Caleb Caudle and his band play at Appleton's Mile of Music Festival

Appleton, Wisconsin: Music, Food, and Harry Houdini

From anyone's perspective Appleton Wisconsin is a delightful town with friendly folks, restaurants, coffee bars, pubs, and lounges. It's a town made for concerts and theater with its state of the art performance center. And once a year it busts out its music with local and regional musicians playing all along its downtown. But what sets this music festival apart is that it is free. Totally, completely free. As are the workshops and family friendly events that take place. And that's exactly how the city intends to keep it.

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Mile of Music Festival

The Mile of Music Festival started six years ago (this year is called Mile 6 indicating the 6th year). The most startling aspect of this festival is that it is free. Totally, completely free. The venues open their doors on a mile-long stretch along College Avenue in downtown Appleton -- with no cover or minimum. Although some folks choose to buy a beer or a bit of food not only is there no pressure to do so. In fact, in some places it felt like the opposite. They just wanted folks to enjoy the music.

And I certainly did enjoy it strolling into the Appleton Beer Factory for the 2:20 performance of Caleb Caudle of Winston-Salem. If I had wandered into Cleo's instead I could have listened to Appleton's own Eric W. Krueger. With nonstop music somewhere there's more choices than time.

Some of the music happens in the spacious grassy Houdini Plaza (named after the legendary escape artist Harry Houdini who lived in Appleton as a child). On Saturday night I followed the music to the plaza in time to hear J C Brooks Band a k a J C Brooks & the Uptown Sound. This indie soul with a funk rock fusion was rocking the plaza with stunning quality and presence.

But there's more offered than diverse music. There's classes, and special events. Volunteers come with colorful plastic trombones giving them out to the crowd and encouraging everyone to make music. Adults are as welcomed as children. If you want to see the city while you listen to music, hop on the Mile of Music bus at the Performance Center. As with everything else, it's free and filled with music. The bus does a circuit around the festival with the band performing, delighting those outside as well.

The Mile of Music Festival is a musical feast. Pull up to the table and enjoy.

History Museum at the Castle and AKA Houdini

 The Houdini lion outside Appleton's History Museum at the Castle and AKA Houdini
Located in a 1923 former Masonic Temple the History Museum at the Castle offers local history, and intriguing time-limited exhibits. Their ever-popular AKA Houdini is one of the largest assemblages of Houdini objects open to the public. Houdini, born in Budapest Hungary in 1874 as Ehrich Weiss, came to Appleton as a young child and always considered the city his hometown, and the place of one of the happiest times of his life. The exhibits answer some of the How Did He Do That questions, but also tells the life story of one of the world's greatest escape artists. You can even climb into some of his devices. One exhibit helpfully describes how to get out of a straightjacket while a nearby display case contains one of the actual pieces Houdini used.

Recreated scenes of early Appleton life, and a room filled with classic and locally-made toys (open for play) also charm visitors. Miniature train fans will love the tableau created by Gordon Lind that depicts the town as it was in 1951, the year he was born.

Visitors will also find an exhibit on Senator Joseph McCarthy, infamous for his prosecution of suspected Communists in the 1950s. It was a dark time in the country, and only ended with the investigations by Joseph Welch, special counsel for the U.S. Army into McCarthy's activities. McCarthy was born and raised in the Appleton area and the museum has an excellent interactive kiosk with videos and photos from his life and the hearings.

The History Museum at the Castle also mounts several fascinating time-limited exhibits each year.

For more Houdini sites, the town's major plaza was named after the man synonymous with magic. Houdini Plaza was the site of his childhood home. Those fascinated by Houdini may also want to drive by the site of his father's synagogue at 320 North Durkee Street. The building is now privately owned, however, the Temple Zion sign still hangs above the door. Houdini died on Halloween, 1926 from peritonitis caused by a ruptured appendix and is buried in Machpelah Cemetery in Queens, New York.

Trout Museum

Specializing in intriguing limited time exhibits the museum is part of the group of art-related communities. Past exhibits at the Trout include Who Framed Roger Rabbit with a extensive array of cels from the movie, and Celebrating Picasso: Photographs by David Douglas Duncan of some of the Picasso images Duncan donated to The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art .

Fox Cities Performing Arts Center

While visiting Appleton, give yourself the treat of a performance in the Fox Cities PAC. Broadway shows, concerts, symphony performances. The performance space includes the technology to enable T-Coil hearing system users to better enjoy their visit.


Root for the hometeam at the Fox Cities stadium. Watch the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers, an affiliate of Milwaukee Brewers since 2008, and enjoy their creative fun during the innings. I loved the Noodle Pull (think bungee cords) and Bubble Ball (this would be people rolling around in huge balls). But the crowd favorite is when a special vehicle makes its way around the field throwing bratwurst into the crowd. Technically located in Grand Chute, it's just down the road and a fun day or evening out with the family.

Dining in Appleton

In addition to its small town charm, Appleton offers outsized dining.

Author's Kitchen + Bar
Just opened in 2018, Chefs Matias Whittingslow and Joshua Sickler have created an innovative menu with exceptionally prepared dishes with an Argentinian flair. The entrees are delicious, but you can make a meal of their wonderful starters. A must-have dish is their fabulous empanadas with a flaky light dough. Everything is made onsite and locally sourced whenever possible. Equally delicious was the watermelon with goat cheese. Tiny squares of watermelon topped with a small dollop of goat cheese and a honey gastrique (a sweet-sour sauce of honey and vinegar. Brushetta with avocado and red peppers is another yummy choice. The entrees all received raves. If you're a pasta fan -- it's all made right there. Everything is beautifully presented as if each dish is a work of culinary art. Which it is. Even their children's menu is gourmet.

Osorio's Latin Fusion
Located outside of downtown Osorio's is worth the drive. Everything is taken up a notch with high quality, perfect seasoning and quality ingredients. Even the humble guacamole which is a staple becomes a culinary win with lots of avocado and authentic flavors. Since leaving New Mexico I've missed Latin flavors and the tortilla soup with a taste of my Albuquerque home as was the salsa and the fresh-made tortilla chips. From the lunch menu, the Osorio's Cuban sandwich was another delicious take on this staple and popular dish. Featuring carnitas simmered in an agave dijon sauce. The meat became intensely flavorful and pull apart tender.

Pisco Mar
For a different international cuisine try this Peruvian restaurant known for its fusion seafood dishes. And absolutely try one of their pisco-based cocktails. Pisco is a Peruvian spirit that has been compared to grappa and to tequila, but has its own unique flavor.

Simon's Specialty Cheese No place has cheese as good as Wisconsin. The state has dedicated itself to making the finest cheeses in the United States, and perhaps the world. Stop by Simon's Specialty Cheese and bring home some of their excellent, award-winning fromage. My personal favorite is actually their white cheddar aged for over a year which apparently didn't have the prefered texture for winning an award. But, oh, the flavor! Judged to have the best sharp cheddar in the nation and an award winning cows milk feta. They have several Master Cheese makers on staff who help create their succulent offerings. They offer pizza available for pickup or eat in. Don't miss their Tailgater Pizza with Nueske's cheddar brats, sauerkraut and a savory-sweet apricot mustard. Sound odd but tastes like Wisconsin at its finest.

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Neala McCarten

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