January can be a slow time of year for music venues. Touring acts are largely on hiatus until a bit later in the season, and customers can still be recovering from the whirlwind of the holiday season.
For the past several years, the Majestic Theatre has used the lull to showcase local punk, folk and bluegrass musicians who typically don't play such a large venue.
"We really love giving local and regional bands a chance to play a bigger stage and to come together to support each other," says Majestic's Matt Gerding. "It's important to stay connected with the local music scene even though we primarily do national shows."
Each festival, which will run over the first two weekends in January, spotlights both familiar faces and up-and-coming acts, all with local and regional ties. A funk festival is a new addition this year, as is Isthmus as a sponsor.
"We thought funk would be a fun one to try," says Gerding. "We do a number of funk-themed events each year but haven't done one that focuses on local and regional bands."
The punk fest gets things started on Jan. 2 with an eight-band lineup headlined by Masked Intruder. Thanks to a criminally catchy brand of power pop and their ability to balance humor with skilled musicianship, the Madison band is riding a wave of critical acclaim with M.I., released this year on venerable label Fat Wreck Chords.
"They're definitely the ringleader of the punk scene in Wisconsin," says Gerding. "I feel a lot of smaller bands have cropped up, and I think many of them look up to those guys quite a bit."
Masked Intruder will be joined at the punk festival by Milwaukee's Direct Hit!, Sheboygan's the Jetty Boys, Eau Claire's Arms Aloft, Fond du Lac's IDFK, and Madison's the Transgressions, Help Desk and Skizzwhores
The inaugural funk fest is slated for Jan. 3.
Headliners Sonny Knight & The Lakers are not based in Wisconsin -- they're from Minneapolis -- but some members are originally from the state.
Knight is ready for another chance to show Madison and younger bands what classic funk and soul is all about. Isthmus interviewed him last month ahead of a sold-out show at the Frequency, and the 66-year-old Knight said he's still able to "bounce off the walls" with raw energy despite his age.
"I can't wait to have them on the big stage of the Majestic," says Gerding. "I think people will be pretty blown away by them."
Madison gets a week to rest up before the rollicking bluegrass fest on Jan. 9.
Top-billed is Dead Horses, a four-piece bluegrass/folk band from Oshkosh. Led by singer Sarah Vos, the band returns to the festival this year after recently releasing a new album, Space and Time.
"They're an interesting bluegrass band," says Gerding. "They have a female lead singer, which is rare for [bluegrass] bands in the region. They write delicately wonderful songs and can do all kinds of tempos and speeds."
Closing the fest series this year will be the folk festival on Jan. 10.
Stoughton-based Faux Fawn tops the folk lineup. It is the latest project of singer-songwriter Paul Otteson and features several popular local musicians, including Jeremiah Nelson. A debut album, Lonesome Loon, was released earlier this month and finds Otteson's reflective lyrics boosted by his backing band's prowess.
"We generally pay attention to which bands are turning heads throughout the region and which bands are selling tickets and building a lot of hype and taking ownership of the scene they're building," says Gerding. "Bands that take pride in being from Wisconsin are what we look for."