James T. Spartz
Jeff Vida performs with Jimmy Sutton at the Sugar Maple Traditional Music Festival in Madison on Saturday, August 3, 2007.
The Four Lakes Traditional Music Collective has done it again. Despite typical Wisconsin weather, high heat and humidity before rain and cooler temps, the Sugar Maple Traditional Music Festival exceeded expectations and produced another successful event. Held at Lake Farm County Park, just south of Madison, this fourth edition of the annual late-summer music festival saw its largest Friday night crowd yet, topping 460 attendees. Over 600 music fans passed through the gate by 5 p.m. on Saturday, despite some steady precipitation.
But no one complained about the rain. It has been so dry in fact that, despite an all day soaking; there was very little mud. Highlights of Friday's music, by all reports, were the old-timey sounds of New Bad Habits and the honky-tonk swing of the Western Elstons with Joel Paterson and Jimmy Sutton. The Clearwater Hot Club with Randy Sabien brought the Gypsy Jazz while the Magnolia Sisters performed both Friday and Saturday, conducting a two-step dance workshop on Saturday. The lessons must have helped because the dance floor filled up as soon as the Sisters kicked off their Saturday night set.
New Orleans acoustic roots act Jeff & Vida, with bass ace Jimmy Sutton rounding out the sound, were the "perfect band for this type of day," according to Bill Malone, renowned country music historian and MC for Saturday's lineup. "You can tell it works," Malone said of the trio's appeal, "when you get that many people out on the dance floor."
The headlining act on Saturday night was Nashville singer/songwriter Jim Lauderdale and his trio, which included the talents of Randy Kohrs on dobro and Ashley Brown on fiddle. Wearing a bright blue sequined suit as if, one attendee noted, he had "just rode in on a cloud of pixie dust," Lauderdale praised the crowd and the event repeatedly.
A unique feature of this year's event was the workshop stage, coordinated by local bluegrass player Bob Batyko. Workshop stages at festivals like this are not so unique, but the combination of players at Sugar Maple fest this year was. The so-called Roots & Reason stage had Woody Pines demonstrating a variety of jug-band instruments, local children's musician Dave Landau hosting a sing-a-long, and, as mentioned above, the Magnolia Sisters hosted a Two-Step dance lesson.
Bill Malone also moderated a workshop discussion between acoustic duo Jeff & Vida along with the Magnolia Sisters, all Louisiana residents, regarding their experiences recovering from Hurricane Katrina. The group discussed how disaster references have found their way into roots music from the Titanic and the Edmund Fitzgerald, to the Dust Bowl, and more.
The Four Lakes Traditional Music Collective orchestrates all aspects of the event with the help of about 100 volunteers. They bring touring groups to Madison for shows at the High Noon Saloon throughout the year in order to raise money for the culminating festival in August.
But just because this year's festival is over, they see no need to waste time preparing for next year. On Thursday, August 16 the Clack Mountain String Band of Eastern Kentucky and Asheville, North Carolina's Forge Mountain Diggers will be playing at the High Noon Saloon, once again bringing new voices in traditional music to grace the Madison scene.