Rhythm on the Rock brings party back to downtown Janesville

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Jake Magee
Wednesday, August 20, 2014

JANESVILLE—People tend to complain that there's nothing to do in our humble city, but events such as Sunday's Rhythm on the Rock aim to change that stereotype.

Five local bars, food and beer vendors, more than 100 volunteers and local businesses such as Mac's Pizza Shack and Diamond Lanes will team up to offer a day-long, adult-oriented festival filled with beer and music.

The event replaces Rock Around the Block, Janesville's annual end-of-summer bash that got too big for its own good and ended in 2012.

After getting carded and receiving a wristband identifying you as 21 or older, you can spend the day wandering from bar to bar, drink in hand, listening to about a dozen bands playing in various locations. People younger than 21 are welcome to attend, but they can't drink alcohol, for obvious reasons.

Into country? Shotgun Jane might be up your alley.

Like some good old rock 'n' roll? Give Killer Cars a shot.

Both headliners take to the outdoor stage between the BMO Harris Bank and The Looking Glass pub in the afternoon, and other bands play in the five bars throughout the day.

“There's a pretty good venue of music. There's something for everybody,” said Brian Cherry, owner of Time Out Pub and Eatery and organizer of the music lineup.

In Cherry's early days as a downtown bar owner, he booked more than 150 bands a year at Time Out. He has slowed that pace, but his experience with local musicians means music lovers can expect good performances.

“They understand it's a music festival for Janesville. They love it,” Cherry said. “They live and work here. They want to see this kind of stuff.”

Of course, you'll get hungry listening to music all day with nothing but beer to fill your stomach. Some bars will sell food, and vendors will sell meals including burgers, brats and pizza.

Organizing Rhythm on the Rock took more work than booking bands and food vendors, though. The committee of business owners has met almost every Monday since spring to tackle electricity challenges, insurance and city government issues, security concerns and more—mostly on their own time and money.

“It's a lot of work, but it's a lot of work that's worth it,” Cherry said.

One of the goals is to give back to the community, not necessarily to turn a profit. That's why no one's bumping up the cost of beer for the event.

“The prices are all going to be the same as they would be if you came in the other day,” Cherry said.

Cherry hopes the event raises enough money so some of the profit can be donated to local charities and organizations.

Before Rhythm on the Rock was established, Rock Around the Block was the go-to downtown summer event for eight years—that is, until it grew too big and fizzled out from a lack of funds and volunteers. The festival's last hurrah was in 2012, which left a noticeable gap in 2013.

“The one year we didn't have it (Rock Around the Block), we missed it,” said Pat Wygans, owner of Wiggy's Saloon. “Janesville needs something like that.”

Local businesses decided to bring a similar event back to downtown, only on a much smaller scale. Downsizing means they can keep it local, grounded and focused, Cherry said.

Rock Around the Block cost more than $40,000 to organize, which is a big chunk of change for a one-day event. Rhythm on the Rock costs substantially less, which committee members hope keeps it alive.

“We're trying to keep this as low-key and as budget-friendly as possible so we can have more events like this downtown,” Cherry said.

Pat Wygans' wife, Katie, said the committee wants constructive criticism so it can make next year's festival even better.

“I hope it's a really good event and people and have a really good time, and we want feedback,” she said.

In the meantime, everyone involved prays for nice weather for Sunday.

“Hopefully it becomes an annual event that lasts a long time,” Pat Wygans said. “Hopefully it's successful, and we can give back to the community. That's what it's all about.”

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