The fate of Rhythm & Booms is still up in the air following a community meeting Thursday night at the Warner Park Community Recreation Center.

About 100 people packed a community room, and more than two dozen people spoke. And yes, there were fireworks; the rhetorical kind.

“I still get excited about this event and I’m in my 30s,” said Ben Werner, 33, who lives in the neighborhood. “It’s a Madison staple. What else does the North Side have to be proud of?”

Speakers were almost evenly divided on the event, with slightly more supporting the 20-year-old fireworks extravaganza held in celebration of Independence Day each summer at Warner Park.

Those who would like to see the show scaled back, canceled or moved to a different part of town spoke of environmental concerns, noise, public drunkenness, crime, traffic, and illegal fireworks set off before and after the event.

Maria Powell, who has a Ph.D. from the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies at UW-Madison, spoke of the impact of firework debris on wildlife, aquatic life and water quality in the park for what she called a “short-term visual thrill.”

Powell, who lives close by, questioned whether the city could afford to help pay for the fireworks show at the expense of the homeless, Metro Transit, and other city services. “Is it really worth it?” she asked.

Madison Fireworks Fund President Terry Kelly was out of town but had a statement distributed at the meeting, which was read by Fireworks Fund Vice President Deb McCue.

He said his group is proposing a “fireworks only” event this summer with only neighborhood events during the day like the “Run to the Rhythm” charity run/walk, a bicycle parade, and a bingo tent.

Rhythm & Booms was downsized last year when the city and Fireworks Fund agreed to drop the carnival and delay the pre-fireworks festivities until 5 p.m.

After the meeting, local Alds. Anita Weier and Satya Rhodes-Conway said that the meeting provided helpful input and creative ideas, but neither has taken a position on the fireworks show. Mayor Paul Soglin declined to comment Thursday.

Andrew Hovde, 24, who grew up in the neighborhood, pointed out that Rhythm & Booms is only one day of the year. Addressing those who complain about the noise and drunkenness, he said, “I was a student at UW-Madison. Just go Downtown any night of the week.”

Gene Sheets, 83, had a suggestion for those who said it should be held someplace else. “Maybe we should use Terry Kelly’s backyard.”

State Journal reporter Jeff Glaze contributed to this report.

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(12) comments

They cite the costs to the city, but they also mention that the fireworks fund REIMBURSES them so that isn't a valid excuse!!
Speaking of costs, Mifflin Street cost more than this and it only serves a few Thousand Drunk, drugged partiers age 18-28. Let's compare the value that each provide. Rhythm and Booms entertains 160-200k Families from all over the County for less cost and Mifflin street is just a huge drunken, stoned mess. Mifflin has had stabbings, rapes, vomiting, robbing, etc....basically Nothing of value and the city gets reimbursed nothing from them. As if we need any more reasons to shut down this embarrassment, then let’s just blame the cost. If we need to choose where we spend our money, then lets choose the family event that serves 15 times more people.

The other big change they made last year was cancelling the carnival. So the families take another hit. The carnival gave all the kids something to do all day while they waited for the big show. It also generates $$. They claimed that it tended to attract gang members. You know who else it tended to attract? Tens of thousands of kids!!! Having the carnival also helped with traffic, as it promoted people coming throughout the day rather than all trying to come at 8-9 right before the show. Last year some still came early because they didn't know about the change, but after sitting there with kids for hours with Nothing to do, most will not make that mistake again. This year they will ALL come at 8-9 and traffic will be a mess.

If we had a small problem with some gangs and fights, then Clean that up and kick them out. Don't allow them to ruin it for Thousands of others. Hire enough police to handle it (with the $$ you save from Mifflin ) Mifflin has had fights for years and they won't shut that mess down, but R & B has a few and they shut it down right away. Where the heck are the priorities of our city/county leaders??

If we want to talk about the costs, have they considered the positive economic impact it causes and creates? With 200,000 people, they all need to buy gas, eat, drink, and many of them come from outside Madison and even outside Dane co. Some spend the weekend with family/ friends, or get hotels and shop and eat the day before/after. They spend Millions here and provide tax revenues. I'm sure that this More than offsets the costs, but they fail to mention that in the equation!

