The city of Madison becomes a stage June 21 as Make Music Madison returns for its fifth consecutive year.
The all-volunteer event, held annually on the summer solstice, will bring together more than 200 musicians — at 200 venues throughout the city — for 300 impromptu concerts.
The music will start at 8 a.m. and conclude at 9 p.m. The highest concentration of performances centers on downtown Madison’s isthmus.
“We like to say this is an event performed by anyone and enjoyed by everyone,” says Elizabeth Simcock, MMM’s president. “There is no vetting process and even if you’ve only sung in the shower you can perform at this event.”
Performances range from classical string quartets and opera to hip-hop and spoken word to Japanese taiko drumming and other world music.
Indie folk and indie rock are always popular acts, as are country, bluegrass and other forms of Americana music.
This year, Olbrich Park on Madison’s east side, will host a “drum zone.” There’s also a commemorative concert and sing-a-long at 5:45 p.m. in Central Park on the city’s isthmus featuring Devil’s Fen and the Kelsey Miles Band — held to honor the 50th anniversary of Otis Redding’s death.
The soul singer, along with four members of the Bar-Kays backup band, died when his private plane crashed into Lake Monona on the way to a performance at the former Madison nightclub The Factory.
The accident happened just three days after Redding recorded his iconic hit “(Sittin’on) The Dock of the Bay.”
Global becomes local
Make Music Madison began as a modest neighborhood effort when Simcock, a musician who performs with the Celtic vocal band Navan, lived in the Bay Creek neighborhood adjacent to Monona Bay.
Just one of many musicians living in the area, Simcock wanted to create a local music festival patterned on one she first witnessed in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
Simcock learned that event was in turn inspired by a citywide, daylong music event that began 25 years ago in Paris and has since spread to 750 cities worldwide.
“This is absolutely a global event, but there is nothing more local than having a neighbor come over to play banjo on your front porch,” she says.
The timing is deliberate and beneficial.
“We hold it each year on the summer solstice to help celebrate the first day of summer after a long Madison winter,” says Simcock, who works full-time as a software developer on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus. “We try to make sure that most of the music is performed outside.”
Gather on the balcony
One of the event’s longest-term and most interesting venues is Bob and Nancy’s Balcony at 406 Clemons Ave. in Madison’s Marquette neighborhood.
The private home, owned by Bob Queen and Nancy Kathman, has been a venue from the beginning, and this year will host sets starting at 5:30 p.m.
Featured artists include bluegrass/folk group The Getaway Drivers, rock band Shakey and Afro-Colombian band Son del Atlantico.
“It’s gotten so that neighbors come and set up folding chairs on the lawn to listen,” Simcock says. “Any spillover audience goes to the park that’s located across the street.”
Diversity — and boats
One of the most interesting sets Simcock remembers from past MMM events came from the Forward! Marching Band. The community band, which emerged from the massive protests that greeted Gov. Scott Walker’s first term, performed while perched on a pontoon boat sailing down the Yahara River.
“It’s been interesting because each year we never quite know what’s coming,” Simcock says. “There is always something strange to trip over.”
This year, there’s a daylong roster of five acts at Wingra Boats, 827 Knickerbocker St. on the shore of Lake Wingra. The sets open at noon with singer/songwriter Jason Moon — president of Warrior Songs, a nonprofit serving the needs of veterans — and ends with a 6:30 p.m. performance by the Glenwood Moravian Trombone Choir.
The diverse nature of performances speaks to the musical needs of those who don’t have a lot of performance experience, Simcock says.
“This event is not aimed at the working musician, but at the kid who wants to go out there and play to an audience for the first time.” Simcock says. “Last year, we had performers ranging from age 4 to whomever was the oldest raging granny, and I hesitate to guess which one that was.”
Even though it’s held only one day out of the calendar year, Simcock believes MMM has lasting benefits for Madison and its music community.
“This reminds people what it feels like to watch live music,” she explains. “There are now venues in the city who hire musical acts throughout the year just based on their experience hosting someone during past Make Music Madison events.”
The benefits are plentiful for the musicians, the venues that host them, and especially the listeners, says Simcock, who hopes to check out as many performances as she can.
And if she’s lucky, she may just find an act that tops a marching band on a pontoon boat.
Make Music Madison offers a bevy of local musicians performing at unusual venues throughout the day June 21. Visit makemusicmadison.org for a complete list of performers, venues and times.