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Tuesday, March 3, 2015 |  Madison, WI: 28.0° F  Light Freezing Drizzle Fog/Mist
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Catch a rising star
The Madison Pop Festival books bands on the way up
Bill Callahan
Bill Callahan

UW students Danny Tenenbaum and Jamie Hanson had so much success with last spring's Madison Fest that they decided to hold the second incarnation of the campus music festival a little early. Now called the Madison Pop Festival, the event runs Friday and Saturday, Dec. 8 and 9, at Union South and the Memorial Union, focusing on hip-hop, indie rock and world music. It includes a major concert on Dec. 9 at the Memorial Union's Great Hall featuring Bill Callahan of Smog and much-talked-about singer/harpist Joanna Newsom, whose blend of avant-garde music, Appalachian folk and indie style both embraces and discombobulates musical Americana. All concerts are free and open to the public.

Hanson and Tenenbaum have plenty of experience booking acts locally through their work with the Wisconsin Union Directorate's music committee. In fact, that's where they met three and half years ago. But Hanson says they see the Madison Pop Festival (which is supported by the WUD and grants from university groups) as serving a different purpose from the weekly gigs they've helped put together at both UW student unions.

"The point was to intermingle all these genres and try to get some name recognition for the event," he explains. "Maybe some of the bands won't have name recognition right away, but people will come knowing that the festival is booking something good."

Hanson also hopes that many of those bookings will be acts on their way up. A native of Philadelphia, the psychology grad student admits to suffering culture shock after landing in Madison. He didn't see many indie-rockers and other artists who'd made a name for themselves nationally but weren't yet charging an exorbitant ticket price. He and Tenenbaum hope to fill that gap with the Madison Pop Festival.

"With ‘The O.C.' or ‘One Tree Hill' featuring the ‘hot new band' every week, you see these bands going from 100-seat venues to big theaters overnight, literally," says Hanson. "So we thought maybe we could get at something before it becomes huge and maybe can't come to Madison because it's too big."

A full schedule of acts ranging from Rhymesayers-associated rapper Brother Ali to the West African bandleader Yawo is now set. But Hanson says the music-oriented panels that were part of last year's event are still up in the air. In part, he says it's because of the festival's success at securing bigger names.

"The artists this year are a little higher up on the food chain. It's harder to cajole them or get agents to agree to it. We're trying to get some panels, but we're not sure that it's going to work out."

Tenenbaum is set to complete his undergraduate degree next spring, and it's unclear how involved he'll be in future festivals. Hanson, however, will definitely be around for the next four years while he's working on his Ph.D., and he plans on staying involved with the Madison Pop Festival during that time.

"It's kind of a way to keep myself young and still hip," he laughs.

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