Tag Archives: folk

The Sets List | Wild Belle, Lucinda Williams, Passion Pit, more

Wild Belle

8 p.m. Oct. 12 at Turner Hall Ballroom, Milwaukee. $12, $15 day of show. pabsttheater.com.

Brother-sister duo Elliot and Natalie Bergman made waves with Isles, their debut album so named because of their goal to make each song have an isolated, unique musical genre. They haven’t released any hints as pithy for their anticipated followup, Dreamland, so their Turner Hall show this month might be the easiest way to get a glimpse of what’s coming soon. Local synthpop band Canopies opens.

Lucinda Williams

8 p.m. Oct. 15 at the Pabst Theater, Milwaukee. $40. pabsttheater.org.

Few artists can bare their soul quite like Lucinda Williams, the measured, brilliant country and folk singer/songwriter who’s earned herself a place in music history for albums like Car Wheels on a Gravel Road. This notoriously slow recorder has picked up the pace in recent years and her current tour is supporting Down Where the Spirit Meets the Bone, a 2014 release on her own record label. She’ll be joined by her longtime backing band, Buick 6.

Passion Pit

8 p.m. Oct. 17 at the Rave, Milwaukee. $27. therave.com.

When a new Passion Pit album drops, the big question isn’t as much whether you should pick it up — it’s which catchy earworm is going to burrow its way into your brain before you notice. For Kindred, the indietronica band’s third album, the most likely contender is “Lifted Up (1985),” the upbeat, romantic lead single. But the truth of the matter is just about anything Passion Pit frontman Michael Angelakos comes up with has the potential to stick with you — and if you don’t believe us, his live show should prove it. 

Conor Oberst

8 p.m. Oct. 16 at the Barrymore Theater, Madison. $25. barrymorelive.com.

If it feels like Conor Oberst was just here, you aren’t crazy. The indie folk artist has a lot of projects on his plate and one of them — a rare reunion of ‘00s emo/punk band Desaparecidos — was just at Milwaukee’s Turner Hall Ballroom in September. But when Oberst shows up in Madison this month, it’s all about him. And since his solo work is characterized by intimate and personal songwriting, expect to get to know him just about as well as you can get to know anyone standing on a concert stage.


8 p.m. Oct. 18 at the Orpheum Theater, Madison. $38 to $50. madisonorpheum.com

Twenty years after the debut album that made their name, alt-rock band Garbage will return to the city where they got their start. Starting as an informal jam session between producers Steve Marker, Duke Erikson and Butch Vig (of Nevermind fame), the group added Scottish vocalist Shirley Manson and exploded onto the scene a few years later, with a crossover pop sound that challenged the waning grunge genre. The band has released four albums since, but you can be sure this show will be heavy on the classics.

Arlo Guthrie

8 p.m. Oct. 21 at the Union Theater, Madison. $30 to $100, $10 for UW-Madison students. uniontheater.wisc.edu.

8 p.m. Oct. 23 at the Pabst Theater, Milwaukee. $45. pabsttheater.org.

When a song is 18 minutes long, you can’t perform it every time you’re on stage, no matter how good it is. That’s why Arlo Guthrie, son of the legendary Woody Guthrie and a magnificent folk singer in his own right, only breaks out “Alice’s Restaurant Massacree,” the talking blues song about how he got a citation for littering that inadvertently kept him from getting drafted, every 10 years. Luckily, the 50th of those years has rolled around, so Guthrie’s hitting the road to spread the tale once again.


Shakey Graves builds on DIY folk skills

It’s not easy to impress the alternative music community with something they haven’t seen before, but a kick drum made out of an old suitcase might qualify. So might the man behind that unique instrument, Shakey Graves, who made a memorable impression on the scene in 2011 with his raw vocals, acoustic guitar skills and that suitcase drum.

Since then, Graves has become a mainstay in his hometown of Austin, Texas. He released his debut album in 2011, Roll the Bones, a blend of blues and folk music that reveals a passion and talent that commands attention. NPR named him one of 10 artists music fans “should have known” in 2012 and his newest album, And the War Came, is further cementing his position as a rising indie star.

Born Alejandro Rose-Garcia, Graves grew up in Austin, where his parents were a part of Austin’s arts community. His father managed the Paramount Theater and his mother was an actress, writer and director. Both encouraged their son’s talents, initially in the realm of acting. As a teenager, he appeared in Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over and Material Girls and he booked a recurring role in the TV series Friday Night Lights in 2007.

