Madison appears on many "best of" lists, in part because it has such a large number of concerts by touring acts each year. Having many live music options is a good thing, but it can be hard for an unknown artist to bring in an audience when famous performers come to town regularly. This problem applies to both local and non-local acts, and it's the primary concern of Communion, an organization that helps area musicians and under-the-radar acts from eight other U.S. cities build audiences together.
Formed by Ben Lovett of Mumford & Sons, Kevin Jones of Bear's Den and producer Ian Grimble, Communion began in London in 2006. Two months ago, the American branch of the organization started sending touring acts to Madison for monthly shows with local musicians. The next Communion event brings Mississippi folk rockers Rosco Bandana and Madison singer-songwriter Jeremiah Nelson to the Frequency for a holiday-themed show on Wednesday, Dec. 18.
Communion spread throughout England and Ireland first, then expanded to Australia and, most recently, the United States. Modeled after the popular club nights Lovett, Jones and Grimble hosted in London, Communion Madison holds monthly events featuring indie acts from music epicenters such as New York City and Nashville.
So how did Madison land on this prestigious list?
"A few people mentioned Madison to me, and we fell in love with the band PHOX," Lovett says. "As we dived into the history and the story of that band, it started to become clear that there really is a community of musicians that just create energy and [lend a unique] vibe to Madison."
Bands can perform in a handful of U.S. cities that organize Communion gigs, and some may be invited to Communion events in up to 25 cities around the world.
In addition to helping bands build a lasting fan base, Lovett wants Communion to prepare artists for playing packed venues.
"We see it as a way for bands to...travel and not show up and have no one in the room," he says.
Nelson, the local performer on this month's bill, says he's excited to be a part of Communion.
"This will be the first show I've done with them. I was at the last Communion show, and it was terrific," he says.
So far, the shows have been an opportunity to hear several varieties of indie music in one night, from folky songs by local artist Anna Vogelzang to dance tunes by New York City's Rubblebucket.
As Lovett puts it, "This is the perfect rock show."