By Chris Barlow
TosaFest has been a marquee event for Wauwatosa families for 41 years, and has grown into one of the premier gatherings on resident’s calendars. In 2016, Wauwatosans can circle September 9 and 10, and round up the family for food, fun and music in the Village.
Even with TosaFest’s position in the community, planning the event this time around proved to be a big test for John and Ann Raisler, along with the rest of the TosaFest Board. The festival is a non-profit event that has provided thousands of dollars over the years for local charities and has grown into being an important part of the community.
The standing that TosaFest has gained over the years did little to protect the event from the changing times we all live in. The principle points of contention the organizers faced ranged from the reconstruction of the village streetscape, to security concerns and logistical issues.
Despite the recent challenges facing the organizers, relocating the event was never on their minds. Nonetheless, the hurdles placed in their way have given them pause regarding the future of the festival.
“We are here to celebrate the village and moving out would not allow us to do that. Our board wants to focus on the village,” John Raisler said. “it’s caused us to rethink our event from a location perspective, but I think we’ve been successful moving all of our activities to one side of the river.”
The location of the event was in question as the TosaFest board approached the principal government bodies that give them the necessary permissions for the yearly festival.
“It took two months to get our permit and we were so far behind we did not know if we were going to have TosaFest this year”
“It took two months to get our permit and we were so far behind we did not know if we were going to have TosaFest this year,” Ann Raisler said. “The board is aging and everyone is too old and too tired to keep doing this if everyone is going to keep fighting with us.”
After some discussions with the Farmers Market, the decision was made to utilize the parking lot west of Harwood Avenue in addition to the usual space under the Harmonee Avenue bridge. Although it took some time to come to a resolution, the location changes are working out well.
“It’s actually going to provide us with things that are even better. We are going to be a little more condensed,” John said. “Everything will be over on this (the north) side of the tracks. It will also provide us with some additional security.”
During the weekend of TosaFest, the Tosa Farmer’s Market will relocate to Hart Park in the area of the Rotary Stage located between 68th and 70th streets.
This is not the first time that the TosaFest board has had issues to work through regarding the event. In 2015 they were asked to make some changes regarding security that led to the charitable proceeds being much lower then in previous years. This year the organizers approached the Wauwatosa Police Department early in the planning process in an attempt to ensure that the festival would be solvent and be able to provide their beneficiary with a solid donation.
“We have to ebb and flow with the circumstances presented. We are a weather dependent festival”
“We got ahead of it this year and started talking to them earlier,” John said. “And we have the natural boundaries with the river and the hills and the woods. We can manage it to continue the family nature of the festival.”
For most of the previous 40 years, the biggest challenge the organizers faced was the weather.
“We have to ebb and flow with the circumstances presented. We are a weather dependent festival,” John said. “We have experienced some years when we have had some negative weather experiences.”
New for the 2016 festival, the gates will be staffed by Tosa Cares volunteers who will collect a $2 entry fee. In addition, people can gain entry by bringing two non perishable food items and present them at the gate. The gate will include a welcome area and there all entrants will receive wristbands.
Tosa Cares is an area volunteer organization which collects non-perishable food items, personal care items, clothing and school supplies for distribution to families in need. In 2016 the donation they receive from TosaFest will be the gate receipts and food they collect from attendees.
Also at the entrance a “Code of Conduct” will be displayed to set the expectations of the attendees. For the second year kids 18 and under must be accompanied by an adult to gain entry.
“We will providing our own security and we have the natural boundaries with the river and the hills and the woods to help us with that,” John said.
The music and the food, which are the main draws for the festival, remain solidly intact. There will be three music stages, sponsored by Meijer, Dave and Busters and Suzanne Powers Real Estate. Cowboy Mouth, Greg Koch, Sam Llanas and the Five Card Studs, among others, will provide the entertainment.
The tighter footprint for the festival should not detract from the music as the stages will be positioned so that the various acts will not bleed into each other.
The prospect of the new Village streetscape project has them envisioning a fantastic backdrop for the festival.
Other scheduled events include a 5K, activities with the Wauwatosa Fire Department, a cupcake and a chili challenge, an artist’s challenge and loads of things for kids. Please check TosaFest.org for a schedule of activities and events.
After many many years of volunteering to bring TosaFest to life, it is no secret that the Raislers consider it to be a labor love. Ann began her relationship with TosaFest by participating in and winning the bake off. In the early years this contest one of the primary events that took place. Slowly over the years Ann and John became increasingly involved up to today when the couple has their hands in a large number of the planning aspects.
In the end, the Raislers do want to see the event continue beyond this year. The prospect of the new Village streetscape project has them envisioning a fantastic backdrop for the festival.
“We have weathered through the challenges and I am hopeful we will have a very successful festival this year,” John said. “We have good food and good music and it helps bring the people in.”