Mike Mensching and Karen Karow, founders and organizers of Gazebo Nights at Normal Park.
Mike Mensching and Karen Karow, founders and organizers of Gazebo Nights at Normal Park.
Mike Mensching and Karen Karow started the Gazebo Nights concert series two years ago with “100 posters and word of mouth,” Mike says. The Thursday night concerts at Normal Park will crank up on July 10 for a third season.
Gazebo Nights put on four concerts in 2012, ending with a Copper Box show that drew 600 people. With that kind of response from the community, the organizers knew the shows must go on.
Last year’s series of seven concerts drew an average of 300 people. Mensching and Karow expect those numbers to climb this year.
“There is lots of community excitement about it,” Karow said. “It’s fun to do.”
The initial plan for Gazebo Nights came from the encouragement of others to hold concerts in the new gazebo, built in 2011 with a donation from Lydia Bauman as a home for the Merrill City Band.
Once they decided to do it, that first year’s concert series came together in about 10 days. They reserved the park, booked the bands and lined up sponsors.
“The sponsorship has just been phenomenal,” Mike said. They have had people come up to them after concerts and ask to be sponsors.
For Gazebo Nights, Mensching lines up a variety of bands. He’s been promoting shows for many years and works with up to 100 bands. This year’s lineup includes blues, rock, reggae, acoustic and everything in between. 
“I try to do a variety,” Mensching said. “I had a chance to get a reggae band (KOJO) this year.”
While there isn’t a country band on the roster, some of the other artists will touch on country in their sets.
They don’t book local bands for Gazebo Nights because those bands are familiar to Merrill audiences.
“The idea is to change it up and expose people to some of the bands they never get to see,” Karow said.
The bands typically stay at Mensching’s house Thursday night. Five of the seven bands will be playing at The Rock in Merrill the next night.
HAVEN and the Merrill Band Boosters will be selling food and concessions at the Gazebo Nights concerts this summer. 
“They were good enough to start with us and we’re sticking with them,” Mensching said.
Working with local non-profit organizations is in keeping with the spirit of Gazebo Nights, Karow added.
“We’re not making money off this, it’s for the community,” she said.
All shows run from 6-8 p.m. In the event of inclement weather, the event will be moved to Les & Jim’s Lincoln Lanes.