by Jeffrey Decker, for Wausau Pilot & Review

One hundred years connecting folk through radio brought a sold-out crowd to the Rothschild Pavilion Thursday, with a concert by two of the state’s top bluegrass bands celebrating the centennial of Wisconsin Public Radio.

“Growing up in Wisconsin, WPR has always been a piece of our lives,” said Horseshoes & Hand Grenades band leader Adam Greuel. “In fact, all of us really enjoy listening to various programs, including Simply Folk, which in many ways led us down the path we’re on now.”

Since 1979, Simply Folk’s Sunday evening broadcast has featured Americana music, traditional folk, roots, bluegrass, Celtic and Nordic, and even the blues. The show hosted the shindig, where Milwaukee’s Dead Horses strummed heartstrings and Horseshoes & Hand Grenades plucked and wailed from the top of the local live music scene. That quintet is based in Stevens Point.

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Simply Folk Host Dan Robinson introduced the bands and thanked the listeners, promising that cheers and tunes will make great radio.

“We’ll be rebroadcasting the concert during upcoming Simply Folk shows over the summer,” Robinson said. “Getting the chance to celebrate with them and WPR fans in such a great venue makes it all the better.”

With so many smiles surrounded by superb craftsmanship, its easy to forget that the historic Rothschild Pavilion sat unappreciated and in disrepair for decades. Today, the place has never looked better. Thousands of hours of volunteer work and many thousands of dollars have remade the building into a jewel of our community. Hardwood floors seem to stretch forever into walls of jagged rock. It’s wholesome and down-to-Earth and, somehow, glamorous. Above everything hangs an enormous custom-made disco ball. It wasn’t in use for this folk event, but somehow managed to shine down like a groovy sun.

Operated by the Village of Rothschild, the Pavilion is listed on the National Registry of Historic Places. In earlier days it was a cultural center year-round, sitting at the terminus of the trolley line into Wausau. A pool, boat rentals and a roller coaster made the Pavilion the place to be.

And so it was again on Thursday, with lifetime music fans and newborn children mingling inside and out. Some threw a Frisbee as others watched the sun set over Lake Wausau and melt into Rib Mountain. A legion of local volunteers supported what turned out to be an extremely well-organized event. All in all, the event was a grand celebration of the world’s first radio station and a legacy only a network of 34 radio stations could build.