This weekend's SoCo Music Experience has it all: appearances by the Roots, the Black Keys and legendary Wu- Tang Clan rhymer GZA; a digital midway featuring chances to play Rock Band and Guitar Hero with friends and strangers; and, of course, plenty of opportunities to sample festival sponsor Southern Comfort's sweet, fruit- and spice-laced liqueur.
And lest I forget, the event is also free to anyone who's reached his or her 21st birthday. Just show up at the Alliant Energy Center's Willow Island on Saturday, Sept. 6, ID in hand, and you're good to go.
It's a great deal for music fans. But what the heck is SoCo doing in Madison for the second year in a row? Isn't this a third-tier market, at best?
The answer, says Sean Wachsman, PR manager for Southern Comfort, is twofold. First, he says, unsurprisingly, Badgerland is very good to the nation's distillers: "Wisconsin as a whole is a really big market for us. With Madison being one of the major cities in the state with a high concentration of 21- to 29-year-olds, it works out well for us."
But, it turns out, restricted population size also matters when it comes to putting on free music fests that also act as all-day marketing events. "In bigger markets - New York, Los Angeles - where there's so many concerts, this kind of event can get lost," says Wachsman.
Not that SoCo believes it can slap down just any bill in a moderate-size town like Madison and expect an ample turnout of young adults. The lineups it brings to each city that hosts a SoCo event are chosen by C3, the same festival gurus who put together Lollapalooza. Hence the presence here of hip-hop and rock acts that appeal to a diverse group of young people.
Okay, so SoCo has the music thing down to a science. But don't the guys back at corporate worry about the collective behavior of that big, young, alcohol-imbibing crowd the SoCo Music Experience brings together?
Not at all, says Wachsman. "The servers we work with are all TIPS trained," he explains, referencing the program that, among other things, teaches bartenders how to keep from overserving their clientele. "They make sure tipsy people aren't served anymore."
Besides, he adds, "We've found that the people who come out to these events, their maturity level is really high. It really isn't a problem."
Okay. But we'll be checking out the carnage in the parking lot on Saturday when the P.A. goes silent for the final time. And so will the cops. Hint, hint.
SoCo Music Experience
Willow Island at Alliant Energy Center, Saturday, Sept. 6, 2 pm