Last month I wrote about the biggest local music story of the year so far: The UW-Madison campus music scene, and live gigs around State Street, are resurgent (see "Class Acts," 3/5/10).
At the center of the story is the Pub. The tavern at 552 State St. has hired Brett Newski to book music and has begun hosting Madison bands every Friday and Saturday night.
Newski knows something about campus music. He graduated from UW four months ago and fronts the popular UW band the Nod.
He's also passionate about making State Street a live-music destination.
"Nobody downtown is used to seeing a live band when they walk into the bar," he says. "Look at Austin, Texas. It's nearly a clone of Madison esthetically, and everyone is a fiend for live music. Picture every single shop on State Street having live music every night. That's Austin. That place rages into the wee hours every night."
The Pub began booking occasional shows last fall. Earlier this year, Newski started helping the midsize venue, capacity 297, promote one monthly show.
"I brought in Madison party favorites Steez and Chafo on one bill in early March," says Newski. "The place was packed." A few weeks later, Newski was hired to book Pub shows every weekend.
"I've geared it toward funk, jam and rock 'n' roll, groovier stuff people can dance to," says Newski. "Madison has a thriving jam-electronica scene, a genre that fits perfectly in the venue. There will be no cover charge."
The watchword is party music, says Newski. "I would say the party intensity of the Pub is unmatched by most places downtown. A handful of cover bands will be on the bill as well. Beer and sing-along hits always go well together."
For now, Newski says he'll book UW acts and other local bands. His spring lineup includes student bands like the Bombshelters and Two Bird Rock, as well as established Madison artists like Mark Croft and Lucas Cates. The venue has no immediate plans to feature national touring acts.
"There isn't a consistent music joint on campus for local bands," says Newski. "The Union does mostly national stuff. Madison bands need loving too. And by God, we're going to give it to them."
So far, the Pub has been attracting "a nice combo-crowd of college and young professionals," says Newski. He notes that the venue is planning major enhancements this summer, including an upgraded stage and a state-of-the-art sound system.
For Newski, getting hired to book bands at the Pub was a matter of being in the right place at the right time.
"The bartenders had been booking bands, and while they were stellar guys, they weren't music guys and generally were not interested in booking," he says. "They were happy when I stepped in. For live music to work, you can't just say, 'If you book them, people will come.' We saw that mistake happen with the Ram Head. Someone needs to be driving the bus."
Newski intends to stay involved with the music scene. "I'm gigging with the Nod, helping out with the MAMAs and working on a record right now," he says. "Madison is a tight, cozy community, and its players get to know one another quickly and scratch each other's backs."
As long as the Pub's owners keep faith in the live music plan, "I'll make it work," says Newski. "Live music is an investment, and you can't expect immediate results. It's a building process that will pay off for the musicians, the bar and the city in the months to come."