For Polk County Musician, Home Is Where His Concerts Are

By Trevor Keller | October 13, 2016


A 100 year old schoolhouse turns into one of northwest Wisconsin’s most unusual music venues on Saturday nights in rural Polk County. Over two dozen fans pack into the Pipe Dream Center to hear Manfred Schonauer and his friends play rock and blues tunes from the 1950’s, ‘60s and ‘70s.

“Somehow they find their way to the Pipe Dream Center,” Schonauer said, “That’s really kind of neat.”

What makes The Pipe Dream Center special is that it’s also Schonauer’s home.

“That was the intent right from the start,” Schonauer said, “I could perform there, live there, teach there.”

Schonauer learned how to play keyboards growing up near Cologne, Germany. The son of a musician, Schonauer wanted to follow in his father’s footsteps. Dad had different plans.

“He put me into a trade school to be a clerk, an import/export clerk, which I just hated every single day,” Schonauer said.

Schonauer began playing gigs on the weekends until he had enough money to become a traveling musician. He came to the United States in the early 1970s, landing in Minneapolis. Eventually Schonauer decided to trade Twin Cities traffic for the country life in Wisconsin. In 1987, Schonauer and his wife bought the former Pipe Lake Public School building in rural Polk County. It would become their home.

“I didn’t know anything about heating or plumbing, nothing,” Schonauer recalls, “When we moved in, yeah it was a lot of work.”

The upstairs classrooms became a concert hall. Schonauer renovated the basement into a living room, bathroom and kitchen. He renamed the building the Pipe Dream Center, and began holding music classes, music therapy sessions and concerts there. His dream had come true.

“It’s inspirational,” Schonauer said, “I just love it.”

Twice a month during the summer, Manfred brings musicians from across the Midwest together for “Boogie Nights,” a Saturday night jam session filled with rock and blues tunes. It’s the Pipe Dream Center’s most popular event.

“We don’t have a setlist,” Schonauer said, “We never know the next tune. I call them and we play what we feel like.”

Even though the Pipe Dream Center is nearly 10 miles from the nearest town, fans from all around pack the two-room schoolhouse to hear Schonauer and his friends play. The best part for Schonauer is that he may have Wisconsin’s shortest commute. A quick walk down a flight of stairs at the end of the day, and he’s home.

“In the beginning when I had to do all this physical work here, the floors and the walls and everything else, I thought ‘Is there ever going to come a day when I can just go upstairs and play?’” Schonauer said, “That day is here.”

Trevor Keller

Trevor Keller

Trevor Keller is Executive Producer of “Wisconsin Life” for PBS Wisconsin. He loves photography and is always looking for a new Wisconsin park, trail or scenic overlook to explore.

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