ASHWAUBENON, Wis. (AP) — Turn out the lights. The party’s over.
Brown County Veterans Memorial Arena’s six-decade reign as a concert venue came to an end recently in much the same way it’s forever etched in so many memories — in a dark haze of loud rock and blazing pyro with sticky floors, sweaty bodies, long lines and enough energy to make the place feel like it was bouncing with the beat.
One last sold-out show to cap a lifetime of them. One last night when the biggest thing happening in the city was whatever was going on inside the walls of that building. One last good time.
Bret Michaels made sure of that.
“I am having the best time of my life right now. I can’t stop smiling,” he told the Green Bay Press-Gazette during a fired-up 75-minute set that felt like it was going to blow a hole through the roof before the demolition crews have a chance to next month.
The building that opened on Nov. 11, 1958 — welcoming a heap of famed entertainers that includes Metallica, Johnny Cash, Sonny & Cher, Ozzy Osbourne, Elvis Presley, Kenny Chesney, Alice Cooper, Bob Dylan and Fleetwood Mac — closed the book on its rich concert history on April 6, 2019.
The next chapter comes when demolition on the building begins May 1 to make room for a new $93 million expo center. But for anybody who grew up with the original, a venue that always favored no-frills functional over fashionable, the memories are irreplaceable.
Matt and Jennifer Clark, of Howard, met at a Def Leppard concert there in 1988. It was their 22nd wedding anniversary the night before the show. Of course, they had to be there to say goodbye.
“When I go down the hallways, I don’t think about the concerts. I think about my graduation and my friends,” said Jennifer Clark, whose 1989 graduation ceremony from Southwest High School was in the building.
Jim Barlament, of Green Bay, was 11 when his sister didn’t have anyone to go with her to see Chuck Berry and Muddy Waters at the arena in 1972. It was his first concert.
He saw Presley in 1977 and a host of other big names in the building since, both as a fan and in his 17 years in guest services for PMI Entertainment Group.
“I like the intimacy you have with it, the closeness,” he said.
Missy and Matt Pflieger, of Kimberly, have family memories of concerts, monster truck shows and taking their kids to Disney on Ice.
“I think what’s going to be really hard is when you go to Packers games and walk by and this isn’t going to be here,” Missy Pflieger said.
A five-band bill that included Lita Ford, Warrant, the Ghost Hounds and Inferred stretched the farewell out across nearly five hours, but it was Michaels with the muscle to deliver the kind of punch still worthy of an arena crowd.
During a post-sound check press conference from his dressing room earlier in the day, Michaels promised “1,000% energy and passion,” and he didn’t skimp. Not even a little.
He brought with him his own memories of Brown County arena. Poison rehearsed for and launched three tours in the building in 1988, 1990 and 1993, and the band famously shot the video for its No. 1 hit “Every Rose Has Its Thorn” there. It’s a history that Michaels has always graciously embraced.
“Tonight, this is a celebration. This is three generations of us in here, partying together, rocking together. And you know I am family in Green Bay now. We are home,” he said, cameras filming during the entire show.
?… I want to thank you for all the amazing years that we have had right here in this awesome city, awesome building and awesome friends right here tonight. I will never forget this night.”
That makes him and 5,600 other people.
When the lights came up after Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Sweet Home Alabama” — the last song to rattle through a building never exactly revered for its acoustics — it was the end of an era.
Beer cans strewn beneath those indestructible wooden seats. Confetti stuck to the dank concrete floor. The smell of french fries forever hanging in the heavy air. The rush to get out the doors a little so as people lingered to soak it in one last time. Any past imperfections forgiven and met with wistful smiles.
“The history, it’s crazy,” said Green Bay-based musician Paul Hanna of Annex, who saw Poison, Metallica, Cinderella and countless other bands at the arena long before he played it. “A lot of my youth here.”