Wausau Pilot & Review

After a one-year hiatus due to COVID-19 restrictions, Mile of Music will return August 5 through 8, bringing hundreds of music sets to dozens of venues – both traditional and non-traditional – to downtown Appleton.

Willems Marketing & Events, which created and has produced the free, multi-venue, all-original music festival since its inception in 2013, made the return of the popular festival – once called a “firehose of music” by a delighted fan – official in June. 

Dave Willems, president of Willems Marketing & Events (WME) and festival curator, said there will be practical, common sense measures woven into this year’s event to balance the return to live music-loving normalcy with the realities of life amid the subsiding pandemic.

“More than ever, we’re asking our fans, artists and host venues to continue working together to again put common courtesy on stage, front and center, for this year’s fest,” Willems said. “This is an opportunity for Appleton to continue to show the state and the country that we can do something very special while doing it responsibly and safely as we bounce back from such difficult days.”  

Photo courtesy of Mile of Music

Willems said Mile 8 will offer many of the features that original music fans from Wisconsin and around the country – a typical Mile fest draws fans from all 50 states – have come to expect from the walkable, good vibes-oriented event that begins at noon on Thursday and continues to approximately 6 p.m. on Sunday, typically on the first weekend in August each year. This year’s return of the festival after the 2020 pandemic hiatus also returns an impressive scope and scale, with nearly 650 live music sets and music education sessions throughout the four-day main run at more than 40 host venues and festival spaces.

Willems said about 150 original music artists and Lawrence music education team members will be featured at Mile 8.

“We’re excited that the number of artists is impressive again and the roster itself will be chock-full of talented national, regional, statewide and local performers,” he said.

One of the big adjustments for Mile 8 will be the shift of a significant amount of the music from indoor to outdoor. Whereas the average amount of outdoor music at the festival has been around 25 percent, the festival’s managing director, Mike Van Thull of WME, said this year’s event will be roughly split between outdoor and indoor venues.

“Coming out of the pandemic, we feel this is the right modification for this year,” Van Thull said. “With more outside, we do become more susceptible to weather issues, but it’s intended as a one-year shift.”

Another important tweak, Van Thull said, is that all four days of Mile 8 will always have live music sets available to see outside during the times when there is indoor music. Essentially, he said, the festival will start each day at the outside venues and both outdoor and indoor venues will end around the same time each night – at the 11 p.m. outdoor curfew time and between 11 and 11:30 p.m. for the indoor venues.

“This way, attendees will always have the benefit of knowing they can attend music outdoors if they choose,” he said. 

Three of The Mile’s Main Stages will be located at the largest of the outdoor spaces available in downtown: Jones Park, Washington Square and the parking lot at The Core, which will be hosted by Spats, and will allow for larger crowds to gather and allow for more personal space than the smaller parking lot adjacent to Spats.

Mid-sized outdoor feature stages will again include Fox River House, Emmett’s, The Courtyard Stage at Red Lion Hotel Paper Valley, Riverside Bar & Grill, the D2 Patio, the Ormsby green space on the Lawrence campus, and McFleshman’s beer garden.

Photo courtesy of Mile of Music

Some traditional indoor venues will move outside or increase their footprint outside, including: Stone Arch, which will move from the Tap Room to their outdoor space; Rookies, which will move from their patio to the larger parking lot on the other side of their building; Mondo!, which will move to The Parklet between the 222 Building and Copper Rock; and a new outdoor stage behind Jim’s Place and Wooden Nickel as those two formerly indoor venues join forces and collaborate on an outside stage area. For this year only, Houdini Plaza will feature some of the festival’s top acoustic acts in a more relaxed festival setting.

“Washington Square allows significantly more open room to distance for this year,” Van Thull said. Houdini Plaza will return to its role as a main stage in 2022, according to Van Thull. 

A more subtle adjustment, but an important “safer songs” measure, will be to allow more time in between artist sets at Mile 8. Ian Thomson, who leads the effort of booking the artists and scheduling the expansive festival, said the increase to 35 minutes in between each live set at all venues will allow artists to make less hectic and safer transitions from one performance to the next.

Mile organizers, as part of their mitigation plan with the City of Appleton, have asked the indoor venues to modify their capacities slightly lower for Mile 8.

All musical performances are free to attend. For information on venues, artists and hours, visit the Mile of Music official website.