Ethan Duran

Riverwest Funeral Walk for City Musicians

Community uses music to mourn loss of Paul Setser, Sarah Kozar and Dave Bolyard.

By - Nov 30th, 2020 11:24 am
Funeral march. Photo by Ethan Duran.

Funeral march. Photo by Ethan Duran.

Some 100 people walked from Quarters Rock & Roll Palace (900 E. Center St.) to Circle-A-Cafe (932 E. Chambers St.) to remember the lives of several notable Milwaukee musicians on Sunday afternoon. Paul Setser, Sarah Kozar and Dave Bolyard, all of whom passed away this year, were deeply embedded in Riverwest’s music community and played in many different local bands. Setser was best known for an endless string of musical acts and for being a staple of the neighborhood’s bars and venues, particularly for his 16 years of work at Circle-A.

The gathering started outside of Quarters with a dirge from a quartet that included a cellist, drummer, accordion player and keytarist playing through a portable amplifier. Friends, business owners and musicians followed the beat of drums and tambourines like a New Orleans-style jazz funeral as they walked through the neighborhood to Circle-A. Both locations are significant to Setser’s life and all three of the departed performed at these venues.

Born in Chicago, Setser played in Milwaukee bands like the Danny Price and The Loose Change, Aimless Blades and the Riverwest Accordion Club. He also had a steady career as a solo artist and a producer. In an interview with the Riverwest Currents, Setser said he had a dozen more projects than he could count. Many people at the walk, if they hadn’t played music with him, knew him from watching shows at Circle-A, where he was a jack-of-all-trades, booking acts, working the soundboard and serving as emcee.

Setser, 68, died after suffering a fall. His health had deteriorated before that, according to his close friends. All three of the departed had been sick before their passing.

“It really hurts. It’s going to take a bite out of the music scene. He’s been one of those guys behind the scenes that puts things together,” said Denny Rauen, owner of Rauen Guitars. Rauen played “Amazing Grace” on the bagpipes at the end of the ceremony. “(Paul) was also a fun musician.”

An acoustic and vocal duo played one of Setser’s songs about heartbreak, “Barbwire,” outside of Circle-A. “It’s a pretty common theme in his songs; lost love and the lonely-guy thing. He was an underdog type of person,” said Mike Chaltry, a former roommate and bandmate of Setser. “A lot of his music is underdog music, which is what I love about it.”

Sarah Kozar was the lead vocalist for the eponymous folk-rock group Sixty Watt Sarah, helped found the Riverwest Accordion Club and then co-founded The Squeezettes. “She had a monster voice and was a great accordion player,” said Rauen.

“She had one of the most beautiful voices I’ve ever heard,” said Chaltry, who also played music with Kozar.

Carter Hunnicutt played a keytar with a portable amp slung over his shoulder with the rest of the funeral band. Hunnicutt said he used to play with Dave Bolyard in a band called the Flat Rabbits during the late 1980’s. Before his death in April, Bolyard had played the drums in The Tritonics. “As a drummer, he was very versatile,” he said. “He didn’t know just how to play a beat. He could bring in all this polyrhythmic stuff.”

“He’s a dear friend and I miss him a lot. I saw him at the second-to-last gig he ever played. And afterwards, I said man, you were incendiary. You were a level above,” Hunnicutt said. “He was like, well, you never know when the last time you get to play is.  He made a lot of people happy while he was here.”

“Paul did a lot for (Circle-A) and they’re going to have a hard time replacing him,” Chaltry said. “He did so much. Booking bands was almost a full time job for him and he put so much work into it. But that’s what he loved; he was a music guy his whole life.”

Before the end of the ceremony outside of the café on Chambers St., the spread-out crowd of folks who had lived and played with the departed shouted the name of Riverwest musical legend: “Setser!”

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