A more vivid look at Madison’s live music over summer 2022

These photographs represent not just a document of the people, but of the place, and of the time.
Def Sonic is shown tuning his acoustic guitar at Mother Fool's during Make Music Madison. He's wearing a red Nike baseball cap and a gray shirt with a blue floral print. Next to him is a makeshift table, created by crates and an iron briefcase, holding up pieces of additional audio equipment.
Def Sonic performs at Mother Fool’s during Make Music Madison.

The first photo essay of a new Tone Madison seasonal series.

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In July, I wrote a piece for Tone Madison that reflected on the inherent power at the core of live music photography. Most of that piece focused on small, pervasive questions that don’t have easy answers. Really, when push comes to shove, photography is deeply, unmistakably personal. Since that July piece was published, an aspect of photography I’ve been thinking a lot about is the relationship between location and preservation. Just as we can honor and celebrate the people we admire through photography, the same is true for the world they inhabit.

Thinking about all of this, for months on end, led to a renewed focus on documenting Madison’s music scene—not just with prose, but through photography. Over the summer, whenever and wherever possible, I’ve planted myself near the fronts of stages and started creating what will be an ongoing document of this era of Madison music.

All five members of Disq are shown mid-song during Orton Park Fest. On the near-right bassist/vocalist Raina Bock is shown exhaling vape smoke, the cloud billowing outward. All other members are in mid-headbang.

Disq at Orton Park Fest.

Lijario's drummer is pictured in front of Leopold's for Make Music Madison, smiling with his lips curled in. In the foreground, plants are shown in bokeh, branching out and providing an implicit frame as they cover the image's lower corners.

Lijario at Leopold’s.

Both of Interlay's guitarists are shown performing at WSUM's Party In The Park event at James Madison Park. Bandleader Alexandria Ortgiesen is centered and singing into the mic while playing guitar, staring out at the audience through long cascading hair.

Interlay at James Madison Park.

Inside Pocket is shown playing the High Noon Saloon's patio for Strollin' Capitol East, the kickoff event of Madison Jazz Festival. From left to right, there is a saxophonist, bassist, drummer, and keyboardist. The band's surrounded by brick buildings and playing underneath a blue overhang that cuts into the top middle of the shot. 

Inside Pocket on the High Noon patio.

Vocalist Danielle Crim is shown singing in Mother Fool's during Make Music Madison, a view of the neighborhood is visible through the window that serves as her backdrop.

Danielle Crim at Mother Fool’s.

I filled up my camera’s memory cards time and again this year at multiple festivals (Madison Jazz Fest, Orton Park Fest, Dirtnap’s Super Show Extravaganza, ex-Madisonian Chris Joutras’ Michigan-set Yoop! Festival, Make Music Madison, AtwoodFest, Marquette Waterfront Fest, and WSUM’s Party In The Park), as well as a series of individual shows. Through the course of it all, I was consistently reminded of the tenacity of local artists and of the local infrastructure for live music that needs to improve if we want to meaningfully pursue efforts towards greater equity.

Even though there’s a lot of work to be done to bring more inclusivity and accountability to the local music community (Tone Madison will continue to press these issues for as long as they’re present), simply taking in the literal landscape of local parks and excellent performances has been extremely heartening. While Madison may still be lacking on a few live music fronts when it comes to organizational and promotional elements, the city has reliably delivered on its implicit, unspoken promise of hosting excellent live music.

All four members of the Toronto-based punk band PUP can be seen on stage at the Sylvee, playing to the audience. The band's lead vocalist and drummer are both shown raising one arm to the sky. Each member of the band is singing into their microphones.

PUP at The Sylvee.

Scrunchies' guitarist/vocalist is shown in front of a Marshall stack and an Orange stack, playing a glittery Stratocaster. Her eyes are closed and she's mid-strum, to the left of the image. A light reflects brightly off of her guitar's input jack.

Scrunchies at the High Noon Saloon.

A black-and-white image show Palehound guitarist/vocalist Ellen Kemper taking up a small fraction of the image, tucked into the bottom left corner. An expanse of blackness dominates the rest of the image, apart from the upper right corner, in which the outline of stage lighting equipment is visible.

Palehound at The Sylvee.

Tyler Fassnacht raises his hand near his head to brush his hair away from his face at the Dirtnap Super Show Extravaganza during Proud Parents' set.

Proud Parents at the High Noon Saloon.

Milwaukee band Fox Face is shown performing during the Dirtnap Records Super Show Extravaganza at the High Noon Saloon.

Fox Face at the High Noon Saloon.

Whether it was watching Graham Hunt blow the roof off Mickey’s Tavern for the If You Knew Would You Believe It release show, Canadian punk act PUP inject The Sylvee with a bit of grimy character, Tani Diakite & The Afrofunkstars liven up a front yard, or a whole host of punk bands from all over America (and beyond) descend on the High Noon Saloon for the Dirtnap Records Super Show Extravaganza, there have been cogent reminders that live music is alive and well in Madison. Following live music’s COVID-conscious absence, the meaning of its return bears new weight.

The pandemic still presents us with risks, of course, and the risks we take on all levels when it comes to live music have to be calculated. Performers and their teams, venue staff, and audiences all have to be aware of communal social contracts to facilitate the continued presence of live, in-person music in Madison. Being separated from that specific aspect of life, while a necessity, was draining. Any time you lose a concrete connection to something you love, the impact can be shattering. Renewing that connection has been immensely affirming. 

Robbie Fulks is shown standing straight up, holding his acoustic guitar, and grinning out at the crowd during Marquette Waterfront Festival.

Robbie Fulks at Marquette Waterfront Festival.

Holy Shit! vocalist Tab Man is shown raising his right hand and screaming into the mic during the second annual Yoop! Festival at the Houghton Skatepark in Houghton, MI.

Holy Shit! at YOOP! Fest in Houghton, MI.

Poet and scene staple Thax Douglas recites a short poem ahead of TS Foss' set at The Bur Oak on September 12, 2022. Douglas is pictured in a sweater and baseball cap, looking out at the crowd through his glasses as he prepares to speak into the mic.

Thax Douglas at The Bur Oak.

A direct-on shot of five members of Tani Diakite & The Afrofunkstars as they play under a tent in Chris' Front Yard as a part of Make Music Madison.

Tani Diakite & The Afrofunkstars at Chris’ Front Yard.

A black-and-white capture of The OBGMs finds the band's vocalist raising his hands above his head and sprinting down the area between the stage and the barricades, while his band continues to play on the stage above him.

The OBGMs at The Sylvee.

While I didn’t have the time, energy, or resources to make it out to as many shows this past summer as I would’ve liked, positioning myself back into a routine I haven’t embraced since 2015 has restored a determination to slowly expand those limits. Summer was restorative, and fall’s already shaping up to be more explorative. As this series progresses, the parameters of what’s on display will inevitably follow suit. Entry one is admittedly punk-heavy when it comes to single shows, simply because that’s what and where I’ve had the most access to information and entry. I’ve already made a commitment to make the second entry to this series even more varied. 

Even with the focus on one genre, rediscovering the habit of emphatically purposeful documentation has me feeling more connected to Madison’s perennially oddball spirit. These photographs represent not just a document of the people, but of the place, and of the time. While Madison’s music scene remains imperfect and has a long way to go in terms of equity, diversity, and overall balance, the musicians who perform here are still illustrating Madison’s potential. I’ll be here to document their triumphs, on any scale. 

An extended version of the photo gallery can be accessed here.

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