But Graves would ultimately fall in with the New York anti-folk scene that had nurtured the career of a young Regina Spektor, turning his focus toward performance. The pivotal moment came when the artist moved to Los Angeles and saw a performance by one-man band Bob Log III. Shortly thereafter, Graves began to perform under his stage name, and it didn’t take long for audiences to fall under his spell.

His latest solo album shakes off the one-man band approach, adding in other musicians, including vocalist Esme Patterson of the band Paper Bird, and was recorded at Graves’ home with producer Chris Boosadha. Discussing the album, Graves says, “The concepts for the songs are a little bigger. This is not the ‘Mr. Folk, Hobo Mountain’ album — it’s more of the Cyborg Shakey Graves.  It’s definitely the next step in the staircase.” Released on indie label Dualtone, And the War Came broke into the top 50 of the national album chart.

The sound of Shakey Graves’ music defies easy description. He has clear ties to folk music and alternative country, but the songs and performances don’t fit comfortably and clearly in either genre.  There are moments of bracing rock guitar and howling vocals that echo the work of blues greats. And, making them especially memorable, many songs feature a catchy pop melody threaded through everything else. 

Although only in his 20s, Shakey Graves feels like a well-seasoned performer in concert, with a disarming stage presence and banter that can charm even the most skeptical crowds. He’s added a drummer and additional guitar player to his set, although many songs are performed solo. He’s also brought along Patterson, and their duets are considered the best moments of his concerts. 

Graves’ reputation among fellow musicians and industry insiders is quickly rising. Earlier this year, he was named Best Acoustic Guitarist at the Austin Music Awards and he received a nomination as Musician of the Year. He was rated as one of the key performers to see at this year’s South By Southwest festival in Austin.

If you think that Mumford and Sons or the Lumineers are all that the recent rebirth of folk music has to offer, let Shakey Graves change your mind.


Milwaukee’s Turner Hall Ballroom, 1040 N. Fourth St., will host Shakey Graves Dec. 4 at 8 p.m. Singer-songwriter Sean Rowe and Esme Patterson will appear as special guests. Tickets are $12 in advance, $15 day-of-show, and can be purchased at 414-286-3663 or pabsttheater.org.

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Roches’ mother-daughter harmonies to fill Shank Hall

To their many fans, the surnames Roche and Wainwright imply musical royalty. Their intertwined family tree has created two generations of accomplished folk musicians connected by blood and marriage.

Two key members of the family join together in concert on Nov. 19 at Milwaukee’s Shank Hall. Suzzy Roche and her daughter Lucy Wainwright Roche are appearing to support their joint 2013 album Fairytale and Myth

Suzzy (rhymes with “fuzzy”) Roche is the youngest of the sister trio The Roches. After the release of the group’s self-titled 1979 album, The Roches were invited by Paul Simon to perform on Saturday Night Live, giving the group national exposure. But despite glowing critical reviews and the support of such acclaimed musicians as Robert Fripp, The Roches never achieved a major commercial breakthrough. One of their most enduring recordings is the 1990 Christmas collection We Three Kings.

In 1997, with The Roches on hiatus, Suzzy Roche released her first solo album Holy Smokes, and followed it with the outstanding Songs From an Unmarried Housewife and Mother, Greenwich Village, USA in 2000. In addition to featuring guest vocals by Lucy Wainwright Roche, Suzzy Roche included her daughter’s father, ex-husband Loudon Wainwright III. He and folk singer Kate McGarrigle are the parents of musicians Rufus and Martha Wainwright.

Lucy Wainwright Roche initially rejected the family career path and became an elementary school teacher. She once told NPR, “I had no interest in being a musician, because I was surrounded by them. It seemed like a terrible plan.”

In 2005, however, she joined half-brother Rufus Wainwright on tour as a backup vocalist. By 2007, she’d released a collection of eight songs, and her debut full-length album Lucy appeared in 2010.

In addition to her 2013 album There’s a Last Time For Everything, Lucy Wainwright Roche has sung backup with Neko Case and toured with Amos Lee. She’s drawn comparisons to artists like Joni Mitchell.

Despite their penchant for singing about family strife, the Roche and Wainwright families’ albums and concert tours are often family affairs. Fairytale and Myth is no different.

