Before a worldwide pandemic made its way to Milwaukee in mid-March and put a sudden stop to live music (well, put an end to it in any responsible way, at least), the city’s music scene was in an incredibly good place. Area bands, rappers, and solo artists were garnering loads of well-deserved attention from local listeners and folks from faraway places. The sorts of performers that used to skip Milwaukee were now making sure to include the city on its tours. New festivals were popping up all around town. Concerts were taking place at a wide range of venues, including a new arena and some recently-christened all-ages clubs.
It’s not an understatement to say that Milwaukee’s music scene was in a great place at the beginning of this year and that, in many ways, it’s still in a favorable spot if and/or when things return to some sense of normalcy. Though things were good in the realm of local music before life turned upside-down about nine months ago, it’s tough to fully know how the recent upswing compares to other eras of Milwaukee music unless you were here and a part of the music scene. Thanks to an old video that just made its way to the internet, however, it’s now a little easier to see the state Milwaukee music was in roughly 30 years ago.
Last week, a student-made documentary from 1991 was uploaded to YouTube. Hometown Music Scene spends just shy of 30 minutes examining Milwaukee entertainment through a series of interviews and live performances. Over the course of the doc, producers Rob Krug and Jason Pinkowski, as well as director Patrick Doland, interview Milwaukee music mainstays of the time. You can hear the likes of Steve Grimm, Tony Brown, and members of Men Among Thieves about things like the lack of radio play from local stations, the struggle to bring in audiences, and the “soul” local musicians of the time brought to the scene. The video project also features performances by Grimm, Brown, Nerve Twins, and Die Kreuzen.
So much has changed in Milwaukee and in its music scene in the past 29-plus years, but there’s still some overlap between what local musicians experienced then and what they deal with today. Watch Hometown Music Scene for the extended glimpse into Milwaukee’s musical past, and stay for the grainy footage of Steve Grimm Band’s over-the-top performance at a long-gone venue called “Starz.” You’re sure to be entertained and you’ll probably leave with a far greater appreciation for modern Milwaukee music in the process.