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Madison’s ‘Smart’ music history

Continue reading Madison’s ‘Smart’ music history

Once-local acts return for Summerfest 2016

Every musician’s dream is to be part of a headlining act performing before large crowds — and Summerfest offers ample opportunities through its grounds stages for headliners to perform before some of the summer’s largest, most enthusiastic audiences.

This year, sandwiched in between legends like Willie Nelson and The Commodores are several local — or at least, formerly local — bands that have reached headliner status. If you are Summerfest-bound this year, here are some former area acts you won’t want to miss.

The BoDeans

9:45 p.m. July 3, BMO Harris Pavilion

images - wigout - 063016 - SFBoDeans

Emerging from Waukesha in 1983, roots rockers The BoDeans built its fan base around the sweet harmonies of Waukesha South High School classmates Kurt Neumann and Sammy Llanas. Opinions differ on the source of the band’s name, but popular legend says that it came from Jethro Bodine, the character played by Max Baer Jr. on the 1960s TV sitcom The Beverly Hillbillies.

The BoDeans grew in popularity due to the band’s signature sound, earning the top slot as Best New American Band in a 1987 Rolling Stone readers poll. The band toured with U2, Bob Dylan, Tom Petty and other artists.

Working with producer T-Bone Burnett, the BoDeans produced their breakthrough hit “Closer to Free,” which became the theme song to the hit TV series Party of Five. Life, as they say, was good.

But nothing ever lasts, and by 2011 Llanas, citing artistic differences, failed to show up for several Colorado concert dates and later that year resigned from the band he helped found.

Neumann heads the current iteration of the BoDeans, which now operates from his home studio near Austin, Texas. He and Llanas may still be locked in litigation over song ownership, but the current BoDeans has lost none of its verve as one of America’s top roots rockers.

You can catch a separate set by Sammy Llanas at 6 p.m. July 1 at the Harley-Davidson Roadhouse.


9:30 p.m. July 6, Harley-Davidson Roadhouse

Photo: Joseph Cultice.
Photo: Joseph Cultice.

Long before Madison musicians Butch Vig and Steve Marker formed the alt-rock band Garbage, the pair owned and operated Smart Studios, established in 1983 to record the music of Madison-area bands.

It wasn’t long before word of the studio’s technical capabilities and Vig’s prowess as producer got around. Bands like The Smashing Pumpkins, Death Cab for Cutie and Nirvana recorded albums there. Produced by Vig, Nirvana’s Nevermind achieved diamond status with more than 10 million copies sold.

Fast-forward to 1995, when Vig and Marker were joined by Madison musician Duke Erikson and Scottish-born vocalist Shirley Manson to record Garbage, their inaugural album, which eventually went double platinum in sales. The band’s pop sound, melded with grunge, electronica and other formats, made Garbage unique in the musical world.

The band’s crossover characteristics are the result of all four musicians participating in the writing, recording and production of each album. Admittedly, those albums are few and far between, with the band members taking long breaks between its recording and touring schedules. The band’s soon-to-be-released sixth album, Strange Little Birds, follows close on the heels Not Your Kind of People, with only a four-year hiatus in between. In the world of Garbage, that’s no time at all.

Only Erikson still lives in Madison. Vig and Manson live in the Los Angeles area to be closer to the music scene, while Marker has escaped to the Colorado Rockies. When they do come together, as they will at Summerfest, something musically remarkable usually happens.

Cheap Trick

9:45 p.m. July 7, BMO Harris Pavilion

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Fans have to reach way back to 1970 to find the origins of Cheap Trick. That’s when Rick Nielsen, Robin Zander, Tom Petersson and Bun E. Carlos left their other respective Rockford, Illinois, groups to became Cheap Trick, a band once known in Japan as the “American Beatles.”

Early on, Cheap Trick tapped Madison music producer Ken Adamany for representation, making them a “local” group. The musicians labored during their early years, finally striking gold — or, rather, triple platinum — in 1979 with Cheap Trick at Budokan, a live album recorded in Japan, where the band was already wildly popular.

The hits followed, including “I Want You to Want Me,” “Dream Police,” “Surrender” and other rockers. Cheap Trick’s full-throttle, raucous style makes it a band best heard live. The band has toured continuously over the past 40 years and logged some 5,000 performances.

Drummer Carlos, still a part of the group, no longer tours or records with the band, and has been replaced by Rick Nielsen’s son Daxx Nielsen. On April 8 this year, Cheap Trick was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

The band also was asked to play at the upcoming 2016 Republican National Convention, but turned the offer down according to a report in The Guardian. “We had second thoughts,” Zander was quoted as saying. “Maybe we should have accepted it, but we all would have got swastika guitars made.”

