The meeting provided some hints about what to expect from Make Music Madison, a citywide music event planned for June 21, 2013.
Mayor Paul Soglin emphasized three big themes during the "Strengthening Madison Music" town hall meeting last night at the Bartell Theatre: Madison's untapped musical potential, making sure local musicians can get paid and the refreshing power of music in new contexts, especially public spaces.
The meeting provided some hints about what to expect from Make Music Madison, a citywide music event planned for June 21, 2013. It offered few details on how Soglin might execute other music initiatives he hopes to fund through the city's next budget, which include another music festival and a music video promoting the city. Speaking of the budget, neither Soglin nor anyone in the audience mentioned that the meeting took place as the mayor and Common Council continue to battle over public funding for the Overture Center.
The town-hall panel was comprised of Soglin, Alder Scott J. Resnick, Madison Arts Commission chair Jose Madera and Make Music Madison organizer Michael Rothschild. The panel spent about a half-hour explaining Soglin's music proposals, then held a question-and-answer session with audience members. About 150 people attended.
Make Music Madison, Rothschild explained, would place musicians in public spaces all over town on June 21, the summer solstice. It's inspired by Paris' Fête de la Musique, and similar events that take place on the United States on the solstice. Rothschild, a retired UW-Madison business professor, said his nephew founded New York City's version, Make Music New York.
Rothschild said that several neighborhood associations around Madison had already expressed interest in participating. He said Make Music Madison will use matching software to help match performers to sites, starting in February. Rothschild and Soglin said the event's public spaces could include an array of private and city-owned sites -- front yards, bus stops, even, Soglin suggested, the bus itself. (After the town hall, Rothschild convened a secondary meeting with about 25 people interested in participating in the festival.)
It was strange that nobody ever brought up Busking For Books, the Literacy Network fundraiser that places buskers all along State Street in the spring. Like the proposed Make Music Madison, it converts at least a part of the city into a surprising musical experience. It's a smaller-scale version of the "continuous wall of music" Make Music Madison promises on its website.
During the meeting, nobody said much specific at all about the city potentially supporting a "South By Southwest-style" music festival, an option Soglin wants to explore via a $20,000 study. Soglin and Resnick were able to provide only a little more detail on the mayor's music video proposal. Soglin talked about one inspiration for the concept, a video in which the residents of Grand Rapids, Michigan, parade through their city singing "American Pie."
Soglin said his views about the Grand Rapids video had been "grossly misinterpreted," which seemed to mean he doesn't envision Madison trying anything quite so hokey. "We can do a million times better," he said. But Soglin also admitted it would be hard for Madisonians to build consensus as to how to create a video that best represents the city.
Even during the more tense moments of the meeting's question-and-answer session, Soglin was soft-spoken and deferential. He was also short on specific answers. When one man asked how a music video would help local musicians, Soglin gave a rambling response: He talked about the benefits of cities located on "active waterways," without demonstrating how a video would translate to tangible benefits for Madison musicians. The mayor even kept his humble cool when Brian Standing, who plays trombone in the Forward Marching Band, called out Soglin and the Common Council for passing an ordinance that appears to restrict buskers from asking people for money.
Dana Pellebon, a local music and theater promoter, asked the panel how the city planned to support the venues and music Madison already has. Soglin replied, "I don't have an answer to that one either, but I've watched that struggle for many years." He added that he used to represent the long-closed State Street club Merlyn's as an attorney.
Local hip-hop promoter Mark "Shah" Evans challenged the panel to make a place for hip-hop in Make Music Madison. He said that currently most local venues, except for the Frequency, shy away from local hip-hop, and that big labels avoid local hip-hop artists because Madison is perceived as an anti-hip-hop town. Rothschild's reply embodied both the drawn-out nature of the civic process and something more immediate: "One of the boxes on the organizational chart we're working on says hip-hop," he said, then invited Evans to "take command of that box."
What the meeting did make clear is that a diverse contingent is curious about how the city can support music. Musicians in the audience included Brian Steele of recently disbanded metal outfit Wife, Aaron Konkol of reggae band Natty Nation, hard-working bass player Nick Moran and veteran drummer Pete Kaesberg. Promoters and venue owners in the audience included Darwin Sampson of the Frequency, Karen Reece of the Madison Hip-Hop Awards, Tag Evers of True Endeavors, Steve Sperling of the Barrymore Theatre, and Matt Gerding and Scott Leslie of the Majestic Theatre. Plenty other prominent local music figures were present, like Broadjam CEO Roy Elkins and WORT-FM music director Sybil Augustine.
Here is why that list of names matters: These are all people one comes to know when covering music in Madison, but I've never seen all of them convene in one place for a common purpose. Which brings me around to a problem I've been harping on for years: Madison music comprises so many different little cliques and clusters of people, and there isn't enough communication or collaboration among them.
As the meeting wrapped up, I saw local Latin-jazz bandleader Tony Castañeda introduce himself to Sampson. He asked Sampson how the city could support his venue. A new conversation began between two Madison music veterans who apparently hadn't talked much previously. Judging from the post-meeting chatter that filled the Bartell, it wasn't the only such interaction happening.