The folks running music venues in Madison have been restless all year—with venues changing hands, live music companies merging, developers breaking ground with guitar shovels, and even small venues going through changes.
What does it all mean, and will any of this add up to big long-term changes that will impact Madison audiences and performers? Maybe not, but it’s worth taking a moment to process. We do exactly that on our latest podcast episode, with help from Tone Madison contributors Emily Mills, Emili Earhart, and Henry Solotaroff-Webber. Emily and Emili recently collaborated on a report about new small venues popping up in Madison, including the North Street Cabaret in the Eken Park neighborhood and the new Connections nightclub out on East Wash near Stoughton Road. Henry wrote a recent cover story for The Badger Herald that considers the Frank-Majestic merger and whether it will impact local bands.
We got about 15 minutes into the conversation before the M-word came up. And as the merger gets closer to becoming reality, we have to consider the possibility that maybe it’s…not that big of a deal? Yes, the resulting company will have a lot of power over live music in town, but it’s also up for local musicians and audiences to build the community they want. The growth in small venues and niche-oriented show organizers is a healthy sign that they’re doing just that.
In the months since Frank Productions bought the High Noon Saloon from beloved founder Cathy Dethmers, we’ve also had to consider the possibility that Frank will keep its promise not to change things too much. The folks in charge right now—including booker Maggie Denman, booker/marketing guy Justin Kibbel, and general manager/sweetheart bartender Steve Renfro—have kept up a good balance of local and touring shows thus far, while experimenting with new events that feel in the spirit of the place, like the Points & Pints event in August. It’s entirely appropriate to ask whether a large promoter like Frank Productions can be a good steward of a venue like the High Noon. But the venue has built up a loyal group of patrons and a lot of goodwill, so maybe Frank has decided that hanging onto that is the best way forward.
Emili, Emily, Henry, and Tone Madison editor Scott Gordon discussed all that’s changing and whether or not it will really change that much, in addition to going off on a few music-related tangents.