Benefit shows are a mainstay of a winter weekends in Madison, and this one brings musicians and artists together for Inspire and The Water Project, the Project Lodge, Rock with REACH, Comedor Fest I and Comunidad Educativa Berea, and Launchpad. The calendar also includes: productions of Miscast, A Thousand Words, Black Comedy, Wired for Love, Magic School Bus Live: The Climate Challenge, and a new edition of Opera Up Close; Urban Spoken Word; performances by the MSO; more live music from Tim Grimm, Harmonious Wail, Quietdrive, Martin Sexton, and The Lemonheads; the Polar Dash; and, last but not least, the Isthmus Beer & Cheese Fest.
NOTEWORTHY: Iran frees 52 American hostages after 444 days, 1981.
Brink Lounge, 7 pm
Grimm dusts his folk tunes with observations from his 80-acre farm, earning kudos from critics at the Chicago Sun-Times and judges at the Just Plain Folks Music Awards. Macyn Taylor, a 17-year-old guitar prodigy who recently graduated from UW-Milwaukee, opens the show.
TAPIT/New Works, 7 pm
Hilarity ensues as Music Theatre of Madison coerces 15 of its performers to belt out Broadway tunes and other musical-theater numbers woefully mismatched with their vocal talents.
Stoughton Opera House, 7:30 pm
The excellent local practitioners of Django Reinhardt's gypsy jazz sound kick off their 25th-anniversary year with a gig at the splendid concert hall in the burb to the south.
Overture Hall, 7:30 pm. Also Saturday (8 pm) & Sunday (2:30 pm), Jan. 21 & 22
The MSO begins 2012 with a performance of Prokofiev's Violin Concerto No. 2, featuring soloist Augustin Hadelich, whose tone is neat and compact. Also on the program are Debussy's "Images No. 2: Ibéria" and Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 2 ("Little Russian").
Overture Center's Promenade Hall, 7:30 pm. Also Saturday (7:30 pm) & Sunday (2 pm), Jan. 21 & 22
Forward Theater Company's season continues with this work by Madison playwright Gwendolyn Rice. A world premiere, the play features American Players Theatre's Sarah Day, and tells interlocking stories about the photographer Walker Evans and a collection of rare photographs.
Bartell Theatre, 8 pm. Also Saturday, Jan. 21, 8 pm
Strollers Theatre stages the one-act comedy by Peter Shaffer (Amadeus) about the mayhem that unfolds when the lights go out in an apartment. Shaffer's gimmick is that the stage is lit, so the fun is watching the actors stumble all over everything.
UW Music Hall, 8 pm
This comic chamber opera by Madison composer Jerry Hui has its world premiere tonight. An online addict uses a teasing alias to send messages to an Internet scammer, with surprising results.
Redamte Coffee House, 8 pm
Straddling the worlds of alt-rock, pop-punk and emo, this Minneapolis five-piece landed tunes in an NBA ad campaign and an Xbox snowboarding game during their three-year stretch with Epic Records. Get to know their just-released cover album, Your Record Our Spin, which was funded by a successful Kickstarter campaign. With Juneau, Aaron Jennings and Dan Lepien.
Inferno, 9 pm
Local label Belladonna Records has curated an evening of live electronica and DJ-crafted gems to raise money for the Water Project, a charity that helps deliver clean, safe water to underdeveloped countries. For the event's live sets, Samarah infuses glitchy IDM soundscapes with hints of trip-hop and dream pop, and the Demix melds rock 'n' roll, film soundtracks and old-school rave music into an aural confection. With DJs Tinhead and Screendoor.
NOTEWORTHY: Pattie Boyd marries George Harrison, 1966.
Olbrich Gardens, 10 am
Physicians Plus sponsors this kids' event, which has youngsters running a winter race course as they pull sleds bearing plush polar bears. The lesson is that outdoor recreation is fun and healthy in winter, something every Wisconsinite can stand to remember.
Overture Center's Capitol Theater, 11 am
This live version of the books and cartoons is a musical adventure about global warming, whisking kids around the world to witness signs of climate change and emphasizing the need for conservation.
Alliant Energy Center's Exhibition Hall, 2-6 pm
If you're a fan of craft beer and exquisite cheese, there's no better place to live than Wisconsin. At this Isthmus event, taste the goods from scores of Badger State brewers and cheesemakers.
Majestic Theatre, 6:30 pm
Julian Lynch, All Tiny Creatures, Icarus Himself, Whitney Mann and Anna Vogelzang -- heavy-hitters from Madison's indie-music scene -- convene to raise money for the tiny East Johnson Street storefront that hosts concerts and art shows for up-and-comers near and far. Fashion shows by Good Style Shop and Vintage Madison swathe the evening in a retro vibe.
Brink Lounge, 7 pm
This party is spearheaded by area musician Keefe Klug, who works for REACH a Child, a local nonprofit that donates books to children in crisis. It unveils a new CD featuring songs by the evening's slate of performers, which includes Charlie Kim, JT Roach, Beth Kille, Sam Osborne, Luke Jorgensen and Klug himself.
Genna's Lounge, 7 pm
This group's events prove that poetry is better not only when it is recited aloud, but also when it is loudly evaluated by raucous spectators. Tonight's special guest is Chicago's J.W. "Baz" Basilo, a competitive spoken-word poet nonpareil.
Stoughton Opera House, 7:30 pm
Both The New York Times and pop-rock superstar John Mayer have gushed about Sexton's live performances, which showcase his stunning vocal range, mastery of blue-eyed soul and utter lack of pretentiousness. With Bhi Bhiman.
Revolution Cycles, 9 pm
Local rockers Dead Luke, Control and Little Legend melt faces at the east-side bike shop to raise money for Comunidad Educativa Berea, an organization that feeds hungry kids in Mexico. With DJs Estebahn and Evan Woodward.
High Noon Saloon, 9 pm
This show, which helps out the statewide competition for high school rock 'n' rollers, features the Big Payback, the horn-based funk and soul group that won Isthmus Band to Band Combat last month. Also on the bill are Super Irie & the Rockstones, Sam Lyons, the Beth Kille Band and DJ Funkenstein.
NOTEWORTHY: U.S. Supreme Court hands down Roe v. Wade decision, 1973.
Madison Museum of Contemporary Art, 1 pm
Madison Opera general director Kathryn Smith hosts a multimedia preview of Galileo Galilei, the opera by Philip Glass that the company stages in Overture Center's Playhouse starting Jan. 26. UW-Madison history of science professor Michael Shank discusses Galileo, the astronomer whose heliocentrism rubbed some people the wrong way.
High Noon Saloon, 8 pm
Watch Evan Dando and company perform their 1992 album, It's a Shame About Ray, which transformed them into teen heartthrobs after a half-dozen years as a scrappy punk band. With Meredith Sheldon and Surgeons in Heat.