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Thursday, October 23, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 52.0° F  Light Rain
The Daily
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A personal history of the Project Lodge
The good, the bad and the snuggly
on
The Project Lodge lit up East Johnson Street. For more photos, click gallery, above.
Credit:Phil Ejercito

The Project Lodge has enjoyed its share of adulation this year. Consider the February Kickstarter campaign that raised $9,000 for the all-ages venue, which will depart East Johnson Street in late September as Good Style Shop moves in. It summoned a wave of warm-and-fuzzy feelings and prompted lots of musicians and artists to evangelize about the venue's importance.

Many Madison journalists, myself included, like to champion the Lodge. The venue lets people fill gaps in the local arts scene with avant-garde music, poetry readings, conceptual installations and much more. With no new digs in sight, it's unclear if it will continue to serve this role.

Here in Madison, civic pride and creative drive sometimes give way to self-congratulation. Music and art are no exception. Great as it was to see people rally behind the Lodge, I yearned to break through the rah-rahs and the leadership's needlessly showy buzzwords, which include "ongoing dialogues" and "community hub."

To wish the venue the best and analyze its shortcomings, I present these memories. Some were lovely, some were ugly, and some were accompanied by the killer vegan tamales of Jenny Hoffman, my friend who occasionally books Lodge shows. None could have happened anywhere else.

June 2008: Frog Eyes, a band from Victoria, B.C., plays a set of frenetic, sprawling rock to a room packed with very sweaty people and one quite-dead air-conditioning unit. A bottle of tequila circulates the stage. Between the songs' epic, poetic gibbering, vocalist Carey Mercer refers to Wisconsin as "Disneyland for drunks." The crowd approves and cheers.

August 2008: A band has apparently damaged a piece of visual art while loading its gear into the Lodge. I find co-founder Kendra Larson having a minor fit. Later on, Milwaukee drummer Jon Mueller performs a brutal and brilliant solo set. He shines giant lights into the crowd, metal-style, throughout his entire performance.

April 2009: All of the Lodge's windows are papered over. A few little slots have been cut into the paper. Those who peer through them see local artist Chele Isaac's installation Things Are Supposed to Get Increasingly Beautiful Starting Today. The entire front room is filled with spinning light, glittery projections and hanging spheres that give the visuals additional shape. Isaac has basically turned the Lodge into a storefront-size kaleidoscope. Though the Lodge's visual-art offerings were largely overlooked, this show proved that the space wasn't just a concert venue.

September 2009: During the second annual Forward Music Festival, the Lodge and many other venues fill up with bands - and the feeling that the fest's organizers, including current Lodge director Bessie Cherry, have bitten off more than they can chew. But the night before the festival, the storefront becomes a showcase for the work of another unwieldy, eclectic group. This group is composed of screen-printers and graphic designers who've made posters for the festival's music acts. The best poster? The one local artist Dan Wiese created for the Reverend Peyton's Big Damn Band. It features a demented-looking fellow angrily boxing adorable little birdies.

October 2011: I perform at the Lodge's first-ever Sunday-night comedy open-mike, and good god, do I suck. This event has since gained a following. Now it gives local comics such as Jay Abbondanza and David Labedz another outlet for their jokes. And, to the delight of all, I've cut back on my stand-up attempts.

November 2011: As I begin settling into Madison after a year away, I'm reminded how the Lodge exposes me to new things. The show's best set is by Stacian, a one-woman synth-pop project from Milwaukee. The best thing to happen afterward comes from Lodge volunteer Tom Teslik. He opens the venue's ramshackle piano and leads an impromptu, off-key Beatles sing-along.

March 2012: The piano returns during a live set by Noxroy, the solo project of All Tiny Creatures' Andy Fitzpatrick. He turns to its keys as he creates burbling, droning instrumentals with a guitar and effects pedals. The music gels as he incessantly plunks out chords and bass notes. It's a good thing no one ever bothered to get rid of that piano.

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