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GuitarTown Debuts in Downtown Waukesha

Waukesha GuitarTown pays tribute to Wisconsin community's rich music history as the birthplace of Les Paul. The city's GuitarTown is being unveiled this weekend.

Jane Neill had a kiss to remember, even if she says the infamous smooch might make her husband a tad bit jealous.

“The highlight was a kiss on the lips,” Jane Neill said about meeting musician and legendary guitarist Les Paul. “I have a picture of it, too.”

Jane Neill, and her husband, Tom Neill, have seen Paul in concert several times. They both had high praises for the "Wizard of Waukesha."

“He was just a wonderful man. He always remembered his roots, and he was personable,” Jane Neill said. “The times we met him in New York, he would remember you months and months later when you would see him here. He always made you feel so special.”

Jane Neill shared her story while attending a private gala for the kickoff for Waukesha GuitarTown Thursday evening. 

 because the Milwaukee suburb is the  The famous musician is known for inventing the solid body electric guitar, as well as other inventions.

GuitarTown features 10-foot fiberglass Gibson Les Paul guitars, as well as some normal-sized guitars, designed by local and national artists and displayed throughout downtown. The public art project will close on June 9, Paul's birthday.

Paul never forgot his roots, Tom Neill said, and always remembered Waukesha. Paul, who died in August 2009, would have loved seeing the Wisconsin community become a GuitarTown.

“He would be just so proud,” said Tom Neill, who clerk/treasurer for the city of Waukesha. “He always highlighted Waukesha when you went to see him in New York.”

GuitarTown Brings Wisconsin Native Home

Alicia Lemke, a Madison native, is based out of New York City. But Waukesha GuitarTown brought her home to her roots as she performed with the Les Paul Trio during the gala event. She also plans to take the stage Friday night during the public unveiling of the guitars.

“There is a rich history of people who come from Wisconsin – Les Paul being a major one of those,” Lemke said. “I think that is a really nice nod to the fact that not everybody in music comes from the coasts. A lot of really incredible contributors to rock and roll and music at large come from the Midwest. I think it is important. … Midwest needs to represent too.”

Lemke said she was more and more impressed with Waukesha and its GuitarTown plans as the evening at the gala progressed. She was especially enamored by the large guitars that will be on display.

“They are gorgeous,” Lemke said. “Every single guitar is absolutely beautiful and so unique.”

Not Without Hard Work

In a matter of months, the committee that was running the project found sponsors, artists, approved designs and did the work needed to plan the celebration weekend. They faced criticism over how the project was handled, but in the end, the guitars are here.

Norm Bruce, owner of , said it was worth the hard work, calling the project “fantastic.”

“I think it makes Waukesha stand out like we want it to stand out,” Bruce said.

Waukesha County Executive Dan Vrakas described the project’s turnout as “phenomenal.”

“It is the result of a lot of hard work that has come together,” Vrakas said. “It is also the beginning of what I see as the next phase for Waukesha.

“I just couldn’t be prouder of the fact that people are recognizing how extraordinary Les Paul was and the fact that Gibson is involved," he added. "It is just going to be wonderful.”

Mayor Jeff Scrima, a key player to the GuitarTown project, was the one who reached out to Gibson. He said the project was a collaborative effort and that the city is “very grateful” to Gibson.

And now, Waukesha residents will get to experience the large-scale public art project that has been talked about for months.

“I think it the experience,” said Scrima, encouraging people to attend the opening events. “Citizens will most enjoy the experience of the gala, being able to meet people from Gibson, being able to meet some of the national musicians that are here and then the experience tomorrow night on the streets.”

Friday's Public Celebration

Ready to walk around downtown Waukesha and check out the guitars? Here's where they are all located:

The kickoff event begins at 5:30 p.m. Friday at the Five Points in downtown Waukesha, which is being set up as the main stage. The Les Paul Trio will take the stage at 6 p.m. and the  Sam Llanas Band will play with Richie Furay and Rusty Paul at 8:30 p.m.

Here is the rest of the schedule for Freeman Friday Night Live:

  • Martha Merrell’s Books/Cuddles; Mike and Kathy G-Man Music
  • Allo Chocolat; Chad James and Mike Westendorf
  • Rockin' & Poppin' On Broadway Stage; The Notebenders
  • Mia's; Peter D'Amore
  • Steaming Cup; Barefoot “N” Bluejeans  
  • Magellans; Lonely Hearts 

Special Street Closures

The Five Points will partially close early Friday as crews begin setting up the main stage for the downtown celebration. The full street closure will be in effect at 5 p.m.

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