The historic venue’s upcoming calendar also includes return visits from Kaki King and Richard Thompson. (Photo: Giddens and Francesco Turrisi, who perform November 2 and 3.)
The Stoughton Opera House throws off the Madison area’s musical center of gravity in a welcome way. The 475-capacity theater, operated by a staff of City of Stoughton employees and a local non-profit that supports the historic space’s upkeep, has managed to pull in big headliners and attract a strong following of both Stoughton residents and people who drive in from Madison and points beyond. Audiences who climb up to the top floors of Stoughton’s City Hall and grab their seat cushions (seriously do that, those immaculately maintained historic wooden seats hurt your butt) for the Opera House’s 2019-20 season will find a lineup that’s heavy as always on folk and country, but still works in some curveballs.
The big surprises this year include two solo shows from Steve Earle, on November 15 and November 16, South African vocal group Ladysmith Black Mambazo (March 5), wide-ranging blues artist Taj Mahal (April 23), and guitarist Kaki King performing a multi-media show that ties in with her 2015 album The Neck Is A Bridge To The Body (October 12). King is actually a return visitor, having played the Opera House in 2009, when the venue’s unlikely booking might still felt like a new development. (It was also a great show! I feel old.) Earle, I believe, is making his first visit.
Rhiannon Giddens, who has previously played the venue as a member of the Carolina Chocolate Drops, will be playing on November 2 and November 3 with Italian multi-instrumentalist Francesco Turrisi. Giddens has excelled at turning our understanding of American folk music on its head (or maybe just setting it back where it should have been in the first place), and her collaborative album with Turrisi, There Is No Other, combines her banjo with Turrisi’s frame drum and piano to hypnotic effect.
There’s also a charming assortment of regulars in the mix: Two shows from the great Richard Thompson (October 23 and 24), another visit from impish comedian Emo Phillips (October 10), and beloved Wisconsin author/gee-shucks orator Michael Perry (February 27). The season begins on September 5 with a tribute to country music historian and WORT host Bill Malone. Tickets go on sale in August and do tend to sell out. Browse the full season here.