Make Music Madison: It’s About Community

Make Music Madison: It’s About Community
Photo by Sam Garigliano
Mama Digdown's Brass Band perform at Monona Terrace during 2015's Make Music Madison festival. The musical event returns on June 21.

This Saturday, June 21, will mark the second annual Make Music Madison festival, a citywide event that brings music of all sorts into the streets, nooks and crannies of the city. Putting music in so many places is justifiably a great way to build community.

The festival, which has received $50,000 in funding from the city (us), is about bringing citizens out into their respective communities to celebrate music, mostly in places that would not ordinarily be utilized in such a way: the porches and balconies of residential homes, bus stops, the airport, et cetera. It also encourages people to experience the local culture in other neighborhoods, perhaps in places where they have not been or normally wouldn’t go and intermingle with those residents in some meaningful way—all initiated by musical events. It gives amateur performers a stage on which to celebrate the joy of playing with whomever chooses to listen. Make Music Madison also gives those who pay attention an opportunity to notice the magnitude of performers that do indeed exist in the city and recognize the efforts that those performers put into an endeavor that brings them (and others) some modicum of satisfaction, even happiness. Maybe it will stop someone in their tracks in a moment of realization that reveals roses that they have not taken the time to smell.

This worldwide musical celebration doesn’t just happen in Madison. It happens in about five hundred cities, towns and villages across the globe and is a celebration of the Summer Solstice. It all seems fairly innocuous and maybe even a productive use of time and energy.

. Was it an expression of frustration? Probably. But I think the point of the discussion got a little lost. This event, make Music Madison, is not really in and of itself about bettering Madison’s music economy. This is true in spite of the way it was rolled out at a “town hall” meeting held in November of 2011. That gathering was intended to discuss ways the city could work to strengthen the music scene.

It should be noted that the “music scene” is not a definitively defined thing; it is a fluid, breathing mechanism of artists and consumers of music and other art plus it helps to feed other ancillary practices such as music production businesses and the culinary arts. But most would agree that there is a “music scene” and probably scenes within a broad scene, that receive little to no moral or economic encouragement from the city. Basically, we’re talking about serious craftspeople and performers that exist outside of institutions such as the Overture Center, the Monona Terrace Rooftop, the Opera, the Symphony, et cetera. We’re talking about clubs and other venues, festivals that employ local musicians and many, many charitable events that musicians donate time and resources to in the name of “exposure,” of which they get very little.

One of the criticisms was that the city was seemingly proposing to support musicians by offering them yet another free festival to participate in while offering no direct financial support. Instead, all of the funding went largely to administrators, insurance and some cleanup and contingencies while the musicians got—you guessed it—exposure. This is not the festival’s fault and I think most would agree that they find nothing inherently wrong with having an event like Make Music Madison. I am one of those. The problem lied in the way it was rolled out. It is not part of a music plan. The city doesn’t really have that yet and it will take a lot of concerted effort to get that. That’s why I decided to join the Madison Arts Commission. I personally want to be part of finding solutions, not just levelling criticisms.

But there is a music spelled out in the recommendations in the city’s Cultural Plan. There is movement forward. There are some very interesting ideas in development and there is a whole movement brewing on the city’s near east side (see Willy Wash). The city’s funding for the BandSwap project is especially encouraging and, I believe, a sign of things to come.

While it is highly questionable why this particular undertaking would receive such a level of funding in detriment to other events that have been fiercely fighting for survival, we must have hope that there are plans to address the issues of the working musicians in Madison, a group that is far greater in numbers than most people realize. Funding music is an economic investment and I believe the city is waking up to this. After all, Austin—like Rome—was not built in a single day.