In Microtones, our newsletter-first column.
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Over the past year and a half there have been so many occasions to report on changes in the business of live music in Madison. With each new development, local musicians and show-goers express feelings of upheaval, uncertainty, and loss. The reactions to this week’s news that The Frequency will shut down after 10 years of hosting local and touring shows just off the Capitol Square has struck me as especially intense. Losing The Frequency makes me sad too—I’ve been going there since it first opened, and minus one tragic misstep, I think it has played a crucial role and played it well.
Then again, The Frequency’s impending closure follows a recent boom in smaller venues around town, so its absence doesn’t leave nearly as large a hole as it would have even two years ago. So why do we feel this loss so deeply? I ask because there’s always a counter-reaction of people telling us that a venue closing or changing hands, or Live Nation taking over most of the city’s touring music, isn’t really such a big deal. I think those people are wrong about a good number of things, but it’s true that local music is finding a way regardless of what a few consolidated major venues and promoters are doing. And except for pillars like The Frequency and the High Noon Saloon, the business and policy infrastructure around local music in Madison has never been great, with businesses largely treating music as an accessory for alcohol sales, and local government funding well-intentioned but gimmicky music programs.
I think a lot of it comes down to the fact that The Frequency—much like the High Noon under founder Cathy Dethmers—was a known quantity. It went through its share of changes, but people always knew where it stood in both its literal functions and in the spirit of its relationship to the music community. It tried to balance the needs of local artists (regardless of their ability to draw a crowd—you gotta start somewhere) with the demands of commercial promoters, it could own up to its mistakes, and its personality was all about having a good small-club experience without too many bells and whistles. Well, except for the arcade cabinets, the lovably weird case of rock-n-roll memorabilia, and a CD jukebox stocked with a massively fun mix of local standouts and cult favorites. And as as comedian Alan Talaga noted in our report this week, there was even a bartender who specialized in solving Rubik’s Cubes at unreasonable speed.
The other small venues popping up in town—from the scrappy Art In to the slick Ruby Lounge—are still in the process of defining their roles. For the most part they clearly have some potentially vital role to play, but haven’t quite developed the sense of self The Frequency did early on. We’re not losing hope, but we’re temporarily losing some of that solidity. And at least for this moment, we’re a little more aware of how hard it is to keep a good thing going.
New this week:
On the podcast, Chali Pittman interviews multimedia artist José Carlos Teixeira about his show On Exile, on display through May 20 at the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art.
We continue to update our report on The Frequency closing up with new information and comments from members of the local arts community.
Geoff Kaster, who recently moved his dance-focused record store Jiggy Jamz to a new location, shares some favorite tracks with Joel Shanahan for our Aces series.
Our latest audio extra is a tale of pizza and one strange promotional cassette tape.
Tone Madison editor Scott Gordon will take part in a panel discussion at the May 21 installment of the High Noon Saloon’s Madison Mixtape series.
Elsewhere on the Madison internet: Both the Arts + Literature Laboratory Jazz Festival in May and the Isthmus Jazz Festival in June will feature Russ Johnson and Greg Ward amid their expansive lineups; Hari Kondabolu talked with WORT ahead of his shows at the Comedy Club on State this weekend; Tone Madison contributor Joel Shanahan made a gorgeous ambient mix; and Paul Soglin uttered some gibberishabout “computer games.”
This week’s Madison calendar: Stalker at Vilas Hall, Caroline Davis at Arts + Lit Lab, Derrick Austin at Paul’s Pel’Meni, Eve Ewing at the Union Theater, Chris Kattan at the Comedy Club on State, and more!