as all ages form the group from early teens to the late 80s. The band will continue their annual tradition as they will hold weekly concerts at the Robinson Park band shell starting Tuesday, June 13 all the way through the summer until August 6. As is tradition, all concerts are free of charge.
So how does a city band last for well over 100 years? According to Rokus, it all comes back to the community.
“I think it’s the community support,” said Rokus. “It’s in a beautiful setting in Robinson Park — and it’s got just a great following from all ages.”
This season will introduce a new director in Keith Olsen, who teaches music in Stevens Point, and plays with the Central Wisconsin Symphony Orchestra. He also plays in a long-time jazz band called “The Swing Doctors”.
“It means a lot to me to take over something that has such a rich tradition, and it’s really a great undiscovered gem in our community,” said Olsen. I think if our community knew how good this band was and how well they played that our crowd could be even bigger.”
According to Olsen, few changes will be made to the current product, though there’s still many reasons to come out to see a piece of Wisconsin Rapids history this summer.
“From week to week they will hear all kinds of different styles of music, and blend something they will enjoy listening to,” said Olsen. Over the course of the season they will find something they will fall in love with. There’s something for everybody to be able to listen to.”
The City Band will feature many genres from Broadway, dance, band repertoire, music from well-known movies, and much more. You can catch their first performance on Tuesday, June 13 at Robinson Park. For more information, please visit wrcityband.org.