If you stay in Madison long enough, you get to see the musical cycles come and go. Inevitably, you'll come to recognize that just when people are talking about how the scene isn't what it used to be, it's just about to take off again. Case in point: The Fountain, State Street's new music venue.
I went to the Fountain a couple of weeks ago to hear Louka Patenaude and Jeff Held, the founding members of The Fingers, kick off the Optimistic Sessions, their series of Monday-evening concerts. It's hard to categorize their music other than to say they are two terrific guitar-pickers who groove and slide their way through original material that is lyrically modern yet emotionally down-home as a Dust Bowl sing-along. When they sing harmony, you believe it.
The restaurant has a menu like that of an old Wisconsin road house -- ribs, steak, chops, homemade pie and root beer floats -- and a vibe to match. In fact, the small room is a natural acoustic space: You can hear every nuance of every song at a natural, conversational level. This is a place you'll want to be when the snow starts falling. It's warm, cozy and local in the best sense of the word.
Bartender Craig Spaulding from the gone but not forgotten Cafe Montmartre has once again rounded up a nice Hammond organ (Wednesday nights are organ night) and a serviceable acoustic piano (Saturday nights are curated by pianist Johannes Wallman, the new director of the UW jazz program). Coming soon are an actual stage, red velvet curtains and a P.A. system.
This place is the latest in a long line of hip local venues where an eclectic cast of characters can feel good about spending their time and their money. If you don't go soon, you're going to be accused of following the crowd.