Marathon County Historical Society- home of the Yawkey House Museum & The Woodson History Center.
From the earliest days of the fairground, music accompanied events at the fair. Often a band would be on hand to play a number or two to entertain the crowd between heats of horse racing.
By the turn of the twentieth century, sit-down concerts were becoming popular as entertainment in their own right. Instead of providing “fill” between other events, bands would perform a chosen set of music for an audience that attended specifically for those concerts.
Although the fairgrounds technically had a wood-frame band stand, it was small and not well suited for performances.
In the early 1900s, there was an effort to develop the fairgrounds into a music venue. But other improvements took priority until after the fairgrounds came under the control of Marathon County in 1921. The old frame band stand was replaced in 1923 with a new concrete-base structure.
On September 3, 1923, the first performance was given at the new band stand for the celebration of Labor Day. Musicians of Wausau’s 128th Infantry Band reported that it was “found very capacious, but has a somewhat troublesome echo."
Still, the location was a big hit with audiences, who have flocked to Marathon Park for summer concerts for nearly a century. In 1926, an estimated 3,500 to 4,000 concert-goers packed the park to hear a single concert by the 128th Infantry Band. Although some benches and picnic tables were placed around the band stand for audiences, most people brought their own seating. Until curbing was installed to limit parking, many concert-goers even drove their cars right up to the bandstand and remained inside with windows rolled down, honking their horns in applause after each song.
In June 1999, a severe windstorm caused a number of trees to fall on Marathon Park’s band stand.
The band shell was rebuilt, including some modernization to the historic structure such as a wheelchair ramp. It continues to be home to events of all sorts, and to this day it remains the venue for Wausau Concert Band performances each summer.