“I spent some of the warmest hours of my life making this album. It was one of the most magical musical moments of my life,” Suzzy Roche says of working with her daughter.

The close vocal harmonies between mother and daughter will be familiar to anyone who’s followed The Roches through the years. The subject matter of the album’s songs includes the numerous ways in which people generate myths out of reality. Tracks on the album include a touching cover of the Beatles’ “For No One”; “Lily,” a song inspired by Edith Wharton’s classic novel House of Mirth and its lead character Lily Bart; and long-time family-concert favorite “When I’m at Your House,” featuring Loudon Wainwright III on guest vocals.

The closing song, “When a Heart Breaks Down,” perhaps best encapsulates the spirit of the album. It celebrates those who come to your rescue in dark times; the song ends with the advice, “Return that love with a newfound heart.”

Lucy Wainwright Roche has described touring with her mother as comfortable — reminiscent of the time she spent with her mother on the road with The Roches as a child. The tour gives her the opportunity to sing songs featuring vocal harmonies, which is obviously not possible as a solo artist.

Both daughter and mother are known for the rapport that they develop with audiences in concert appearances. Suzzy Wainwright Roche often tells quirky stories and makes wry commentary on everyday life, while her daughter exhibits a quiet but moving sense of humor.

The Nov. 19 show at Shank Hall is guaranteed to be memorable. Whether you are a fan from The Roche’s first album release in 1979, a long-term follower of the Wainwright family, or simply looking for some of the finest, intimate, live folk-pop music available, this is a not-to-miss show. 

On stage

Suzzy Roche and her daughter Lucy Wainwright Roche appear at Milwaukee’s Shank Hall, 1434 N. Farwell Ave., on Nov. 19. For showtimes and ticket information, visit shankhall.com or phone 414-276-7288.

Rachel Sage’s ‘Blue Roses’ blends the old and the new

Through a connection made via Facebook, New York-based singer-songwriter Rachael Sage is collaborating with a visual artist from Jordan. Young art student Majd Alomari sent samples of her work to the singer, who was so impressed by the anime and graphic novel influences in the art that she invited Alomari to create pieces inspired by the song “Happiness.”

Soon the two were working on what became the first lyric video for either of them.

“I had actually intended to do drawings myself for this video, but when she approached me with some of her drawings of me, based on some of my press photos, I was so impressed and immediately knew we needed to collaborate somehow,” Sage said. She added that the best part of the project is the connection that was forged “with a kindred spirit” so far away.

The situation reflects the emphases on interpersonal connections that are key to Sage’s work.

In advance of her Oct. 6 appearance in Milwaukee, Sage spoke with me about her upcoming 11th studio album Blue Roses, on which “Happiness” appears. We also talked about the unexpected television publicity she received earlier this year and her continuing collaboration with legendary vocalist Judy Collins.

Since her first album Morbid Romantic in 1996, Sage has received acclaim for her songwriting, her uniquely engaging live performances and the pioneering spirit that led to the creation of her own label — MPress Records. In addition to recording, Sage continues to perform more than 100 live shows a year with her band The Sequins.

During her Oct., 6 visit to Anodyne Coffee in Milwaukee’s Walker’s Point neighborhood, Sage will celebrate the release of Blue Roses, but her fans will have to wait until Nov. 4 for its actual release. Milwaukee-based artist Claudia Johnson also will appear on the bill.

Blue Roses is driven by Sage’s efforts to “channel evidence of compassion” into her music, she said. It’s a collection of mostly melancholy songs about the impact a single person can have on another’s destiny.

The song “Happiness,” however, shines through with luminous hope. It is a song that was many years in the making, but ultimately was completed with inspiration from TV exposure that came to Sage from an unexpected direction.

She first found out that her music was going to appear on the hit Lifetime reality show Dance Moms through a leaked video. In December 2013, “A fan emailed me a link to something that had leaked on YouTube,” she said. “It was so unofficial I didn’t know if I could actually believe it.”

But it turned out to be true, and ultimately the show used eight Sage songs during its most recent season. 

Sage said the connection with the show was “particularly exciting for me because I had been a serious ballet student myself.” The collaboration ultimately resulted in the song “Happiness,” subtitled “Maddie’s Song” in a reference to Maddie Ziegler, the show’s 11-year-old star. 

Blue Roses will also feature another Sage connection — this one a long-term artistic relationship.