Violent Femmes

9:45 p.m. July 7, Harley-Davidson Roadhouse

Photo: Ebru Yildiz.
Photo: Ebru Yildiz.

Milwaukee’s music scene would have been incomplete without a punk band. That’s where the on-again off-again Violent Femmes fit in.

Formed in 1980 by guitarist and vocalist Gordon Gano, bassist Brian Ritchie and drummer Victor DeLorenzo, the Femmes arrived on the scene after punk music began to wane. Legend has it that the band was discovered in 1981 by James Honeyman-Scott, guitarist for The Pretenders, while busking outside of Milwaukee’s Oriental Theatre prior to a Pretenders concert and was invited onstage by the largely English band to perform a brief acoustic opening set.

Punk’s demise allowed the trio to create its own sound instead. The trio incorporated elements of folk, country and even a brass section called “Horns of Dilemma” into its act. The combination worked, and the band’s 1983 debut album Violent Femmes, went platinum. The band was on its way.

But the Femmes hit some significant rough patches during its career, with DeLorenzo leaving and then returning several times. The most significant stumble occurred when Gano, who usually claimed sole songwriting credit, agreed to sell the rights to the band’s hit “Blister in the Sun” to the burger chain Wendy’s in 2007. Ritchie was furious and sued Gano, seeking half-ownership of the band’s music and access to song royalty accounting. The suit brought the Femmes to an end in 2009.

But you can’t keep a good band down, and the Femmes reunited in 2013 to play several festival dates, including Summerfest. Gano and Ritchie still form the band’s core, but DeLorenzo permanently exited the scene. He was replaced by a series of drummers, most recently John Sparrow, who played cajon in the Femmes’ former horn section.

In March, the Femmes released a new album, We Can Do Anything, which will be liberally tapped during this year’s Summerfest set. When the band plays “Blister in the Sun,” as it inevitably will, try not to think of hamburgers.

Bill introduced to reduce food waste, create energy

U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree of Maine is calling for a comprehensive plan to reduce food waste.

The Democrat says her proposal will help farms, retailers, restaurants and schools waste less food. She says it will also divert high-quality food to food banks and turn non-edible scraps into energy or compost.

Pingree says she formally submitted the bill earlier this month. The Portland Press Herald reports the bill would also standardize the “best by” date labeling that manufacturers use on food.

Pingree’s office says 40 percent of food produced in the country is wasted and uneaten food costs $161 billion annually.

Brief opportunities | Letters to the future: The Paris Climate Project

Dear great-great-granddaughter,

Do you remember your grandmother Veronica? I am writing to you on the very day that your grandmother Veronica turned 7 months old — she is my first grandchild and she is your grandmother. That is how quickly time passes and people are born, grow up and pass on. When I was your age — now 20, I did not realize how brief our opportunities are to change the direction of the world we live in. The world you live in grew out of the world I live in, and I want to tell you a little bit about the major difficulties of my world and how they have affected your world.

On the day I am writing this letter, the speaker of the House of Representatives quit his job because his party — called “the Republicans,” refused absolutely to work with or compromise with the other party, now defunct, called “the Democrats.” The refusal of the Republicans to work with the Democrats was what led to the government collapse in 2025 and the breakup of what to you is the Former United States. The states that refused to acknowledge climate change or, indeed, science, became the Republic of America, and the other states became West America and East America. I lived in West America. You probably live in East America, because West America became unlivable owing to climate change in 2050. 

That the world was getting hotter and dryer, that weather was getting more chaotic, and that humans were getting too numerous for the ecosystem to support was evident to most Americans by the time I was 45. At first, it did seem as though all Americans were willing to do something about it, but then the oil companies … realized that their profits were at risk and they dug in their heels. They underwrote all sorts of government corruption in order to deny climate change and transfer as much carbon dioxide out of the ground and into the air as they could. The worse the weather and the climate became, the more they refused to budge and Americans, but also the citizens of other countries, kept using coal, diesel fuel and gasoline. Transportation was the hardest thing to give up, much harder than giving up the future, and so we did not give it up, and so there you are, stuck in the slender strip of East America that is overpopulated, but livable. I am sure you are a vegan, because there is no room for cattle, hogs or chickens, which Americans used to eat.

West America was once a beautiful place — not the parched desert landscape that it is now. Our mountains were green with oaks and pines, mountain lions and coyotes and deer roamed in the shadows, and there were beautiful flowers nestled in the grass. It was sometimes hot, but often cool. Where you see abandoned, flooded cities, we saw smooth beaches and easy waves.

