Story by: Annie Beckmann, Marketing Communications
I'm cheating a little here because I didn't make it back to the tiny crossroads burg of Roxbury, Wis., this summer for the annual Solstice piano burning party at the Roxbury Tavern, where my old pal Tom Gresser is proprietor.
Another old friend of mine, Presbyterian minister and maestro Larry Collins, settles into a lawn chair each year and plays such thematic oldies as "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes" and "On Top of Old Smokey" until the flames start to lick the keys.
For the first time in a decade, Gresser had trouble finding a piano to burn in 2012, so I didn't want to commit to a plane ticket without knowing whether the event was a certainty.
Typically, the pianos are decrepit, orphaned uprights Gresser finds at thrift stores that are pleased to part with them for the price of delivery. The fire marshal is in on the deal, and each year the tavern roasts a turkey in the piano just in case someone complains about the purpose of the fire. To date nobody has, though.
As the New York Times reported in July, old pianos these days are more likely to end up in trash dumps where their passing is a little less grand.
"At least we give them a dignified end," Gresser insists.
Any ivory left on the keys goes to local artists prior to the burning and the large metal harp inside each piano is added to a fence around Gresser's vegetable garden.
The Roxbury Tavern is a true original that draws an eclectic mix of folks. One beer-quaffing writer called it "a hidden gem" and "an unofficial community/cultural center," which is fairly apt. Cussing and cell phones are frowned upon and it's not a place that takes debit or credit cards.
The tavern's tagline always makes me laugh. It reads, "Studying cognitive dissonance since 1989." That's when Gresser bought the bar and moved himself into the bachelor digs upstairs. Along with great local microbrews like Lake Louie Lager, he serves a mélange of creative dishes along with honest American eats, including a memorable burger. Another of our chums is a killer confection queen who whips up drop-dead delectable desserts. When she's not satiating a sweet tooth, she's also an ace private eye.
Gresser confirmed the Roxbury Tav did find a piano for the 2012 event, which took place Aug. 5. The event raises funds for the Northwest Dane Senior Services and brought in $2,000 this year. I kicked myself for not being there.
Click here to watch a video of the piano burning.