Sage said her relationship with Judy Collins began after the folk music legend’s manager saw her perform at a showcase in France five or six years ago. A friendship between the artists ultimately blossomed and led to many shared concert stages. On Blue Roses, the friends collaborate on a cover of Neil Young’s classic song “Helpless.” 

While Sage said she doesn’t disclose a lot of her personal and social life in her music, on stage her bisexuality “certainly comes up just like I would be chatting with anyone.” That candor has inspired fans for two decades.

“I’ve just been doing my small part to try and be as open and honest as I could be all along,” she said.

I asked Sage what people who’ve never seen her perform live should expect Oct. 6: “A hybrid of pop, folk, classical, and my own wacky sense of humor,” she responded.

Milwaukee holds a special place in her heart, she added, due to memories of a show with Marc Cohn at the Pabst Theater.

“Every time I cross the city border I get a warm, fuzzy feeling,” she admitted.

On Stage

Rachael Sage appears in support of her upcoming album Blue Roses at 8 p.m. on Oct. 6 at Anodyne Coffee Roasting Co., 2920 S. Kinnickinnic Ave. Call 414-489-0765.

Mile of Music

Americana comes to Appleton for the Mile of Music Festival, the city’s second annual celebration of folk, country and blues-influenced music. Mile of Music brings more than 200 performing artists to over 60 venues in the Appleton area. Performers include former R.E.M. members Peter Buck and Mike Mills, producer Butch Vig with his new band Emperors of Wyoming, and co-founder Cory Chisel.

Admission to most performances is free, but $150 priority-access passes are available. To order, visit mileofmusic.com.

Aug. 7 to 10

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Natalie Merchant coming to Pabst to support her first album in 13 years

Nearly 13 years ago, Natalie Merchant released Motherland, her last album of all-new material until this May. Motherland was released in the wake of 9/11, and, although recorded before the attacks, it was dedicated to the victims of the terrorist attacks that day. Merchant’s latest album, simply titled Natalie Merchant, is a sequel of sorts.

A great deal has happened in her life since then. She’s had a child, witnessed the suffering brought on by Hurricane Katrina, and recently turned 50. She’s stopped coloring her hair and allowed it to grow gray. All of those events figure into her new music, which directly addresses middle age.

Her fans have responded warmly. Her current tour in support of the album stops in Milwaukee at The Pabst Theater on Friday, July 25. The warmth and honesty for which she’s known are particularly well suited to the intimate setting of The Pabst.

Merchant blasted into the public consciousness in the late 1980s as lead vocalist with the band 10,000 Maniacs. The group quickly became known for its polished, adult folk-pop sound. The 1987 album In My Tribe was the group’s critical and commercial breakthrough — certified double platinum. It included the top 10 alternative hit single “What’s the Matter Here?”

Two more 10,000 Maniacs studio albums, 1989’s Blind Man’s Zoo and 1992’s Our Time In Eden, were recorded with Merchant. The group became a mainstay of alternative radio, but went without a pop hit single until Merchant was on her way out. Two months before the release of the group’s MTV Unplugged album in late 1993 and the release of Merchant’s powerful cover of Patti Smith’s “Because the Night,” she announced that she was leaving 10,000 Maniacs because she “didn’t want art by committee anymore.”

“Because the Night” soared to No. 11 on the pop chart in the United States and became the defining 10,000 Maniacs performance for many casual pop fans.

Merchant took complete artistic control for her first solo album Tigerlily, even financing the recording herself to avoid having to please a record label. Released in June 1995, Tigerlily was an instant success. It included Merchant’s first top 10 pop hit “Carnival,” and the album ultimately sold over 5 million copies.

Her follow up, 1998’s Ophelia, was perhaps the most artistically ambitious project yet in Merchant’s career. She based the album around the character of Ophelia in William Shakespeare’s Hamlet. The songs on the album are meant to depict images of women, and often their oppression, throughout time.

Despite Ophelia’s heavy concept, the light first single released from the album — “Kind and Generous” — became a favorite with fans. The song became Merchant’s third top 20 pop hit as a solo artist.

Motherland followed Ophelia. Though Merchant has not released an album of new songs in more than a decade, she has explored other musical paths. A particular labor of love was the 2010 double album Leave Your Sleep. Inspired by comments that her singing voice is particularly soothing to children, she put together a collection of 19th- and 20th-century British and American poetry about childhood set to music.