What is the greatest loss we have bequeathed you? I think it is the debris, the junk, the rotting bits of clothing, equipment, vehicles, buildings, etc. that you see everywhere and must avoid. Where we went for walks, you always have to keep an eye out. We have left you a mess. But I know that it is dangerous for you to go for walks — the human body wasn’t built to tolerate lows of 90 degrees Fahrenheit and highs of 140. When I was alive, I thought I was trying to save you, but I didn’t try hard enough or, at least, I didn’t try to save you as hard as my opponents tried to destroy you. I don’t know why they did that. I could never figure that out.

Editor’s note: World leaders convene in Paris soon for the critical U.N. climate talks. In fact, December of 2015 may be humanity’s last chance to address the crisis of our time.

Will the nations of the world finally pass a global treaty aimed at reducing the most dangerous impacts of global warming … or will we fail at this most crucial task?

Here and on letterstothefuture.org, find letters from authors, artists, scientists and others, written to future generations of their own families, predicting the success or failure of the Paris talks and what came after. Read these letters and write one of your own. The letters will be sent to targeted delegates and citizens convening at the Paris talks. 



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.

At the Orpheum Theater in Madison. Tickest are $38 to $50. For more information visit madisonorpheum.com.

8 p.m. Oct. 18

Greening the holidays: Reuse, recycle, repurpose

The arrival of Black Friday brings on the frenzy: Buy, wrap, waste; then buy more, wrap more, waste more.

So WiG invited a dozen leaders of local, state and national environmental groups — from Audubon Society and Sierra Club chapters to the national Keep America Beautiful — to offer tips to brighten the green in the red and green season.

The consensus:

• Those reusable tote bags aren’t just for groceries. Use them when shopping for gifts. And use them instead of wrapping paper when giving gifts. Another wrapping paper alternative — fabrics or newsprint. 

• If using mail-order shipping, ask the seller — or shipping company — to pack items with paper rather than polystyrene packing peanuts.

• There need not be shame in second-hand. WiG came across a certified pre-owned iPad Mini for under $200 at Gazelle.com and big discounts on unused gift cards at GiftCardGranny.com. 

• For holiday hellos, consider sending e-greetings or reduce the amount of paper by sending postcards instead of greeting cards inside envelopes.

• When decorating, look for natural ornaments (pine cones, shells, dried flowers, berries) and recycled curios (glass, wood, metals, fabrics) rather than items made of non-biodegradable plastics or manufactured using petroleum-based products.

• LED holiday lights use less energy than incandescent bulbs. And there are eco-friendly alternatives to burning paraffin candles. 

• Recycle the Christmas tree. If your community doesn’t recycle trees, use the bulk of the tree for firewood and use the branches for mulch under acid-loving bushes and shrubs, such as evergreens and rhododendrons.

• Recycle electronics. Don’t trash broken or unwanted appliances and electronics or old batteries. Hold onto them to take to an e-scrap collection. And trade smaller items at ecoATM kiosks at shopping malls for cash or coupons. 

• Donate rather than discard items. When new gifts replace working but old possessions, donate them to a charitable cause or give them away. Check out the Freecycle Network at freecycle.org.

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Massachusetts to institute commercial food waste ban

Massachusetts has issued final regulations on a statewide commercial food waste ban. The regulations unveiled last week are set to take effect in October and intended to divert leftover food and reduce the state’s waste stream.

The ban, which will be regulated by the state Department of Environmental Protection, requires businesses that dispose of at least one ton of organic material per week donate or “re-purpose” any useable food.

Any remaining food waste will have to be shipped to an anaerobic digestion facility, where it will be converted to clean energy, or sent to composting and animal-feed operations.

Residential food materials and food waste from small businesses are not included in the ban.

Officials say the disposal ban affects about 1,700 institutions statewide, including supermarkets, colleges, universities, hotels, convention centers, hospitals, nursing homes, restaurants and food service and processing companies.

Some restaurants have expressed concerns about increased costs, as well as the risk of attracting rodents by storing waste food.

Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Rick Sullivan said the ban “is critical to achieving our aggressive waste disposal reduction goals and it is in line with our commitment to increase clean energy production.”

Food and other organic material make up 25 percent of the state’s waste stream. The Patrick administration has set a goal of reducing that waste stream by 30 percent by 2020 and 80 percent by 2050.

The administration said 300 supermarkets already have food waste separation programs that save each store up to $20,000 per year.

