Sugar Maple Music Fest is in tune with tradition

This two-day festival is now in its 13th year
Sugar Maple Music Fest is in tune with tradition
Open jamming in the jam tent at the Sugar Maple Traditional Music Festival.

When Stephanie Ramer attends the Sugar Maple Traditional Music Festival each summer, she enjoys watching the bluegrass, Cajun and country performers onstage and fans of all ages on the dance floor. But she always keeps an eye on the strip of grass just below the stage, where the most serious music lovers tend to congregate.

“When they look up, I know there’s really something special going on onstage, and I pay attention,” she says.

It’s that deep respect for music making and the history of traditional music that characterizes the event, says Ramer, who serves as vice president of the board of the Four Lakes Traditional Music Collective, the nonprofit that hosts the festival each August.

The two-day festival–now in its 13th year and taking place Aug. 5-6–attracts more than 1,500 music fans to a big, striped tent at Lake Farm County Park just west of Lake Waubesa in Madison. It highlights local talent and brings in acts from around the country and abroad.

Traditional music is loosely and eclectically defined at Sugar Maple. This year’s headliner is Jay Farrar, the St. Louis-based musician formerly with Uncle Tupelo and Son Volt. Festivalgoers can also catch acoustic blues, Hawaiian slack key, traditional bluegrass, ragtime and country blues, western swing, early country, new American roots, old-time roots and Cajun acts.

The line dividing performer and audience blurs at this event. Workshops and interactive jam sessions–often led by main stage performers–are offered at the Roots and Reasons stage at the park shelter. Attendees can bring their instruments and swap stories, songs and techniques with fellow musicians.

This attitude of openness extends elsewhere in the festival, from kids being welcomed and admitted for free, to the camping that accompanies the event, to music lovers jamming around a bonfire late into the night.

The festival is all about nurturing handmade music and ensuring that an appreciation for it continues for generations to come.

“There’s a richness in this music,” Ramer says. “We want to be part of keeping it around.”

LISTEN UP: Highlights From This Year’s Festival

August 5
THE MALT HOUSE HAPPY HOUR SET WITH MAL-O-DUA | French swing and Hawaiian slack key

ART STEVENSON & HIGH WATER | traditional bluegrass

August 6
JAY FARRAR performs songs of Son Volt’s “Trace” album

AOIFE O’DONOVAN | singer-songwriter