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Sounds of summer

Bay Beach in the '70s
The Green Bay City Band performs at Bay Beach in the ’70s.

By Janelle Fisher

City Pages Editor

The end of summer is quickly approaching, but it’s not over yet — and neither is the Green Bay City Band’s summer concert season.

The Green Bay City Band, which performs weekly in Green Bay’s St. James Park, has two performances remaining, scheduled for Aug. 9 and 16 at 7 p.m.

Greg Suave, the band’s director, first joined the Green Bay City Band in 1973, but he said his passion for music started much earlier.

“It just wouldn’t feel right in the summer if you weren’t playing some place,” he said. “When I was younger, I used to go to the city band concerts in Two Rivers. I would always go and listen and I would watch the director. So I think I got hooked on it way back then, and that’s how I kind of got into the band directing business, too. I developed an interest and took up the trumpet.”

The Green Bay City Band, which started roughly 100 years ago, is made up of members of the community with a passion for music and one of few community bands where members are compensated for their time.

The Green Bay City Band in 1907
The Green Bay City Band in 1907.

“It’s an all-volunteer band,” he said. “But we do have funds from the city, so the members are paid for the concerts. We’re one of the last of the professional, paid groups around.”

Concerts take place every Wednesday throughout the summer — on Thursday if it rains — and the band has one rehearsal a week, on Tuesdays.

The short rehearsal time isn’t a problem, though, as Suave said members of the band are skilled professionals.

“It’s a professional group,” he said. “It’s mostly people who have degrees in music — a lot of music teachers from the area… Local band directors. It’s almost the whole Bay Port staff out there.”

Suave said many members of the Green Bay City Band are current or former music teachers at local schools, including himself, as he taught at Ashwaubenon for many years.

Even though many members of the band have backgrounds in music education, Suave said the goal of the concerts is just to get people out and enjoying the concert.

Green Bay City Band Director
Green Bay City Band Director Greg Suave. Submitted photos

“We’re not there to educate them, we’re there to entertain them and get them to the park and enjoy live music.”

Suave said attendance at the concerts has been fairly good, especially since he started implementing themes for each night.

“I started doing that when I became director, and it seemed like people really liked it,” he said.

Of course, like all outdoor events, the band’s concerts are at the mercy of the weather.

Founder of the Green Bay City Band
Professor Heynen, the founder of the Green Bay City Band.

“It’s very weather dependent, if we get a nice night where it’s not too hot and humid,” he said. “We’ve been pretty lucky this year. We’re usually 500-1,000 [people attending] depending on the theme and the weather… On a nice night, it’s not uncommon to get 1,000 people out at the park… For some of the concerts, we get a slightly bigger crowd than what we would have gotten years back. Of course, it depends on what we’re doing and what the theme is and who we have for a guest or sometimes we play a tribute concert.”

Over the years, Suave said the Green Bay City Band has welcomed several other bands to share the stage with them.

“The Navy Band Great Lakes came up and did a concert with us,” he said. “We shared the concert and played some tunes together. That was really well-attended. We had the National Guard Band come up, too, and play a concert with us, which is neat.”

In addition to bringing in guest musicians, Suave said the band has also seen guest instruments make an appearance in their concerts — some of them somewhat unconventional for an outdoor show.

“We brought out a grand piano and had the piano instructor from UW-Green Bay come and play Rhapsody in Blue,” he said. “Heid Music trucked the grand piano out there for us and picked it up for free, so that was a really nice donation.”

Suave said that he and the Green Bay City Band plan to continue trying new things to meet the interests of those who attend the concerts.

The Green Bay City Band today
The Green Bay City band today. Submitted photos

“I think we’re moving along a direction where we’re trying to bring in a band once or twice a summer, or a named performer, and kind of build the concert around there,” he said. “That’s a little different, like the Neil Diamond thing — usually, we would have Paul [Evenson] come in and sing two or three Neil Diamond songs and that would be it. He did that last year and the response was so tremendous that we said, ‘Wow, this would be great to do a whole concert.’ So we’re doing a whole Neil Diamond concert. We have an arranger in the band, Shawn Postell, which is great. He writes all the special arrangements for us, which enables us to do a lot of things that normally we wouldn’t be able to do. The music is not published for everything… There’s not arrangements for bands of a country singer, you know? My goal is to just keep the [band] alive and find out what things people are interested in hearing and then play those things.”

More information and updates about the concerts can be found on Green Bay City Band’s Facebook page.

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