Merchant’s current concert tour is likely to touch on music across her career. But she’s never been an artist who focuses on pleasing a crowd. The journey on which she takes her audience at The Pabst will be shaped around the songs she currently wants her audience to hear.

Wisconsin performers take the Gay Arts Center stage

Milwaukee’s PrideFest not only provides the opportunity to experience internationally known talent, but it’s also is a showcase for Wisconsin talent. This year the Milwaukee Gay Arts Center Stage presents local musicians performing in a range of musical styles, from guitar rock thrash to indie folk. The performers will present sets throughout the three-day festival.

The Acoustic Orchard first came together at last year’s PrideFest to showcase singer and guitarist Mallori Reichenberger. This year the group is back just days after releasing new music in early June.

Acoustic Orchard describes its music as “bright and airy and looking toward the future of modern indie folk rock.” In addition to original songs, expect to hear crowd-pleasing covers from the group as well.

The Acoustic Orchard closes out all three nights on the MGAC Stage with a sound honed through performances at both folk-oriented coffeehouses and rock venues in Wisconsin.

The Upside brings the sound of thrashing girl-guitar rock to the MGAC Stage. The group plans to showcase new music that’s set to be released on PrideFest’s opening night.

The Upside came together in 2013 when Samantha Jansen and Lindsay DeCleene, formerly of The Way, decided to revamp and update their sound with the addition of Katie Potkonjak on keyboards. This is homegrown Milwaukee post-punk-influenced pop rock. Catch The Upside during all three nights of PrideFest.

Last year the Milwaukee duo Saint James, including Eliza Hanson and Evan Ditter, brought modern folk sounds to PrideFest. This year, with Evan Ditter pursuing studies abroad, Eliza Hanson returns as a solo artist. With a style influenced by classic folk artists Janis Ian and Joan Baez, Hanson contributes calm sounds to the PrideFest experience. Hanson performs both Friday and Saturday.

Jordin Baas kicked off her career performing in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. She sang acoustic songs, blending her powerful voice with guitar and blues harp. Baas performs throughout Wisconsin and in Chicago at venues ranging from coffeehouses to farmers markets to Summerfest. Her music has a striking intimacy that will light up the MGAC Stage on Friday and Sunday.

Julie Brandenburg is familiar to followers of the homegrown Milwaukee music scene. In addition to performing her own music, she is an instructor at MATC, where she teaches piano, voice and composition. She also serves as a supervising composer with the young artist Creation Project of Milwaukee’s celebrated Present Music. She’s performing at PrideFest with her group Brandenburg 4, a group that came together in 2012 as a vehicle to present her original progressive pop songs. The groups perform both Saturday and Sunday.

Part of the joy in connecting with Wisconsin-based artists is the opportunity to see them perform again and again as their careers unfold. Enjoy the headliners but also take the time to experience the sounds of performers closer to home.  They will instill a sense of local pride.

Discover them at MGAC’s PrideFest stage.

Amy Ray’s latest release is pure country, and it’s been a long time a-comin’

Indigo Girl Amy Ray’s fifth solo studio album Goodnight Tender is a country record through and through. The traditional sounds on Goodnight Tender have a history of surfacing on the Georgia native’s recordings, both her solos and those she’s made with fellow Indigo Girl Emily Saliers.

But Goodnight Tender features a dozen unabashed country songs. On this album, Ray is “shining like a national guitar,” to quote Paul Simon. She’s backed by an all-star band playing pedal steel, dobro, banjo, fiddle, mandolin and stand-up bass.

Ray remains one-half of the legendary queer duo Indigo Girls. While she’s toured solo throughout the spring, she continues to regularly perform concerts with Saliers. In fact, Indigo Girls performs at The Pabst on June 5, paving the way for PrideFest’s opening the next evening.

How long have you wanted to record a country album?

About 10 years, maybe a little longer. I started writing songs and putting them in a pile and filing them away in my mind, (thinking) “When I get enough songs and when I’m ready to do this, I’m going to make a traditional country record.” Over the years, as I’ve made my other solo records, sometimes I’ve thrown the more rockabilly/mandolin/fast songs on the punk or rock records. I didn’t have the amount of songs or content that I wanted. 

Did any of these songs start out in a different musical genre?

