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Atwood Music Hall, from Bur Oak owners, planned for 1925 Winnebago St.

The ceiling of the main room at 1925 Winnebago Street is photographed from the floor level, depicting orange-red beams in an arch structure known as a lamella ceiling.
The building at 1925 Winnebago features a dramatically arched ceiling. Photo courtesy of Atwood Music Hall.

The 700-capacity venue is aiming for a spring 2023 opening.

The owners of The Bur Oak, Toffer Christensen and Jake DeHaven, plan to open another East Side venue, the 350-capacity Atwood Music Hall, at 1925 Winnebago St. They’re tentatively planning for a spring 2023 opening, and will be holding a public open-house on Saturday, August 13 at 10 a.m. at the space.

There’s a bit of musical history built into the space: When first built in 1931, it served as the Madison Gospel Tabernacle, and the main chapel/showroom area still has a dramatically arched lamella ceiling. Christensen and DeHaven plan to keep that, while adding some seating, expanding the existing balcony, filling in some windows, and installing new soundproofing in the building. DeHaven has a background in architecture, and his initial drawings for the space show a plan that will be a bit familiar if you’ve been to the 130-capacity Bur Oak: An open floor in front of the stage that allows for seated or standing shows, and a raised row of booths and tables to either side.

“We started seriously working on this in October of last year,” Christensen says, adding that he first took a look at the building three years ago. (He’s not the only one to think 1925 Winnebago might make a good venue space—Communication, Tone Madison‘s partner organization, eyed it a while back.)

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Design drawing of the planned space for the Atwood Music Hall shows raised rows of tables on either side of an open floor in front of the venue's stage.
A design drawing of the planned space for Atwood Music Hall.

Atwood Music Hall plans to expand on the Bur Oak’s partnership with chef Jamie Hoang and her celebrated southeast Asian restaurant Ahan, which currently operates in the Bur Oak. Hoang and Ahan co-owner Chuckie Brown plan to serve food and Boba tea in the Atwood. Ahan has built up a strong following since it opened in 2020, and its food is also a popular option at Bur Oak shows. 

The venue also is partnering with the Goodman Community Center on a program called Students Of Live that aims to teach local teens “the ins and outs of the live music industry,” as the press release puts it.

“One thing that’s different about a larger room than, say, the Bur Oak is that the Bur Oak has to be open all the time,” Christensen says. “Just the profit margins are so tiny that we need every show that we can get to keep the doors open, where with a larger room, you don’t. If we have a few events a week, that’s great. And that’s what we need. And that allows us the time to put our efforts into things like the Students Of Live program or giving the room to a nonprofit or community organization or something.”

The announcement Christensen sent out on Tuesday suggests the Atwood Music Hall team has been working to get ahead of the typical issues that usually trip up plans for new venues. Parking? The plan is to partner with Trinity Lutheran Church, right across the street, to allow patrons to use the church lot. Noise? There’s a plan for soundproofing. Support from the area’s Common Council representative, District 6 Alder Brian Benford? He’s right there in the promo video! The project has held some initial neighborhood meetings, and will now need to seek approval from the City of Madison Plan Commission.

Christensen plans to do most of the booking at the Atwood Music Hall under the banner of his T Presents concert-promotion company, as he has at the Bur Oak (initially known as The Winnebago) since late 2019. Both venues will likely continue to host a mix of touring and local artists. Christensen has had ambitions for a venue of his own for a long time, and led Live Nation’s local office between 2017 and 2018. Like anyone who books touring music in town, he’s thinking about his former employer’s dominance of the concert market, and he’s thinking about how to keep working with artists as they move up the ladder to bigger audiences and venues.

“If we do a show at the Bur Oak, and let’s say it sells out in advance, we’re not going to get it again,” Christensen says. “It’s going to either go to an FPC room or it’s gonna go somewhere else, unless it’s big enough that I can take it and put it at the Barrymore or Mineral Point [Opera House] or something like that.”

In that sense, the Atwood Music Hall serves as an in-between point. The smallest venue FPC books in Madison is the 400-capacity High Noon Saloon, so this almost-monopoly does leave some room for other players to book small to mid-sized touring shows. Christensen has taken advantage of that opening. Over the past year the venue has held sold-out shows from touring artists including Vieux Farka Touré and Damien Jurado. T Presents also books shows at the Barrymore—whose owner, Steve Sperling, appears in the Atwood Music Hall’s announcement video to voice his support—as do FPC Live and various other promoters. 

“Right now on the independent landscape there’s really just a huge kind of gap between the small rooms in town and the Barrymore, and we kind of see [Atwood Music Hall] as filling that gap for independent promoters and artists,” Christensen says. “We’ll book band bills. We really want it to be not just the place where you see national touring acts.”

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