It's been the long-talked-about dream of local music fans -- that we here in Madison should do something like South by Southwest, that we should become the Austin of the North.
This weekend, that dream won't seem so far-fetched.
The inaugural Forward Music Festival brings 72 bands to eight Madison venues this Friday and Saturday night. It's the most ambitious pop music event I've seen pass through town in my 16 years here. Arguably, it's the biggest gig Madison has ever hosted.
Will it have a lasting impact on our local scene?
That's what I asked four influential Madison musicians who are playing this weekend's festival. Predictably (this is Madison), there was no consensus.
Local songwriters want to believe FMF will transform the fate of local talent, but they're ready to carry on if it doesn't.
Here's a summary of the perspectives I heard on how FMF might change Madison music:
Crane Your Swan Neck
Cafe Montmartre, Friday, Sept. 19, 8 pm
Madison as a city has struggled to find a national voice, and the festival may draw a lot of attention here.
We'll be playing just when everyone is starting to get in line for Neko Case. But hopefully on their way, they'll walk by Cafe Montmartre and hear us playing.
The hope for the festival is that people from surrounding areas, maybe even from one of the coasts, will attend. It has the potential to give local bands exposure to audiences we don't normally play to.
The fact is, this festival is being mentioned in the national music press. That can't hurt.
I think the festival is going to show that Madison is working hard to improve our music scene and that we care about it.
The Frequency, Friday, Sept. 19, 9:30 pm
The impact of the festival remains to be seen, this being the first big event. I would hope it will make an impact. I try to remain positive. Beyond the festival, I've been really proud to be part of what's been going on in the Madison music scene for the past five-six years.
A lot of bands are staying here now and getting committed to building a scene. You see that especially with the bands on Crustacean and Sector Five Records - bands like Droids Attack.
I moved here in '91, and there were good acts then, too. But they would put out albums, and it was like a tree falling in the forest. Back then, people tended to see Madison as a stepping stone. If you wanted to make it, you had to move to a bigger city.
We're practicing for this show. We have a new record coming out next year and we'll be playing some new material from that.
The Box Social
Majestic Theater, Friday, Sept. 19, 4:30 pm (acoustic) and The Frequency, Saturday, Sept. 20, 5:30 pm
From my point of view, the Festival is a big deal. This seems a lot like South by Southwest in format and the fact that a lot of the bands playing are not from Wisconsin.
We're opening for Bob Mould. That means we'll be playing to an older crowd than usual. Any time we play for an established band, it's a great opportunity to be seen by people who wouldn't otherwise come to one of our shows.
We've also been asked to play an acoustic set, and that will be different for us. We're preparing for it. It definitely won't be just another show for us.
High Noon Saloon, Saturday, Sept. 20, 9 pm
It's a very ambitious project, and I'm curious to see how it turns out. I've always been skeptical that Madison could support a music scene at that level.
I've always tended to see Madison music as being supported by a small, tight-knit group of fans. They're the adventurous listeners who are willing to take a chance on a show even if they don't know the band.
I think the festival will bring in more fans that go to shows because they know a certain band and want to see them. Some local musicians might get seen by these people at the festival, but will they ever come out to see them again?
Droids Attack will treat this show like any other show. We always want to put on the best show we can.