Matt Earley first heard the Rolling Stones' classic 1972 album Exile on Main St. at age 19, and it quickly became a go-to record for him.
This week, the 45-year-old vocalist, guitarist and ukulele player for Madison's Americana string band Winn Dixie will lead the "Exile on Willy St." project -- a who's-who of the city's alt-country music scene -- in a one-time-only, front-to-back reworking of the 18-song double album now regarded as one of the finest records in rock history.
More than two dozen musicians and vocalists, including Meghan Rose, Nick Brown and Isthmus' own Andy Moore, are expected to participate in the Jan. 24 performance at the High Noon Saloon.
"We wound up with a few more people than I initially expected," says Earley, saying it's Madison's version of The Last Waltz, the famous performance by The Band in 1976 that was punctuated by more than a dozen special guests. "It's going to be a rotating cast of characters, with some consistency among musicians."
"Exile on Willy St." took root last year after Winn Dixie and alt-folk outfit Count This Penny jammed together on "Dead Flowers," one of the Stones' first and most obvious forays into country.
"After the show, I was talking with a friend about the joy of playing the Stones with a big lineup, and he suggested that we learn the entire Exile record and play it in order," Earley says. "I ran the idea past some other local musicians, and there was a lot of interest in putting the show together."
The artists --some of whom admit they never heard Exile on Main St. until becoming involved with this project -- drew song titles out of a hat to determine who would play what.
All-star casts of musicians in other cities have given one-off performances of Exile, too. But this is a first for Madison, and Exile on Main St. makes for an ideal album choice.
Recorded in a rented French villa under bacchanalian conditions when the Stones were on the run from tax collectors, the record contains popular singles "Tumbling Dice" and "Happy," plus a variety of lesser-known rock, country, blues and soul tunes.
"If some of the performances are loose or don't sound like the record, that's okay," Earley says. "That lends to the celebration and spirit of the record. People don't have to play like Keith [Richards] or sing like Mick [Jagger]."
Earley's biggest concern involves logistics, particularly how to bring performers on and off the stage quickly. "We're hoping to keep the time between songs to a minimum," says Earley, who also co-owns the Just Coffee Cooperative on Madison's east side.
Earley says he's exploring options to record Saturday's show, and hasn't ruled out a similar project involving another classic (albeit shorter) album.
"This is a no-lose situation, because whatever anybody comes up with is going to be really neat to see," Earley says. "I'm really excited to see how it plays out."