Milwaukee's original music venues may be fewer in number than they were in the 'good old days', but the passion to create original music in Milwaukee is huge, and there are more original projects in Milwaukee than ever before. Here are a few who are doing well and that you should check out, but remember there are many more out there, and don't be offended about any we've missed out!
The Cool Waters Band
A basement jam session in 1993 with brothers Greg and Dan Waters along with their friend Mike Cool turned into a musical journey that’s now lasted more than two decades. That journey includes being based in Colorado for a time before returning to the area and building a loyal following. They split ways in 2007, but remained on good terms, occasionally playing reunion shows for a fan base that has always been eager to get more Cool Waters. Now they are back together again "permanently" according to their website. Members of Cool Waters Band worked on other projects for a number of years. Drummer Matt Gieseke played with Boxkar while frontman Greg Waters formed Greg Waters and the Broadstreet Boogie. The Cool Waters style is often described as an eclectic mix of roots rock. A Warner Brother’s rep once explained their music as "…Maroon 5 meets The Black Crowes meets Train meets Tesla."
Visit the Cool Waters Band website
The Muddy Udders
Green Bay based band, The Muddy Udders, calls their style of music “toe-slapping grease rock.” They say that could be anything from punk to rockabilly to blues and maybe even a little metal.
Basically, this trio plays rock and roll. Matty Day, Augie Barnhart and Roelke Thunderbolt got their start in 2006 and make regular appearances at Green Bay rock venues like the Crunchy Frog and White Dog Black Cat Cafe. They also tour around the Midwest. Matty composes most of the original songs, and they’ve recorded three albums so far. The band also likes to change up their roles – switching instruments on albums and during performances.
The Traveling Suitcase
This Oshkosh-based trio was a standout at the first-ever Mile of Music Festival in Appleton. They recently completed a successful Kickstarter campaign allowing them to complete a new album. Brandon Domer (bass and keys), Bill Grasley (guitar) and Nicole Rae (drums and vocals) play tight-knit rock, bringing both Janis Joplin and The Black Keys to mind. They have passionate, high-energy performances led by Rae who drums and sings at the same time. The Traveling Suitcase once had quite a few other members – but they’ve since boiled things down to the basics – a move that has helped the band focus according to Nicole Rae. "In the beginning we were speed dating each other," she explains. "Now we are in a healthy, committed threesome relationship."
Fun w/ Atoms
Green Bay was once a haven for indie music. At the center of that was the band Fun w/Atoms. They were known as the “unofficial house band” at a bar called Lefty’s – which was a place that all sorts of soon-to-be famous bands played – including the Violent Femmes and Soul Asylum. The members of Fun w/Atoms – Rick Smith (guitar), Dan Collins (bass) and Curt Lefevre (drums) are still playing and still making albums together. Their latest, Smart, came out in 2010. Record producer Butch Vig – who also worked with Nirvana and Garbage, produced the band’s critically-acclaimed debut album Main Street – which was released in 1985. In 2013, Fun w/Atoms played a Lefty’s reunion show at Phat Headz in Green Bay.
Rev. Norb and the Onions
While Fun w/Atoms played what you could call indie pop rock, another Green Bay band that emerged shortly after took advantage of the growing punk scene. That was Boris the Sprinkler, led by wacky frontman Rev. Norb (Norb Rozek). The irreverent punk rockers were known for wearing outlandish outfits and poking fun at anything and everything. Today when Rev. Norb plays a gig, he gets back-up from Manitowoc band The Onions. Rev. Norb has also written for music mags like Maximum Rock and Roll, and even put together a line-by-line analysis of Boris the Sprinkler’s music in 2013 – The Annotated Boris: Deconstructing the Lyrical Majesty of Boris the Sprinkler.
Bandmates Drew Fredrichsen and Eric Mahnke were part of another group called Leg Hounds, which broke up. They found themselves a drummer in Jon “Bunnz” Mickelson and have been performing together since 2007. During that time they’ve played hundreds of shows and released three albums. Their latest is Let ‘Er Rip, which was released last summer. The Jetty Boys have a familiar punk sound that one online music critic described this way when reviewing the band’s sophomore album – Sheboygan: “This album is exactly what Green Day should be doing now, instead of sucking. This is all the catchy alt-pop-punkness that Green Day use to be back when they were great.”
Other great original bands and acts around Milwaukee today include Shaker and the Egg, Boxkar, The Sleepwalkers, Rob Anthony, Christopher Gold, Misleader, Sly Joe and the Smooth Operators, The Redleg Rebellion, Dead Horses, Dead Modern Villains, Red Light Saints, Harvey Brown, Eric Lives Here, The Ditchrunners, Copper Box, Hillary Reynolds Band, and on and on... You get the picture. If you want to find some live original music around Milwaukee, then you're going to be spoiled for choice!