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Wednesday, January 28, 2015 |  Madison, WI: 25.0° F  Overcast
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The new, improved Madison Pop Festival could be the start of something big
An interview with co-founder Jamie Hanson
Joanna Newsom
Joanna Newsom
Credit:Drag City

UW psychology grad student Jamie Hanson has his fingers crossed that this weekend's Madison Pop Festival will become a fixture of the local music calendar. Sponsored by the Wisconsin Union Directorate, the event runs Fri. and Sat., Dec. 8-9, at both UW Union South and UW Memorial Union, and features five concerts that will showcase local, regional and national hip-hop, indie-rock and world music acts. The festival culminates on Saturday night at Memorial Union's Great Hall with a much-anticipated concert by harp-playing indie phenom Joanna Newsom and Bill Callahan of Smog.

Hanson spoke with Isthmus last week about the event and its prospects for the future. An excerpt of this interview follows below.

The Daily Page: First of all, this is now called the Madison Pop Festival?
Hanson: Last spring it was called Madison Fest. My colleague Danny [Tenenbaum] and I are co-coordinators and we both come from the Wisconsin Union Directorate music committee. We're both volunteers. That helps book the student unions -- Club 770 at Union South, the Rathskeller at Memorial Union, the Terrace and a couple more spots. So we both met on that.

A preponderance of the funding is coming from [WUD] but we've also gotten some other university organizations involved, some other groups and funding sources to try make this happen. We have a lot of different grants and a lot of sponsors like Associated Students of Madison and the Multi-Cultural Coalition. The African American Studies Department, the Campus Women's Center and other groups have helped get the word out and helped with staffing and things like that.

What's the relationship between the Madison Fest event held last spring and the pop festival?
Danny and I both worked on the last one. Danny, while studying abroad in Asia, thought about doing something on a smaller scale in Madison that would kind of be an analogue to South by Southwest. The music committee also does a kind of punk rock event called Watch the World Explode, but some people also just call that Madison Fest, too. There was also a Web site that used the name Madison Fest. So just to avoid confusion, we changed the name. It's not meant to be pop in the classic sense, more just like 'popular.'

The last one had panels and workshops, what about this one?
The artists this year are kind of bigger and a little higher up on the food chain, and it's just hard to cajole them into doing it. Especially when you talk to their agents kind of agree to it and then you talk to the tour manager and they're a little warier and then you talk to the artist and they maybe feel like it's kind of being sprung on them. So, we're trying to do some panels, but we don't know if it's going to work out.

You have Joanna Newsom and Bill Callahan as headliners. How did you work that out?
That's later on Saturday night at Great Hall. There're probably going to be massive crowds. It's Bill Callahan [of Smog] with a band, and. I presume he'll even being playing Smog songs. All told, I don't know what the breakdown is for her band versus his, but there's 11 people coming in their entourage who are musicians. She has a six-piece string section is what I've heard. She also has a seven-foot harp, so it should be quite interesting. I think people might be quite taken aback. Her new album is quite good, but it's quite dense. All the songs average somewhere around 10 minutes. One of them, "Emily," is 12 or 14 minutes, which is obviously a lot to digest for a typical audience. Especially live. I'm interested in seeing how they're going to pull it off live.

That's short for a jam band, but you're not having any of those. The festival is all indie rock and hip-hop, some world music, right?
The thing is the music committee books a ton of jam bands. The Big Wu comes through and a thousand kids come into town, and it's such a big deal.

For indie-rock shows we were kind of getting frustrated because sometimes you're a little ahead of the curve. Sometimes you book something and then two months later it becomes all the rage. I just booked a band called Annuals from North Carolina; the show had about 50 people. Now they just got a blurb in Rolling Stone, a quarter page. I just thought, "This is so frustrating." If the Rolling Stone piece had come out first, there probably would have been 150 kids. Or maybe even more than that. Also, 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, and we just can't afford them.

So we thought maybe we could also get at something before it becomes huge and maybe can't come to Madison because it's too big. And we just thought if we kind of pulled everything together -- you know, put a couple bands together -- and if every band brought in 20, 30 kids, we'd have a bigger event. And then the larger shows would have even stronger draw. I think Smog was near capacity at the High Noon the last, so the show with Joanna should do quite well.

I know Danny Tenenbaum is going to be graduating, but you want this to be an annual event. Will you stay involved?
Yes. I'll be here. I know Danny's going to Egypt next semester, but I hope when he gets back he'll stay involved in some way.... We want it to be an annual event and have it be a little bigger each year.

Note: Details about the time and locations for the five concerts featured in the festival are available on The Guide. This includes the Friday night shows headlined by Sleeping in the Aviary and Yawo, along with the Saturday night shows headlined by Hockey Night, Brother Ali, and Joanna Newsom. There's also ongoing discussion about the fest on TDPF.

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