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25 years ago: When Green Day played Neenah

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Green Day’s tour dates in July 1994 were primarily booked in big city clubs and major college towns.

Wednesday, July 20, 1994 was the head-scratching, sore-thumb exception. 

On July 19, they played Madison’s Barrymore and they’d play the Eagles Ballroom in Milwaukee on July 21. In between, their bookmobile rolled north and reached its destination … the outskirts of Neenah. Their venue was the Ridgeway on what’s now State 76 at County II.

Queercore punk band, Pansy Division, joined Green Day on the tour. 

Guitarist and singer Jon Ginoli chronicled the show via diary entry in his 2009 autobiography, “Deflowered: My Life in Pansy Division.” He wasn’t sure of what to make of the trip to the Fox Valley having been warned that Appleton was the hometown of Sen. Joe McCarthy. He spoke of trepidation while en route to “Hicksville.” They shared their concerns with security.

“So we went on stage … to a terrific reception. Our best yet!” he wrote. “No heckling and only a few middle fingers, and lots of cheering!”

Saturday marks the 25th anniversary of the show — one that no one attending could have pegged to become a nugget of Fox Cities music history.

As for the Fox Valley, REO Speedwagon’s Outagamie County Fair gig a few nights before drew more attention.

Green Day and Pansy Division provided a welcome night of punk with national acts. They didn’t arrive too often. 

Green Day was already a cult favorite and there was some tangible excitement among those in the know. Not even those folks could have envisioned Rock and Roll Hall of Fame or a diamond selling album.

The gig just happened to occur within weeks of the seismic snap that thrust Green Day from underground to mainstream — and on the road toward legendary.

Green Day’s breakthrough album, “Dookie,” was released five months earlier and at that point, it hadn’t quite broken through yet. The album peaked at number 2 on the Billboard 200 on Jan. 25, 1995. 

“Basket Case” would be released as a single in August, its video would receive heavy play on the MTV rotation — and soon enough, they’d no longer be booking places like the Ridgeway in rural Neenah, Wis.

It was a memorable night — and for reasons more than what the headliners would soon become.

Sweat was dripping off the walls, Ginoli described.

And for an openly gay band in the 1990s, he was taken by the appreciative response of the audience.

“For a place we expected so little from, it was inspiring,” he wrote.

Do you have memories of the show? Email us at info@valley-review.com

Correction: An earlier version of this story listed Boris the Sprinkler among performers Reliable sources tell us that while the Green Bay band was on the bill, they were removed from the lineup and did not perform that night. We regret the error.

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