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Metal, punk and rock music in general have always faced adversity from authority and it doesn't take long to sit and realize that that's an integral part of what it's all about. On Monday, September 10, members of the community stood behind a music festival and a business which faced a nuisance ordinance that would affect everyone in the Lake Nebagamon area but was mainly directed at the Northern Wisconsin Metalfest as well as Wasko's Campground where the festival has been held for the last five years. It's hard to say what the outcome of the situation would have been if it went unnoticed and if no one had showed up to the Town of Bennett board meetings, but in the end, the supporters of Wasko's, music and property rights came out on top.
The reason the Metalfest even ended up at Wasko's in the first place stemmed from run-in's with the authorities when it used to be held outside of Iron River, Wis. "We moved out to Wasko's mainly because it was getting too big. At NWM3 the cops showed up at 11:30 (pm) and asked if we could turn it down, I said sure, the music is almost over anyway, and we did. Four days later they left a letter on Nut's porch and inside were four different fines, each for $250. They wrote the fines out at 11 the night of the fest, a half hour before they came out there and asked us to turn it down. I forget what they were for but one was a noise ordinance and another for not having a permit. We got two dropped and had a benefit at Bev's Jook Joint to raise money to pay the other two. We raised about $220, and Chris Zoltak from Wasko's showed up and paid the rest out of his own pocket. We had already decided to move it before NWM3," stated Aaron White the festival's founder and director.
Zoltak has owned the Wasko's campground and bar that is located at 8441 South County Road P in Lake Nebagamon for 13 years. It should be noted that Google just has "County Road South," which can be confused as "County Road S," just putting that out there. Wasko's was founded in the early 1960s by Charlie Wasko who owned much of the Lake Nebagamon property back then. For decades people have spent enjoyable summers camping on the land that is tucked away in the Wisconsin north woods.
The Reader talked with Zoltak about the nuisance ordinance that was drafted as a template from the State of Wisconsin and contains a broad list of violations that spans from junked vehicles, vermin, noxious odors, "bawdyhouses," noise to illegal drug/gang houses. It seems fair to say that there were many things within the ordinance that were easily covered by other long existing laws. "They (Bennett Town Board Members) came at me at a weird time. I had made a deal with some guys to clean up after I allotted some money aside to help me clean up extra garbage and stuff from years of old campers that were left behind after they divided the place up. I had to do something with them," explained Zoltak about why there were piles of junk on his property a few months ago. "Right at the peak time when we were in the middle of our clean up project, all of a sudden they come at me with 'your place is dirty, you need to clean it up." I said, 'if you haven't noticed for the last three or four months, that's exactly what we've been doing.'" On top of the scrap from the campers, Zoltak said other people that he didn't even know began to drop off junk and appliances adding to the mess. Zoltak sold the scrap metal to pay for the other debris that needed to be disposed of, the rest of the costs he payed for out of his own pocket.
Although there may have been piles of junk at one point on the Wasko's campsite, metal music is certainly a focal point in the issue. "They said they're fine with the bluegrass shows, it's the Metalfest that they have a problem with. They're splitting hairs about music genre and it's bullsh*t," said Joseph Flynn the promoter of the Bigfoot Experience Bluegrass Festival that is also held at Wasko's. When asked if he thought Wasko's to be a public health hazard or nuisance, Flynn replied, "Hell no, he's taken care of all that. He's cleaned the place up and it's great."
On August 21, there was a "special board meeting" held concerning Wasko's business operations. Zoltak asserts that he is willing to work with his neighbors and community and felt that he could have made changes without involving the Town Board. "At the special meeting that was discussing me I know that the signup was well over 120 and I know that the people who were against me refused to sign the sign up," said Zoltak. It is policy for the town board to not reveal who makes a complaint and no one who had made a complaint spoke up at the meeting. Reportedly several officers from the Douglas County Sheriff's Department showed up to watch over the meeting due to the unusually large attendance for a Town meeting. It's uncertain as to how the Sheriff's Department would know there would be so many at the meeting.
