Taking 64 Milwaukee-area musicians and randomly shuffling them into 16 ad hoc ensembles, All Messed Up, now entering its fifth year, has transformed from a creative way for local players to stave off the winter doldrums into an occasion worth looking forward to in its own right. The annual event’s success is largely due to founder and sole organizer Anthony Dean Schwader, whose zeal for the project and inclusive spirit has proven infectious. With this year’s installment however, Schwarder has announced it will be his last as AMU’s fearless leader. Although his shoes will be hard to fill, Schwader strongly believes in shaking things up every now and again.

“The event is my baby, but I’m afraid of it getting stale,” Schwader explains, “and I really do believe that All Messed Up isn’t just mine, it’s everybody’s, because there are so many people that participate in it.” Yet while he recognized the need for new blood, Schwader also saw that a certain amount of stability is required when it comes to how the event is run, regardless of who’s calling the shots. “After thinking about it, I made the decision to do it like an elected official,” he says, “where the core rules stay the same, but new people take over for four or five years at a time.”

Finding the right person (or persons) for the job may prove difficult, but with AMU V already gearing up, Schwader has more pressing concerns. “I want someone charismatic, who has fresh ideas and cares about it as much as I do,” he explains. “I’m going to make the decision personally about who gets to hold the reins, but I don’t think that decision will come until next year.” While the new organizers would be free to make changes, Schwader hopes one trend continues. “The only thing I want to see is more diversity,” he says. “I want people who would’ve previously thought ‘Who, me? Not me, I’d never do this.’”

For Schwader, bringing new demographics into the AMU fold has always been a high priority. “The first year only had 28 people, and they were primarily from our clique of friends in Riverwest, so it was very small and narrow,” he says. “But over the years I’ve seen more people from all over Milwaukee, more women and more ethnic diversity, and that’s exactly what I wanted.” Musicians of all skill levels are welcome too, even complete beginners. “I’m also seeing people that have never played an instrument before sign up, which is always encouraged,” Schwader says, “but of course there are people who’ve been playing music their whole lives, too.”

While the two-month commitment, culminating in a big showcase in February, involves some hard work and patience, signing up couldn’t be easier. “Registration begins November 1, promptly at 12:01 a.m.,” Schwader instructs. “Anyone can contact me through my Facebook profile or email me [email protected] with their name, their Facebook name if it’s different, their phone number, and their email address. That’s it.” Interested parties would be wise to get in touch soon, but even latecomers have a shot at getting in on the action. “It usually fills up and then I’ll get a couple of wafflers, so there is a waiting list.” Schwader says. “And people do drop out every year.”

Those that make it to the finish line, however, often walk away with a newfound appreciation for the depth and diversity of the city’s talent pool. “It really widens your view on Milwaukee music,” Schwader says. “You get to meet new people, maybe play an instrument you’ve always wanted to. It’s very eye-opening.” That experience is why Schwader will always remain involved, even if he’s not at the helm. “Whoever takes it on next, there’s no way I’m not going to be in it,” he says, laughing. “I’m just in love with the idea. When I see a band really stretching out into new territory, it just warms my heart.”

About The Author

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A Milwaukee native, Thomas Michalski is a freelance writer, blogger, and host of Mondo Radio on WMSE. You can keep track of his various comings and goings at voodooinspector.com.