10 years ago Brian Sauer was used to making the 10 hour round trip excursions down to Chicago from Marshfield, WI to see music. He was a regular at The World’s Largest Music Festival, Summerfest, in Milwaukee every year – still nearly three and a half hours away. As true with most small towns around the country, the common complaint is “there’s nothing to do.”
Sauer mentioned to me over Skype from his office in Marshfield, “I didn’t see anything changing.”
It wasn’t until he was with his girlfriend seeing a Gufs concerts at Summerfest where she turned to him and said “this is awesome, too bad we don’t have anything like this in Marshfield.” And then it clicked.
“You can put your effort into complaining about a problem or you can put it towards a solution,” Sauer professed. He chose the latter. 10 years ago he started The Vox Concert Series in the town of Marshfield, WI. Population 20,000.
He isn’t your typical concert promoter. Sauer doesn’t make any money from the concert series. That’s not to say there isn’t any money being made. He has chosen to invest all of the proceeds into growing Vox and, more importantly, into the artists’ compensation. Every artist who plays the Vox series is paid a guarantee and keeps 100% of their merch.
Brian Sauer loves music. And he loves his town. He is starting a movement.
Unlike most small town “live music” cover band nights, Sauer makes sure that all the music he hosts is original. They have hosted everything from Bluegrass to World beat to Americana to Folk to Soul. Because their indoor venue is a very intimate space, the majority of the shows are listening shows with acoustic based music.
“Over the last decade we’ve been teaching people how to come to a listening room” – Brian Sauer, Vox Concert Series
Sauer brings in talent from around the country. “Our motto is, ‘Big city music, small town vibe.” And fans from a 5 state region have made the trek to Marshfield to enjoy these concerts.Acts like, Howie Day, Anna Nalick, Green River Ordinance, Tony Lucca (3rd on the Voice season 2), Nicholas David (3rd on The Voice season 3), Noah Gundersen, The Milk Carton Kids, Ernie Halter, Matthew Mayfield, Gabe Dixon, Peter Bradley Adams, Jay Nash, Keri Noble, and yours truly have all visited Marshfield to play the Vox Concert Series.
Sauer hosts most of these concerts outdoors in a park bandshell or inside the park rec center. They typically draw around 350 people to these concerts. Sauer mentioned the crowds are pretty consistent and that people like coming to discover new music.
“When we’re bringing in a musician we’re literally committing to 3-4 shows (in the coming couple years) because we want to establish a brand.” Sauer explained.
And he’s done a great job at that. He also commonly adds local talent on as support acts for more established headliners to help build up the Marshfield music scene. He mentioned “We don’t have access to indie radio stations that other major cities have, so there’s really, truly an educational component to what we’re doing with this.”
Sauer has now established Marshfield as regular tour stop for very established national musicians. Whereas many musicians completely pass Wisconsin over between Chicago and Minneapolis (while occasionally hitting Milwaukee or Madison), Sauer has given them a reason to stop in his small town.
The musicians know they will be welcomed with open arms by Sauer and his team of volunteers. As a performer at a Vox Concert Series, I played one of my favorite shows of the entire tour there. The room was a mix between long time fans of my music and regulars of the Vox series.
Every musician who passes through can tell that Sauer cares about us. He’s not in it to make money off of us. Literally. He’s not making any! We feel respected and valued. Sauer hand picks all the music that comes through, so we know that he has not brought us in to just put butts in the seats, but because he is a fan as well. It’s hard to explain how good that feels.
It’s rare to find promoters who have built up a reputable brand and a following for their shows and not just for the acts they bring.
Vox Concert Series has done this.
Sauer is ready for the next phase of Vox. He recently launched a Kickstarter (which ends October 30th) to raise funds for a venue of their own. There is only one reward: Cheese curds – a Wisconsin delicacy. Well, maybe not delicacy, but at least what Wisconsin is famous for. He calls it “The Cheesiest Kickstarter Project Ever.” And Kickstarter recently picked it up as an official Staff Pick.
“We are exporting some of the best cheese in the country to help import some of the best music in the country.” – Brian Sauer, Vox Concert Series
Check out the Cheesiest Kickstarter Project Ever
Check out more from Vox Concert Series.