Besides the anonymous complaints to the Town Board, some feel that Wasko's is experiencing pressure for more than piles of junk and loud music. "It's not just about Metalfest, the neighbors there have wanted Wasko's gone for a long time. They even put their money together and tried to buy him out. There might be some other motives as why they want him gone, like maybe they want the property so they can build something else," said White.
What is particularly interesting is the number of health inspections that Wasko's has had, "I personally have had five health inspections this year, said Zoltak, "the last one I got was a couple hours before the special board meeting against me. Pretty odd, huh?" Zoltak showed us the report notice from Sanitarian, Ken Zurian, that is dated August 21 and it specifically states "This report is generated in response to a complaint about the upcoming Metalfest event in September."
After our interview with Zoltak, it was nearly time to head over to the Bennett Town Hall. There were a number of people at Wasko's at the time of our interview and nearly all of them got into their vehicles and made the short drive to the meeting. Upon arriving, a group of people had already congregated in the parking lot. The meeting was to start at 7:30 pm and like clockwork the group of around 50 people, many of them wearing Wasko's or Metalfest apparel, walked in together and started grabbing folding chairs and formed several rows that filled up most of the hall. "Not as many as last time," Board Supervisor, Wesley Koehler, softly noted to Board Chairman, Barry Carlson, as people continued to file in and unfold chairs. Indeed it was not what one would expect at a small town board meeting.
The issue of the nuisance ordinance was placed near the top of the agenda, so after reports from the Fire Marshall, Constable and other formalities, it didn't take long for everyone present to hear the final say on the matter. "The process we go through anytime we develop an ordinance is the process that we started with on this one. Unfortunately people have become very nervous and very vocal. And as I researched what we have already and sought council, I was told that it is indefensible, unenforceable and in someways to some people, will be objectionable. So therefore I move that we discontinue the pursuit of the nuisance ordinance and move on to other business," proposed Supervisor Koehler. The motion was seconded by Board Member Patrick Pierce. When Chairman Carlson said "all in favor signify by saying 'aye,'" many in the room replied along with the board in a resounding "aye." There was a moment of silence, then some some started laughing and then a few people started clapping. "I know you want to applaud yourselves, but you don't have a vote, ok?" said Carlson in response. "Can you repeat the motion? It's kind of hard to hear you, Barry," said a person in attendance after Carlson's stern remark. The motion was repeated by the Clerk.
Later in the meeting, when those in attendance had a chance to speak, the question came up about the possibility of such an ordinance arising again, "I'm not bringing it back up," replied Carlson. "I drove by there the other day, I was heading somewhere so I didn't stop, but it looks nice," Carlson stated towards the end of the meeting.
The resulting discussion in the meeting brought up how the Town of Bennett could better communicate with it's residents. "When I have a question regarding any ordinances, I'd like to know where I can grab that information," said Jack Swonger, "I spent half my weekend researching on exactly what this ordinance was, and it was probably not time well spent. So "nervous' isn't what you have with us, agitated is where we would be." Swonger did not appear to be into metal music, but it's getting harder and harder to tell these days. Board meeting agendas are posted at several locations in the Lake Nebagamon area and are mentioned in The Daily Telegram out of Superior although details about specific issues are not contained in the agenda.
When asked about the outcome of the meeting, Zoltak replied, "I'm happy with the outcome I guess. The phone calls that were made back and forth prior to it where completely different from what the outcome was once when we showed up with a crowd of people, which shows that there is safety in numbers." In the end, it's not really important what kind of music someone is into, what's more important is paying close attention to things that are happening in our own communities and standing up and showing support for what we believe in rather than having our freedoms eaten away by broad and frivolous laws that will affect everyone, not just a business owner who happens to support this area's music scene.
The ninth annual Northern Wisconsin Metalfest will continue on as planned this weekend, September 14-15. The next event to be held at Wasko's after that will be the Bigfoot Experience "Fall Get Down" on October 5-7.