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A Music Festival That’s Miles Ahead:

Appleton’s Mile of Music

Above (l to r): Mike Maimone of the band Mutts performs at Déjà Vu during last year’s Mile of Music festival (photo by Graham Washatka). A young festival attendee participates in one of many music education events (photo by Larry Radloff). Musicians perform on the Mile of Music bus during the festival (photo by Graham Washatka).

After a few whirlwind years of touring, media appearances, and studio recordings, award-winning musician Cory Chisel is grateful to be back home in Appleton. Even when he is on the road, the pull to return home is strong for Chisel—especially in the summertime, when the annual Mile of Music festival, which he helped to establish in 2013, takes place in the schools, bars, concert halls, and streets of his hometown Appleton. “It’s my favorite weekend of the year,” says Chisel. But it took a tremendous community effort to make this weekend happen. According to Fox Valley marketing professional and community volunteer Dave Willems, the idea for a citywide music festival had been percolating for years. But the Mile of Music festival really crystallized after a conversation Willems and Chisel had in 2012. They both realized that they shared a similar vision for a regional music festival with a distinct Wisconsin flavor that leans more toward an intimate, personal experience for the audience and artists alike. “We got to talking about music, our shared work with nonprofits, the importance of local businesses, and Appleton’s walkable downtown, and all the pieces fit together,” says Willems. “The kicker was that Cory has a huge music presence that was launched in Appleton. He said he wouldn’t have gotten to the next level if it weren’t for the support of his following here.” 8

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Named Rolling Stone Best New Artist in 2009, Chisel says he is grateful for the encouragement and support he’s received from the Fox Valley community. Ever since he received a scholarship to Appleton Boy Choir, his heart and hands

Music education curator Leila Ramagopal Pertl believes that “music is a birthright,” and says that there is a misperception that music is somehow divided into two categories: the makers and the listeners. have been invested in Appleton arts and education, even partnering with the Fox River Valley Environmental and Education Alliance to develop the former Monte Alverno Retreat & Spirituality Center into a space for creativity. Chisel, who acts as the festival’s music curator, says that the Mile of Music festival “initially started with my dream scenario of artists that I wanted to see. [Today it has] branched out into including artists I felt would be emerging onto the national scene—gathering that insider info from touring.” Helping to organize a free, public music festival was simply another opporP E O P L E



tunity for Chisel to give back to the community. And he and Willems knew that there was a top-notch educational partner at the end of College Avenue. “With Lawrence University … we had a great opportunity to weave music education and support for it into what we were creating,” notes Willems. The two found willing partners in Leila Ramagopal Pertl, director of Lawrence University’s Academy of Music community program, and Brian Pertl, dean of the Conservatory of Music. “When we first met with Dave and Cory, the idea just clicked that a large education component would set it apart and that it could help to support music education,” says Leila Ramagopal Pertl, who is now the music education curator for Mile of Music. Pertl believes that “music is a birthright,” and says that there is a misperception that music is somehow divided into two categories: the makers and the listeners. At Mile of Music, now in its third year, Pertl hopes people will “re-enliven their inner musician, not only by seeing and hearing local and national performers, but also with participation in music-making events, and talking with and learning from the performers in discussions and workshops.” According to Pertl, the most popular music-making workshops are often foreign to most Americans: African drums, the Australian indigenous didjeridu (a large wind instrument), the Balinese gamelan (a collection of metal

Wisconsin People & Ideas – Spring/Summer 2015  

All you need to know about Wisco. In this issue: education takes the stage at the Fox Valley's Mile of Music Festival; two women artists mak...

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