“Hunter’s Prayer” is the main one. It changed drastically. It was more of a folk song. Even the chord arrangement was different. I tried it that way, I even tried suggesting it for Indigo Girls, but it just wasn’t working. So I bagged it for a few years. I was working on something, some other song, and I just started singing the lyrics to “Hunter’s Prayer” to a different chord progression and I was like, “Ah! This is supposed to be a country song” (laughs). Other than that, the other stuff I pretty much knew as I was writing it what the genre was. 

Who would you cite as your greatest influences in country music?

From the earliest time, Townes Van Zandt and Steve Earle. Even for songs I was writing for Indigo Girls. As far as strictly traditional country artists, Hank Williams, George Jones, Patsy Cline, Dolly Parton and Merle Haggard. All the greats. I like that era from the Carter Family, gospel mountain music, a whole lot. To me, they’re the parents of folk music. (Ethnomusicologist) Alan Lomax’s recordings played a big part when I was writing a song such as “Johnny Rottentail” and more of the storytelling kinds of songs. As far as production goes, the earlier 1950s stuff, (such as) Lefty Frizzell. I like (it) heavy on the pedal steel, and the drums to not be the center focus of the project, but still have the groove.

Where does Duane Allman, who is feted in the song “Duane Allman” on Goodnight Tender, figure into your influences?

(Laughs.) Southern rock was the earliest thing I listened to as a kid. It had its roots in some country. That’s something I was brought up on — the Allman Brothers and Lynyrd Skynyrd — that was in my house. Allman Brothers were one of my favorite bands from second-grade on. The Allman Brothers have stayed a favorite for me. There are some old records that I go back to and listen to all the time for pleasure. Not for songwriting tips or anything like that. To me, their music is more about the melodic sense between the instruments and the vibe — the passion of it. 

Heather McEntire, the out lead singer of Mount Moriah, can be heard singing on “When You Come for Me.” How did that come about?

Maybe seven years ago, she was in a punk band from Durham, North Carolina, called Bellafea, and she wrote me an email as I was getting ready to go on the road with The Butchies. She asked if she could come out and open for some shows. That’s how I originally met her. She started Mount Moriah, and they had a lot of country influences. I think they’re a cross between Björk and Americana. They have a weird pollination going on.

Would you describe it as insurgent country?

Yes. I loved that project and we kept in touch. She said she was starting to write some songs that were country songs and sent me some demos. She asked me if I wanted to put any of them on the record. I said (about “When You Come for Me”), “Maybe you should just sing lead on it and I’ll sing harmony and it will be like a duet.” That’s how we ended up doing it. She’s opened for Indigo Girls. She’s been in my life a lot.

The inimitable Kelly Hogan, who has also toured with Indigo Girls, can be heard on “Time Zone” and the title cut. Why did you want her to sing on the album?

I’ve always wanted have her (laughs) on this record, actually. As I was writing, (the song) “Goodnight Tender” especially, I was thinking that I wanted it to have those close, Everly Brothers harmonies, and she’s the person I had in mind. I made sure I had a time when I could capture her when she was off from (touring with) Neko Case. I got lucky! I was in Chicago with Indigos. It was sheer luck. We went to Jeff Tweedy’s Wilco loft and we recorded those vocals. I would have waited and flown to her wherever she was, but it was lucky that it was so convenient. She’s one of my favorite vocalists and an amazing person. We have a long history. She’s an ally in the music business for me.

Attitudes (on equality) continue to evolve in Nashville, albeit slowly. What would it mean to have this album embraced by the Nashville music community? It would be huge. But that would mean something bigger than me. (Lesbian country artist) Brandy Clark is being embraced. Kacey Musgraves has that “Follow Your Arrow” song that was embraced. It might be slightly different for someone such as me to be embraced, because I’m so obviously left-of-center and gay and out and political and masculine and all that. It’d be a pretty big deal (laughs). But I don’t have any expectations in that arena whatsoever. I spend more time in Nashville than I used to. I have a lot of friends there. I would say that over the years I’ve noticed discernible changes in the culture there. It used to be, 12 years ago, if I played in Nashville, there were always derogatory remarks from the bartenders and even the club owners. It was hard. The last time I played there, people and the club-owner were super-friendly and I had a big crowd. I didn’t expect to have a crowd at all. And I was with The Butchies. It wasn’t like I had toned it down at all or anything (laughs). I would at least like to make inroads in the Americana scene. I have a lot of friends in that scene. To break into any scene at this age is very hard. I just have to put the music out there and hope that it finds its way.

Over the course of your four solo albums, you have touched on genres ranging from punk rock to riot grrrl to R&B. Are there other musical genres you’d like to work in?

