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Venue Visit: The Lyric Room punches above its weight

A new column highlighting local performance venues kicks off with an iconic local music institution

By Matty Day

Wausau stoner-rock band 20 Watt Tombstone performs at the Lyric Room in 2021. Since 2013, the Lyric Room has been a place for packed lineups and crowds, serving bands of all sizes. Photo courtesy of Chicken or the Egg Photography

Green Bay is obviously home to a globally recognized stadium.

The city is also home to arenas, theaters and centers for performing arts.

But with all due respect and gratitude, one of the most crucial music spots in town holds roughly 100 people.

The Lyric Room (233 N Broadway) opened in 2013 and has since become a vital Broadway institution for local musicians to have a place to play original music.

“Precious” may be a funny word to describe a venue that primarily books rock, punk, rockabilly and bluegrass bands—though indie, folk and country are just as welcome.

In fact, one memorable night at Lyric Room in 2014 featured country artist Amanda Shires inviting her husband onstage to sing love songs to each other, captivating a room jam-packed with patrons hanging on every last word, the venue verily embodying its name.

Granted, Amanda Shires husband is a man named Jason Isbell, whose burgeoning popularity would not long after culminate in numerous Grammy awards. Tickets to that show were a wallet-saving $12.

When I interviewed Lyric Room owner Will Liebergen for the now-defunct Scene Newspaper in 2013 about his then-new venue, he said one of his goals was to bring bands that are just about to hit it big and have a show with a reasonable ticket price.

The Amanda Shires concert clearly exemplified Liebergen’s goal.

Local music promoters such as Tom Smith, Tom Johnson and the Lyric Room’s Events and Promotions Manager Tessah Dolata have helped the venue consistently fill a niche for the region in recent times.

“We bring in some pretty amazing talent to a small stage,” said Liebergen. “We jam-pack bills—three-band bills, so you don’t just watch one band. It’s an expansive show.”

Fostering local talent

While touring bands rightfully garner excitement, Liebergen said it’s the local bands that make the Lyric Room viable, whether it’s one or more acts from the area opening for a national headliner or if a given night’s bill is a purely local showcase.

Having played there numerous times, I can attest the Lyric Room compensates in-town talent very fairly. The stage, lights and sound are professional. The shows are well promoted and local musicians get an unprecedented opportunity to hang out with the headlining bands.

In return, local bands help by enriching the entertainment with local talent and character, and by spreading the word about upcoming shows to friends, family and Green Bay music fans.

The communal experience of live music is foundational to a city’s culture, and local bands’ contributions cannot be overstated.

Liebergen said he endured serious challenges in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic—he also runs Lyric Room’s conjoined bar Keggers, the Foxy Pedaler and the Foxy Paddler—and fewer customers may have been less concerning to him than the sudden scarcity of local bands.

“We lost a lot of local bands with the pandemic,” Liebergen said. “Consummate musicians who were in good bands just aren’t playing like they had been.”

Liebergen said both regular musicians and attendees fell out of past routines and got new habits.

Though he’s been particularly encouraged and surprised by the many new people coming to shows so far this year, Liebergen said his stage isn’t being utilized to cultivate more new, original Green Bay bands.

He said he recognizes the city’s lack of an all-ages music venue as a detriment.

“There are no young kids starting bands,” Liebergen, a father of three, said. “We need a place for them to play. There’s got to be something for 15-to-20-year-olds to go out and do.”

Liebergen said his vision and plans for an all-ages project were halted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Despite future plans and current struggles, Lyric Room’s role in the local music ecosystem can’t be understated.

Small to medium size capacity spaces like the Lyric Room have shut down in recent years. Blue Opus, Phat Headz, Crunchy Frog, Gasoline and Swobey’s have closed and have not been replaced.

In the meantime, the Lyric Room will simply keep booking acts both big and small.

Matty Day has been a gigging musician for 15 years, performing with Muddy Udders, the Foamers?, Cory Chisel, the Priggs, J-Council and more. You can reach him via email at lem[email protected], on Twitter @pollutedmindset or on his website matthewtday.com.

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