The Madison Pop Festival was a big deal. At least, it was for the many hundreds of music fans who attended the shows throughout the weekend, culminating in the Saturday night -- make that Sunday morning -- performance by critics' favorite Joanna Newsom at the UW Memorial Union Great Hall. The weekend of music was in many ways like the small-scale version of a major music festival as hoped for by its organizers. And like any popular music festival of this scale and visibility, there was no shortage of persons commenting on it.
As the festival approached, there was little doubt that it would be a major musical event in Madison. Given the size and influence of the university, the location of the city between Milwaukee, Chicago and Minneapolis, and the skyrocketing profile of Newsom given the recent release of her highly-praised album Ys, a large turnout was inevitable. This was guaranteed, in fact, following an announcement about the festival on Pitchfork, the music Web site both loved and reviled for its influence in early 21st Century tastemaking.
Newsom arrived in Madison only a day after playing two back to back shows at the 400 Bar in the West Bank neighborhood of Minneapolis. Both of these performances were packed as well, as reported by one fan unable to attend either show. The same situation was the case in Madison.
Madison music blogger Ryan Matteson attended the late night show at the Great Hall, commenting on both the size of the crowds and the quality of the performances. He writes:
Last night Joanna Newsom played University of Wisconsin's Great Hall as part of the grand finale of the Madison Pop Fest, which once again proved to be a brilliant sucess for the city of Madison and the UW student body. Tardy arrivals by Joanna and Bill Callahan combinded with an overwhelming turnout lead to a sense of apprehension and tension at the beginning of the evening, but those who stuck around we treated to a night to remember.Matteson also notes the critical laudations for Newsom as well as the "spellbinding and gorgeous" aspects of her live show. The subsequent discussion by readers, though, focuses on the crowd size and atmosphere at the student union. This subject is also a significant topic for others writing about the show.
Why was the show running late? Newsom, opener Bill Callahan (of Smog), and their entourages were eating dinner. A festival organizer commented on the situation. He wrote:
joanna et al. went to dinner at like 830 and promised to be back by 10. 10 comes and then are totally unavailable on the various cellphones they gave. finally i get word they are sending bill callahan (smog) back in a cab. he gets back around 1025 and is really slow to get ready to play.He also noted turnout reached 1100-1500, with more than 500 persons turned away due to the crowd size.
after bill's set (which was too long and somber in my mind), joanna and crew take more time to get ready. and they don't really go on until like 1140-1150. ridiculous!
One fan missed her performance due to its late start, while another simply didn't attend after hearing about the large crowds. One fan was unhappy about the situation after being turned away, while another invoked "the threat of a hipster riot."
Others wrote much more extensively about the festival. After commenting on The Bracelets ("some real potential there") and Ambulette ("a fantastic job"), Steve Schwerbel wrote extensively on the scene surrounding the Newsom set. He waited with a crowd of other eager attendees from 8:15 p.m. until the doors opened at 9:30 p.m., and wrote:
The mob-in to the Great Hall actually went off well, with no fatalities except for the one emo kid who "accidentally" cut himself on a very sharp hand railing, apparently. Anyway, no one was stomped on, and Joe and I formed a coat pile with some other indie kids who proceeded to get a slow clap started. That failed to produce any results other than a vague look of confusion on George's face. (Other kids tried to get a slow clap going later. Their work was totally derivative, and they are n00bs.) Anyhow, it slowly became apparent that Nothing Was Happening, and the indie kids again grew restless. This in itself should have worried George, because usually indie kids are just lethargic, but he was on his cell phone, and apparently didn't notice.The show did start though, with the reviewer giving mixed comments for opener Callahan and high praise for Newsom. "So all in all, it was 100% worth every hassle we dealt with," he wrote. "Standing for 5 hours, being packed like sardines, first on the stairs and then in the Great Hall, the heat -- all worth it. A truly incredible experience."
That was about the point that it was announced that Joanna and Bill Callahan were still eating dinner (hopefully in a whimsical, interestingly offbeat fashion), and would be late. It was at this point that I was really glad this wasn't a metal show. I'm generally thankful for that, as I'm averse to mullets, worn ironically or not, but in this case, there most certainly would have been large, uncoordinated violence (which is to say, we had a chance to make up for the lack of rioting on Halloween; yes, the Joanna Newsom show came closer to producing a riot than Halloween - isn't that sad).
Another person attended a simliar set of shows at Memorial Union, praising both The Bracelets and Ambulette, as well as giving good marks to Hockey Night. After this initial set of shows, this fan also described the wait to get into the Great Hall, noting "once the line started moving it went pretty quick." In the end, though, he left early after being unimpressed by Newsom. Meanwhile, WSUM DJ Ivan Mairesse reviewed the show for Capital Newspapers, describing the audience as "surprisingly polite," Callahan's set as featuring "a variety pack of old favorites," and Newsom's performance as ethereal.
Looking for images? Glaswegian photographer Susie Young captured images of both Callahan's and Newsom's sets, publishing a number of photos on her MySpace and Flickr pages. Local photographer Jeremy Nelson also photographed the festival, publishing three photos of Newsom, three photos of Hockey Night, and one of the Bracelets.
There was much more to the festival, however, than the headlining show on Saturday night. There were four other concerts at both UW student unions on Friday and Saturday evenings, featuring a wide variety of artists.
Madison music vlogger Aaron Veenstra attended some of the shows, and is kicking off a series of 15 video clips featuring performances at the festival. The first features Michigan rockers Mason Proper playing "The World Is Smaller Than You Think" during its Friday night set at Union South's Club 770. More video shot by Veenstra will be published here over the next few weeks.
Isthmus contributor Joe Uchill, meanwhile, attended the Saturday night show at Club 770 headlined by Brother Ali. Uchill reviewed Ali's performance as energetic and "visually intense." There's also more discussion about the festival at TDPF.
These comments represent the bulk of thoughts published so far about the festival, though there's certainly much more likely to come. This weekend marked the end of the fall semester schedule for the Wisconsin Union Directorate Music Committee, though hopefully only the beginning of the story for the Madison Pop Festival.