Nothing radical. I probably wouldn’t try to do a soul or hip-hop record. I didn’t have it in me for this record. I just wanted to do something with an easy feeling to it. You could drive down the road to it and nothing was going to shake you up too much.

Folk artist captured 19th-century Wisconsin rural life

The color palette is bright or muted, depending on the type of paper used. The perspective isn’t always accurate. The bird’s-eye landscape views are better imagined than observed.

But the watercolors of German-born Wisconsin artist Paul Seifert chronicle a place and time long past in the state’s history, including Wisconsin’s “lost city” in Richland County. Seifert’s folk art is cherished for its historical value.

“Wisconsin in Watercolor: The Farmscapes of Paul Seifert,” on display at the Wisconsin Historical Museum on Madison’s Capitol Square through Aug. 30, chronicles a time when few artists and fewer photographers roamed rural Wisconsin. Seifert’s approach, simple yet thorough, provides a comprehensive view of farm life in Wisconsin’s Driftless Region at the end of the 19th century. The style is reminiscent of that of Grandma Moses.

“Call it folk art, outsider art, naïve art — all those terms have their limitations,” says Joe Kapler, the museum’s curator of cultural history and curator of the Seifert exhibit. “These are real places where real people lived and still live, not abstract bowls of fruit.”

The exhibit gathers 17 watercolors together for the first time. They’re all that remains of Seifert’s estimated output of some 40 paintings. The Wisconsin Historical Society, which is affiliated with the museum, owns six of them. The rest are on loan from private collectors, including descendants of the families for whom Seifert originally painted the farmscapes.

The exhibit also includes historical artifacts from the region during Seifert’s time. There’s also a Seifert-rendered map of Richland City.

That Richland County community, originally located just south of the town of Gotham on the banks of the Wisconsin River, was built on a foundation of sand. Over a period of about 40 years, the river eroded the underlying land. By the 1920s, there was virtually nothing left of Wisconsin’s “lost city.”

That’s not the case with many of the farms painted by Seifert, a native of Germany’s Saxony region and the son of art instructors who emigrated to the United States in 1867 and settled in Richland City. He married Elizabeth Kraft, the daughter of German immigrants. He became a gentlemen farmer and a trained taxidermist. 

Seifert painted commercially, producing images on glass for sale. It wasn’t until 1879 that he painted his first farmscape — Residence of Lemuel Cooper. That painting is currently on loan to the exhibit from New York’s American Folk Art Museum. The subject is a Plain, Wisconsin, farm. Dominated by earth tones that age has muted, the painting is considered Seifert’s “alpha work,” because it clearly bears the artist’s signature.

The watercolor’s orderly arrangement of detail is characteristic of Seifert’s farmscapes. It’s his bird’s-eye view of the landscape, a characteristic Kapler says the artist could never seen from ground level.

“The perspectives of these paintings are not ones that could be seen with the eye, because there was nothing in the area tall enough to stand on to get such views,” Kapler says. “This is really Seifert’s envisioning of the farm, but there is nothing in writing that explains the artist’s process.”

Paintings that followed Residence of Lemuel Cooper embraced a brighter color palette but contained many of the same details. Those details became more abundant during his farmscape period. That period ended in 1915, and he died six years later. 

Hay harvesting was a popular element in Seifert’s works, as were symmetrically arranged gardens and orchards. People and livestock of all sizes populated he landscape and unique details — from croquet games to hops harvesting — further enhanced the paintings’ historical accuracy.

Many of the works have been restored. But even those that haven’t represent a quality and durability unexpected from watercolors painted on paper more than 100 years ago, Kapler says.

“The reds are still quite vivid, and that’s often the first color to fade,” the curator explains.

The exhibition includes a large touch-screen display, which allows visitors to explore the artist’s life and work in greater depth. It also provides access to close-up views of many of the paintings’ details. Corresponding photos from the period are paired with artistic details, such as the horse-drawn lawnmower that appears in one of Seifert’s works.

It’s the details of Seifert’s work that add so much to our understanding of Wisconsin’s past, Kapler says.

On Exhibit

“Wisconsin in Watercolor: The Farmscapes of Paul Seifert” is on display at the Wisconsin Historical Museum, 30 N. Carroll St., Madison, through Aug. 30. For more information, visit historicalmuseum.wisconsinhistory.org.