A one-day “guerrilla revival” for O’Cayz Corral

Musicians will gather on Saturday, October 5 on the spot of the long-gone downtown venue.

Musicians will gather on Saturday, October 5 on the spot of the long-gone downtown venue. (Image: Detail from a show flyer, drawn by Bill Feeny.)

UPDATE: The event previewed in this story has been rescheduled for October 5, due to weather concerns on the initially scheduled date.

Madisonians who were playing or listening to loud, abrasive music around town in the 1980s and ’90s have always been a particularly tight bunch, and their bond still resonates in local music today. There’s more to it than nostalgia for the glory days of bands like Killdozer or institutions like Smart Studios, even though many of the venues and gathering places of that era are gone, the city changing ever more quickly around these lost spaces.


One of the most important was O’Cayz Corral, a small club at 504 East Wilson Street. The space where it once stood is currently a rectangle of grass right next to the Come Back In/Essen Haus complex, which itself might soon be gone and replaced with new development. O’Cayz burned down on New Year’s Day 2001, after 20 years of hosting shows by essential Wisconsin bands like Appliances-SFB and Die Kreuzen and touring acts including The Jesus Lizard and Nirvana. (Another key venue at the time, Club De Wash, was lost to a fire in 1996.) O’Cayz owner Cathy Dethmers would go on to open the High Noon Saloon in 2004. 

That rectangle of grass will become a gathering place again on the afternoon of Saturday, September 21. Longtime Madison musician Lisa Marine (The Quickies, The Tiny Band, Bent Antenna, etc.) is hosting what she calls a “guerrilla revival” on the property, starting around 1:30 p.m. The event will feature music from one-man surf-rock blaster Roboman, Bucky Pope of Negative Example, and The Delicate Delegate. (There’s a Facebook event but it’s private, so this link might not work for everyone.)

“Jonathan Zarov did a similar thing about 10 years ago with his former band Swamp Thing,” Marine explains. “They decided to go to the sites where O’Cayz and Club de Wash stood and play music. It was a blast! I took a video of it and that resurfaced recently. When I saw it I just thought, ‘Hey, I want to do that again.'”

A developer recently abandoned plans to buy up the Essen Haus property and put up a large mixed-use development, but it’s clear that it’s only a matter of time before the rapid march of new construction claims the space. 

There used to be a historic marker on the lot explaining the significance of O’Cayz, but even that is gone now. An event like this gives the music community a way to define the place even in the face of ruthless change.


“A bunch of us can look at that lot and remember exactly where the stage, bar, and soundboard were,” Marine says. “The music community is so tight in this town that it’s always super cool to get up to fun like this with everyone. I guess this show celebrates that.”

There’s no particular significance to the choice of date, just a desire to connect and have fun. Marine simply asks attendees to “enter through the front door and don’t do anything to get us arrested.”

An ode to the best and worst of Madison summers.

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