The Madison music scene is eclectic, offering everything from Art Paul Schlosser's streetwise kazoo to Luke Polipnick's experimental jazz. But for sheer variety, you've got to be impressed by the only event that dares to promote itself with this tagline: More bands than you can shake a bratwurst at.
That event is the World's Largest Brat Fest, the four-day charity and food festival that has emerged as the city's biggest music festival. This year, Brat Fest welcomes 112 musical artists to four stages on the Alliant Energy Center's Willow Island, Friday, May 27 through Monday, May 30.
What's more, 25 acts are playing at two politically informed Brat Fest alternatives. These came about partly because Ralph Stayer, president of Brat Fest sponsor Johnsonville, made campaign contributions to Gov. Scott Walker. Wurst Times features 20 acts at the High Noon Saloon, Brink Lounge and Brass Ring on Saturday, May 28, from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Alt Bratfest takes place Sunday at Orton Park from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., with five acts performing on the Spaight Street stage.
How does a music fan navigate so many choices? Not easily. Let's face it, the average Madisonian might have time to catch a few of these bands this weekend, but not all 137.
Here are my picks - six bands worth checking out. For sure, the other 131 have plenty to offer. But these are fresh local and regional acts noteworthy for their creative musical approaches.
I'm tempted to close with another sausage pun. But that could end up making this the wurst column I ever wrote. Brat eaters, enjoy the weekend's heap of hearty musical dishes.
Mean Tooth Grin
World's Largest Brat Fest, Friday, May 27, 7:40 pm
You might not think a trio could make such a formidable wall of sound. The psychedelic blues-rock of this Wausau band is powered by the lean blend of Tom Jordan's guitar, Brian Miller's drums and Seth Heffner's bass. Mean Tooth Grin generates enough sonic heat to warm even the coldest central Wisconsin nights.
A Minute Jack Forum
Wurst Times, Saturday, May 28, 1:15 pm
This Madison indie-rock band writes meandering, impressionistic songs propelled by driving drums and splashes of electric guitar. "At Sea With Scale" may cast a dark mood, but the lively percussion keeps it earnest and energetic.
World's Largest Brat Fest, Saturday, May 28, 6:10 pm
After leaving San Francisco and spending three years wayfaring across the U.S., Laube settled in Madison in 2010. She's emerged as one of the best acoustic songwriters in the city. Her voice can take you places. Her folk songs embody the peaceful, easy feeling the Eagles once sang about.
Weapons of Mass DeFunktion
World's Largest Brat Fest, Sunday, May 29, 7:40 pm
Blending rock and rap isn't new. But what sets this Madison group apart is their seamless integration of jazz, funk and reggae, too. Their musical complexity may well go unnoticed, because their songs are irresistibly catchy.
Chick Singer Band
Alt Bratfest, Sunday, May 29, 3 pm
The seven veteran Madison musicians in Chick Singer Band have logged time in some of the city's most free-spirited bands over the years, including Reptile Palace Orchestra, the Gomers and Yid Vicious. Now they've assembled to act out the role of cheesy 1960s lounge players. Chick Singer Band won't just play. They'll entertain.
World's Largest Brat Fest, Monday, May 30, 10:20 am
Together with his band, the Surgical Precision, Keefe Klug carries on the great Badger roots-rock tradition. Klug serves his take with a blend of pop and funk.