R&B has been a fantastic show for 20 years. It is famous throughout the mid-west. People love it and travel from all over the county and beyond to see it. Now Soglin wants to Fix That? Fix the few small issues it has to make it better, smoother, safer, etc. but don't downsize it.


According to the expense handout at the meeting, the City actually kicked in about $77,000 last year. Madison Fireworks Funds only pays an incremental portion above that amount.

That amount appears to be only police, fire and parks overtime, plus special purchases/supplies need to handle the event. What doesn't go into that cost is the *months* of planning that police, fire, parks and other city departments put in as part of their "regular' job. So I’d say that the City probably put at least a $100,000 into what is supposed to be a fireworks event paid for by someone else (Madison Fireworks Fund and Terry Kelly). Don’t forget the City is also paying for the Elver Park fireworks.

I seem to remember that many North Side businesses close down early because of Rhythm & Booms and the supposed economix benefit to local businesses is largely nonexistent.


I live close to Warner Park and I say keep it to a fireworks show only, but keep it where it is.


Warner Park is great place for us. To a large but mostly invisible population of wildlife, it is home, a refuge,, a place to raise their young (and most still ARE young in early July) in relative safety. Yes, R&B is only one night. But it is still wrong to inflict the terror and environmental damage, for our entertainment. How would we like it if we and our children were subjected to even one night a year of terrifying noise and light and a rain of toxic debris,just because some more powerful species thought it was all in good fun? Move R&B to Camp Randall, and if the neighbors don't like it, at least they can speak for themselves. Leave poor Warner Park and its creatures in peace.

Poor creatures? Guess what? I value the needs of creatures, but I value HUMANS more.
birds fly away, squirrels run, and they come back when it's over. Some people do too. Meanwhile 100s of thousands "flock" to it for a great show.

This is one of the Only things the northside hosts. Huge crowds attend functions near camp randall and the Kohl center dozens of times per year and we haven't shut them down yet. This is an opportunity for northside businesses to be seen and make people from all over the county aware of them. It's free advertising for them. Push this away and you'll be left with nothing. Is that what you want? For most of the businesses up there they make Piles of money that 1 day.

so Joe Parisi was supposed to be having a committee figure out new uses for the Alliant center and coliseum. It's not in a residential neighborhood, has a large grounds, maybe enough parking, and Quick access to the beltline Move it, but keep the bands and carnival.


I live 3 blocks away, Booms doesn't bother me, it's a fun day. No beer tents and citations for possession of alchol and public drunkeness would be a good start. Aren't fireworks supposed to be for kids, anyway?


I say do July 4 on July 4.

I used to deliver ice cream all over Wisconsin and a bit into the states surrounding. I did so in my early 30's and again in my early 40's. 'Round about the July 4 festivities, I'd ask my customers what they were going to do for the Fourth. More times than not, I'd hear: "Well, first we go to Rhythm & Booms in Madison to catch that show, then, on the fourth we attend the fireworks show in our city (or town...)." As they were customers, and, I was in uniform, I would keep to myself my reply: "Please stay away from Madison so I can go to the fireworks in my own city, too." I stopped going to Rhythm & Booms after the third year when it became too crowded for my taste.

So, people from as far away as Iowa or Minoqua are double dipping. Therefore, July 4th festivities should be on the fourth of July.

Last year, after the show, the Warner Park grounds looked like a huge patchwork quilt with the grass dried in a myriad brown squares where blankets had covered only a few days before. I'd never seen that before...the grounds stayed that way until it finally rained, again, which, didn't happen with any regular frequency in Madison, last summer.


bring the circus to town and light a few sparklers, they'll come to see anything for free

Mr LaMarr
Mr LaMarr

They didn't send the questioner to me. I live on Northland Dr and my answer Is no to the fireworks!

It's independance day. Cities and towns all over the US have fireworks.
Party pooper.

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