UN: Food waste threatens the environment

The United Nations food agency says one-third of all food produced in the world gets wasted, amounting to a loss of $750 billion a year.

The Rome-based Food and Agricultural Organization said in a report this week that food in developing countries is wasted mostly due to poor harvesting techniques, while in high-income areas the primary cause of waste is careless consumer behavior.

The report said food waste hurts the environment by causing unnecessary carbon emissions, extra water consumption and the reduction of biodiversity as farming takes over more land. The most serious areas of waste are of cereals in Asia and meat in wealthy regions and Latin America.

FAO stressed the importance of raising awareness among consumers.

Garbage picks up where it left off

Musicians will tell you there is nothing like a little time off to recharge the batteries and refresh the mind. The members of the pop band Garbage thought so, too, but they didn’t expect their hiatus to last seven years.

Garbage, which started in Madison in 1994 and went double platinum with its first album “Garbage” in 1995, cut short its 2005 tour supporting the then-new release “Bleed Like Me.” The quartet felt it needed a break and assured its fans that the band hadn’t broken up.

“When we decided to take some time off, none of us thought it would be seven years – seven months maybe,” says bassist/guitarist Doug “Duke” Erikson. “Perhaps we didn’t realize how exhausted we all were and how completely occupied we had become with Garbage. So we lived life for awhile.”

Erikson returned to his home in Madison and guitarist Steve Marker headed for the mountains of Colorado. Vocalist Shirley Manson, a native of Edinburgh, Scotland, began working on a still-unreleased solo album.

Drummer Butch Vig, equally well known as co- founder with Marker of Madison’s Smart Studios and the Grammy Award-winning producer of such seminal albums as Nirvana’s “Nevermind,” Green Day’s “21st Century Breakdown” and Foo Fighters’ “Wasting Light,” went back to the studio. Vig now lives, produces and records in Los Angeles, where Manson also lives.

The lengthy hiatus had its healing effect, and the band finally began working on its fifth album. “Not Your Kind of People” was independently produced and released May 15 during a lengthy European tour. Reviewers have compared the album to the band’s inaugural effort and “Version 2.0,” its second album, both of which were well received.

“I suppose it’s a step forward in that we had got the album done at all and that we’re on the road promoting it, Erikson  says. ‘We felt the slate had been washed clean when we started recording the album. No preconditions or expectations. We just started working to see what would happen.”

Garbage will play only three U.S. dates this year on the promotional tour, one each in Chicago, Kansas City, Mo., and at Pondamonium, the Aug. 9 outdoor concert at the Madison Mallards baseball field in Warner Park on the city’s north side. Garbage will headline a show also featuring The Flaming Lips, Dum Dum Girls, Royal Bangs and The Congregation.

The Warner Park date marks a homecoming for Erikson, Marker and Vig. The trio played together in the prominent local bands Spooner and Fire Town, developing a sound that moved the grunge rock of the 1980s forward, adding more depth and dimension. The Smart Studios experience and the bands eventually led to the formation of Garbage.

“This has always been about writing songs and recording them,” Erikson says. “Spooner was the incubator for all that came later. That’s where it began, where we all saw the possibilities.”

It was the introduction of vocalist Manson that helped galvanize the band and define its sound. The three met with Manson on April 8, 1994, in London after Marker had seen her perform with the band Angelfish on television. But plans for the future band were put hold after Vig was informed that same day of the suicide of Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain, whose album he had produced just three days earlier.

The three met Manson again at a later time in Chicago, inviting her to Madison for an audition. Manson’s initial auditions with the band went badly, but things began to gel as the band discovered the singer had musical tastes similar to theirs. The band’s initial demo tapes were recorded at Smart Studios, and the musicians made a valiant effort to rise above the grunge rock label that still occasionally haunts them.

“Anyone who describes Garbage as either grunge or electronica would have only been listening to one song or a few bars of one song, or not listening at all,” Erikson insists. “We are a pop band, and by that I mean we combine any and all musical elements to make something new.”

“Not Your Kind of People” bears this out. Comparisons to the first record have been deliberate, a way to tell fans that after seven years’ rest, the energy that defined the original group is back.

“When we were about to hit the road, we expected to see a lot of Garbage fans out there who had grown up, aged, been through some changes,” Erikson says. “We do see those folks, but we also see a lot of kids who look like they couldn’t have been more than five when we were out last time.”

Credit that to the band’s renewed energy or its evolving sound. At any rate, it’s clear that Garbage has come around and, for Madison fans, will soon be back in town.