Mayor Paul Soglin wants to strengthen Madison music, but the most promising initiative he's backing comes from outside his office. During a Nov. 8 town-hall meeting, he and Ald. Scott Resnick struggled to explain why the city should spend $50,000 on a video to promote Madison as a destination for out-of-town music lovers. Only one of the night's panelists had many satisfying ideas about how to support local performers: Michael Rothschild, a retired UW marketing professor who's organizing an event called Make Music Madison.
Planned for June 21, 2013, Make Music Madison would put musicians all over the city, all day, in public places ranging from residential yards to libraries to Metro Transit bus-transfer points. Its intended effect, according to its website, is to create "a continuous wall of music." Soglin wants the city to chip in $25,000.
Rothschild, 69, began discussing the Make Music Madison idea with city officials after his nephew organized a similar event called Make Music New York, which is inspired by Paris' annual Fête de la Musique. As he garnered support from Soglin, city of Madison Arts Administrator Karin Wolf, and community groups, Rothschild became the de facto leader of the proposed event - and one of the most unlikely music promoters Madison has ever seen.
He started by gaining support from members of Madison's 120 or so residential neighborhood associations, as well as business organizations like Dane Buy Local and social organizations like Centro Hispano. Now he has to hash out the details with dozens of other Madison residents. He intends to keep the event "decentralized."
"I see this as a very bottom-up process, as opposed to top-down," Rothschild says. "When people are critical of what I'm doing, I see it as an opportunity to learn more about how to do this [event]."
This last point is crucial. Madison's music community often fails to turn legitimate gripes into constructive conversations. Suggest that the Madison Area Music Awards could change a thing or two, and you'll most likely get a defensive response from the organizers. Point out that the Forward Music Festival's organizers blundered organizationally and financially, and you'll probably spark a pretty forgiving discussion that teaches us very little about how to do things better.
Rothschild also needs to sell his idea to musicians who are skeptical that the event's benefits will extend beyond one exuberant day. But I must credit him with being game for a challenge. During the town-hall meeting, when local hip-hop promoter Mark "Shah" Evans asked how Make Music Madison would incorporate hip-hop, Rothschild confidently shot back that Evans could take charge of the hip-hop box on the event's organizational chart.
Rothschild and local musician Stephanie Rearick even have answers for a big criticism, which Rothschild sums up as "This is going to work well in Shorewood Hills, but it's not going to work well on Allied Drive." Rothschild says he wants "underserved" neighborhoods to be a big part of the festival. Rearick deals with Allied Drive organizations as director of the Dane County TimeBank. She sees "tons of capacity" for a successful day of music in that neighborhood, especially in Belmar Hills Park, the Madison Apprenticeship Program and a bike-path underpass.
Rearick can also pinpoint when crunch time begins for Make Music Madison. By February, organizers are supposed to have a database of performance venues and software to help place musicians at different spots around the city. As for that money from the city, Rothschild thinks much of it would go toward promotional costs, plus a possible limited-term employee to help with the event and "a zillion little things that we haven't thought of." He also plans to explore funding from grants and other private sources.
Madison's still a long way from that wall of music, not to mention Soglin's vision of Madison as a city where musicians get paid for their work. But Rothschild and his partners could pull off an event that puts local music in a refreshing new context.