Next weekend may be one of the noisiest in Madison history. Most of the noise will be joyful: live music at more than 100 pop-up venues on Friday, June 21, for Make Music Madison, and nearly a dozen performances at the Madison Area Music Awards at Overture Center on Sunday, June 23. There's also the sounds of Isthmus Jazz Fest at the UW Memorial Union Terrace on June 21 and 22. But some of the noise might not be so happy: MAMAs founder Rick Tvedt has been clamoring about Make Music Madison, claiming it undermines local performers.
Tvedt's argument, articulated in a Madison Magazine column, is simple: Professional musicians should be paid for their work unless they willingly volunteer their time, and $25,000 -- the amount Make Music Madison received from the city -- ought to yield an impressive festival. As MMM draws closer, more musicians have taken a stand against unpaid work. Some, like Paddy Cassidy, have signed up for MMM despite reservations. (Cassidy says "you'd be a fool not to participate" in Fete de la Musique, the Paris event that inspired MMM.) Others, like Evan Murdock, have raised concerns on social media and an Isthmus story. Tvedt has questioned how Make Music Madison is using its budget and benefiting the city.
"The Make Music Madison grant is exactly $25,000 more than the city has ever offered to help fund the Madison Area Music Association or countless other projects that actually have local charitable recipients and work to improve conditions for local musicians," he noted in the column and again in an interview with Isthmus.
Michael Rothschild, the retired UW marketing professor who's leading Make Music Madison, says these critics are missing the point.
"Our internal slogan is 'freedom within structure,' which is how Dave Brubeck defined jazz," he says. "And the $25,000 is to pay our one staff person, who's been averaging 50 hours a week. If the people working on this charged their usual rate, it would be a half-million-dollar project."
In other words, Make Music Madison is about laying the foundation for a vibrant citywide event and then letting the community unleash its creativity. The goal is to bring locals together and shatter their usual routine, much like a giant flash mob, Rothschild says.
He and Mayor Paul Soglin also hope the event will draw attention to Madison's fun-loving spirit, which could mean future goodies for the city. (Conferences! Tourism dollars!)
But the immediate question is whether locals will participate. Dozens of artists have signed up for about 270 performances on June 21, but they need an audience. And listeners have lots of choices. West African Dance of Madison, one of Cassidy's groups, will entertain passersby near the Wisconsin Historical Museum at 4 p.m. Bernie's Beach will have Celtic and old-time music from noon to 9 p.m., and Elvehjem Park will have Solskinn, a showcase hosted by local blog Jonk Music. Its lineup includes Julian Lynch, the Luyas and Double Ewes. South Park Street will feature music at Centro Hispano, the Boys & Girls Club and even the library.
Several events, such as a harmonica jam near the Capitol and a drumming parade by the Urban League, will challenge people to drop what they're doing and grab an instrument.
With a red carpet and a ticketed show, the MAMAs will be a more polished affair. Acts such as Anthony Lamarr and Anna Vogelzang will perform in Overture's Capitol Theater, where local musicians will compete for awards in more than 60 categories, including Best New Artist and Video of the Year.
This time, nominees' votes carried extra weight, which Tvedt says may make the winners' list look a bit different than usual. It's yet another reason to watch the drama unfold.
[Editor's note: This article has been corrected to note that the Make Music Madison event Solskinn will be at Elvehjem Park.]