Rock veteran Bob Mould formerly played in Hüsker Dü and Sugar.
With just four weeks to go before the inaugural Forward Music Festival takes place Sept. 19 and 20, Bessie Cherry, one of the fest's five co-organizers, admits that things are getting a little harried. "I tell the other guys it's kind of like the eighth month of being pregnant," she laughs during a mid-afternoon break from her day job at a local web design and consulting firm. "You're hot. You're tired. You're uncomfortable. And it hasn't happened yet!"
The addition of Rolling Stone-endorsed tunesmith Mason Jennings and indie DJ duo Flosstradamus cemented the two-day fest's roster of headliners a couple weeks ago. But the artists are just the most visible part of Forward Fest. These days Cherry and company are scampering to bring a year's worth of planning to fruition. One of the more pressing concerns? They need to sign up and train more than 50 volunteers, who'll help make certain artists and attendees alike have a worry-free festival experience.
They're also gnawing their fingernails over whether locals will respond to an unfamiliar, music-conference-style ticketing regime that makes all fans purchase a general admission bracelet and then offers special VIP badges that guarantee a spot at individual concerts for an additional price. Out-of-towners familiar with South By Southwest and other music confabs get the system right away. But Cherry says some Badgers are perplexed by it: "It seems like a pretty good deal to be able to see two days' of music for 25 bucks, but it's taken people a little time to understand how that works. We had a big rush in sales in the beginning, then it slowed. Now it's steady."
Cherry reports that festival-goers will be coming from as far away as Europe and both coasts to catch a rare reunion of Madison noise-rock vets Killdozer as well as shows featuring Bob Mould, Neko Case, Dan Deacon and the Detroit Cobras. That's impressive when you consider that aside from a brief mention in Pitchfork and networking done through the festival's own Facebook, MySpace and Last.fm pages, the organizers have done no national advertising. "It's what we can afford," says Cherry. "But it's gotten the word out."
Festival organizers might have done more publicity if they'd attracted major sponsors to the event. But as of this writing, none has signed up. "That was a surprise," says Cherry, who praises local stores Mad City Music, Context and Sconnie for putting some dollars into the homegrown festival. "It's hard to look at something like the Madison Roots Festival, which had a lot of major sponsors, and not wonder why we couldn't get them. We thought people would really want to sponsor this event. It's local, it supports Madison music, and we plan on being around for a while."
Cherry and company weren't exactly surprised by the number of events that overlap with Forward Fest, but competition for the local audience is another challenge for the organizers. They knew early on that the Willy Street Fair would be happening on the same weekend and quickly made arrangements not to step on the longtime street festival's toes.
However, Willy Street is just the tip of the iceberg. Other marquee events competing for audiences that weekend include the Madison World Music Festival and the rescheduled Industry Meltdown Midwest Music Summit, which features an appearance by Kanye West on one of its panels. A major hip-hop concert may also be held on the UW campus on Friday or Saturday.
Still, Cherry says festival organizers aren't worried about making their goal of selling 3,000 bracelets for the weekend. "There's a lot of choices, but people here really do come out and support music," she says philosophically. "We knew there'd be other things happening. There always are."