Fostering the community through music
Nick Gonnering shares his journey of becoming a full-time musician
By Rachel Sankey
Sometimes a good dish isn’t enough to satisfy all one’s desires and needs. Green Bay native Nick Gonnering said the culinary adventure he had was no match for the music that was igniting his soul.
At the age of 21, Gonnering said he traveled west to become a chef at a ski resort at the base of the mountain in Crested Butte, Colorado. Though he said it was quite the experience, it didn’t stop him from pursuing music.
“I had done music out there (in Colorado) – I started a band,” Gonnering said. “I came back here (to Green Bay) to buy a motorhome and go on tour… And I went out on the first leg of the tour and then the band disbanded.”
After the band split up, Gonnering said he came back to Wisconsin again, and set up shop in a small studio in De Pere. As he contemplated his next steps, a call from a friend, who asked if he’d like to come live with him in Manhattan, sent Gonnering on his next adventure.
While in Manhattan, Gonnering’s work as a bike messenger led to his music career taking off.
“I heard music coming from a building. I investigated and it was actually a studio,” he said. “So I was like, ‘Hey, I will literally scrub your toilets to work here. I can do whatever you like,’ and they gave me a job at the studio, and taught me how to record and do all the things that I now currently do in this version of life.”
Gonnering said things took off from there.
He returned back to Wisconsin a year later, where he met his now-wife, Alicia. He said the two traveled near and far, from 22 National Park monuments, to the East Coast, eventually settling in Asheville, North Carolina for five years.
A change in careers
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Gonnering said his plan was to do music full-time, as he had run into issues with the service industry.
“I think I had recognized that the service industry has a lot of negative habits and elements to it that I wasn’t really aligning with anymore,” he said. “I worked in a lot of kitchens where it was like this sort of toxic relationship between the boss and the workers. The post-shift culture was really kind of crazy… It just wasn’t a good fit, and I had always wanted to pursue music full-time. I’ve been a musician now for almost 20 years… It’s the number one thing that I’m super passionate about. Whether it’s recording music, or making music, or writing songs or learning new instruments.”
Gonnering said after booking his best year to date, he and his wife moved into a new home in Asheville with the anticipation of having an amazing year. Two months later, the COVID-19 pandemic hit and Gonnering said he had to cancel all his shows and resort to live streaming. It was then he said they decided it would be best to move back to Green Bay, and returned in May 2021.
Though Gonnering said music has always been in his blood, choosing to pursue his music career full-time didn’t mean there weren’t any challenges along the way.
“I think the number one thing you get used to when you work a normal job is you have a paycheck that comes in every few weeks,” he said. “So, the hardest part for me was coming out of that mindset of like, sometimes you go a couple of weeks without playing a show and you’re like, ‘I should have booked this better or I should have tried to diversify so that in this time I was working on an audio project for somebody or just doing something that could bring income in some way.’”
Gonnering said becoming a musician full-time also meant he had an entirely different mindset of how to make himself more diverse and well-rounded, which led him to yoga. He said he became a yogi, and has been able to work with yoga instructors to record meditations and do live events.
Gonnering said a lot of his inspiration over the last 20 years came from chasing a sound, and something that feels good to play.
He said he was introduced to the music scene early on through his involvement in the Christian music scene. From there, Gonnering said he branched out into classic rock, punk, metal and more.
“It really comes down to whatever strikes me at the moment,” he said. “Anything that inspires me and makes my brain go, ‘Oh, what’s that noise?’ or ‘What are they doing with that saxophone? What is that instrument?’ That’s always kind of been my driving force for starting projects and just creating music in general.”
Pink Floyd’s concept album, Dark Side of the Moon, was a huge inspiration for him, as he said he had never realized someone could do that with music, and take it a step deeper than just the sound of the piece.
Gonnering said he falls under the category of singer/songwriter, with an intention for his music – a blend of blues, soul, folk, funk and jazz – to bring people together.
Music as growth
Over the years, Gonnering said his reasons and motives to create music have changed.
“For me, when I was younger, I would use music as a way to express myself, and I still do,” he said. “And I think the points that I’ve learned to express over the years have evolved in that way. So now, what I bring back with music is all about fostering community and working from more of a centered place than when I was younger. I think what I put out is very open-ended for people to latch on to… as opposed to before where it was more of a narrow channel.”
After living in different places and gaining different perspectives, Gonnering said he now has a better understanding of how to continue to build up the local community as a musician.
Green Bay’s music scene
Since returning home to Green Bay, Gonnering said the community response and growth of original music has been nothing short of amazing, though other creators’ thoughts on the scene rely heavily on their own perspective.
“The music scene here has really been cracked wide open,” he said. “With other musicians, I find there’s a lot of close-minded thoughts about how music should be presented here… if you say that all the time, then you’re going to constantly attract and cultivate that around you.”
In order to have those kinds of connections with businesses and other organizations, Gonnering said people need to be open and know there are always opportunities around.
“You have to train your mind to be looking for opportunity in a positive way, and not be pessimistic about what life brings to you, and take accountability for it,” Gonnering said. “There are a lot of deeper meanings behind why things happen. I’m definitely along the lines of trying to cultivate whatever I believe I can be.”
Gonnering said several great organizations he’s worked with, such as On Broadway, Inc., have been incredibly supportive of his music. On Broadway and Gonnering worked together to create the Candlelight Concert Series, which he said has helped to continue to cultivate the community.
“I had the idea for a candlelight concert because they do this thing in Rome – and all over Europe – where they pack these beautiful cathedrals full of candles, and then they have a musician play in the middle of the candles,” Gonnering said. “I thought it was so cool, and wondered why nobody was doing it around here.”
After stumbling across what he describes as the perfect place for an acoustic candlelight concert in the Titletown building, Gonnering aid he talked with Allie Thut, director of special events for On Broadway, Inc., and three weeks later they held their first concert.
Gonnering said he is working on several different projects, but his main focus for the future is to record his music, put it out in the world and tour the nation. He said one of his big dreams is to perform at Red Rocks Amphitheatre in Morrison, Colorado.
“I’m always open to see where life takes me, and just continue pursuing the passion that I’m on,” he said. “And just working on that, because that’s where my opportunity comes.”
Saturday, May 21
Paradise North Distillery, Green Bay
Thursday, May 26
Station 1 Brewing Company, Suamico
Friday, May 27
Zambaldi Beer, Green Bay
Saturday, May 28
The Bottle Room, Green Bay
Rachel Sankey is the associate editor of Green Bay City Pages. She can be reached via email at [email protected]