Wisconsin Rapids Music Scene Proves Vibrant, Thriving
By Joe Bachman
If one were to visit 114 2nd St. North in downtown Wisconsin Rapids, they may find live music, dancing, gossip and high spirits — and it’s only Monday night.
For over a decade, live music has come alive in an area not renown for it. However, this central Wisconsin city, which boasts a population of a hair over 18,000 people, has seen acts come from all over the country to perform in local venues.
One of which was nominated for a Wisconsin Area Music Industry award for best venue in Hollyrock’s Tavern.
For Hollyrock’s owner Tom Striegel, this is all in a night’s work, as the 57-year-old Air Force retiree has kept a long standing tradition of live music in the Wisconsin Rapids area alive for over a decade. Striegel purchased the tavern from original owners and namesake, Jack and Holly Kurtz almost 12 years ago.
While live music and a bluesy ambiance was always a part of Hollyrock’s, Striegel felt that the torch was passed to him, and he continued the tradition of giving Wisconsin Rapids residents everything from blues, jazz, rock, swing, country, and hip hop.
“A lot of people come here and they don’t expect to see something like this — not in central Wisconsin,” said Striegel. “One thing that makes it unusual is the atmosphere, but what I think sets it apart is the people that come here — and it’s just a wide variety of different genres from 21 on up.”
Wisconsin Rapids has seen an influx of musicians and consistent performances over the decade, creating an arguably bigger music scene than nearby similarly populated cities. According to Striegel, musicians have always seemed to gravitate to Wisconsin Rapids, and it’s a trend that continues to catch on, as well known musicians have stepped outside of downtown Wisconsin Rapids to play venues of all sorts, including McMillan Library, The Performing Arts Center, and Assumption High School.
The area has seen performers descend to Wisconsin Rapids from all over Wisconsin, including parts of Minnesota and nearby states. Striegel believes it’s the intimacy of venues like Hollyrock’s, Jennings’s and others that create that attraction to the area.
However, all good things must come to an end, and soon Tom will be hanging it up.
“For me it’s time to pass that torch on — so officially, on record, Hollyrock’s is for sale,” said Striegel. “I’m ready to retire.”
While these are tough shoes to fill, as Hollyrock’s can put on multiple musical performances in a single week, Striegel seems confident that the tradition of live music will continue in the area, especially for Hollyrock’s, with the right person.
“What makes music work in Rapids is the people in Rapids,” said Striegel. “Without the people supporting live music, it’s not going to work.”
The Wisconsin Rapids music scene has grown to unexpectedly higher numbers, and it’s groups like Friends of Rapids Music (FRM), started on Facebook by Connie Tomski-Faville 18 months ago, that has helped keep the scene moving.
“I started it online thinking that maybe a few musicians would sign up, like me and my husband,” said Tomski-Faville. “But we have almost 1,300 members in that group now — it gives you a little indication of how big the music scene is in Rapids.”
The goal is to keep live music a continued mainstay in Wisconsin Rapids, and with groups like the Friends of Rapids Music group and venues like Hollyrock’s, the future is vibrant.
“There is a thriving live music scene here in Rapids,” said Tomski-Faville. “FRM supports all local musicians, venues that support live music and ‘music lovers’ who just want to come out and dance.”