Live music in Madison is about to get a much-needed boost with the opening of The Frequency just off Capitol Square in June. The music scene in the city has seen the departure of multiple small clubs recently, including the King Club and Adair's Lounge over the winter and The Klinic earlier this spring. The pendulum is also swinging in the other direction, though, with the spring opening of The Project Lodge and now with this new venue. Owned and operated by local musician and promoter Darwin Sampson, the club is getting ready to embark upon a busy summer as the only regularly booked small venue to be found downtown.
The biggest change inside The Frequency is the positioning of the stage, which will be very welcome news to bands and their fans. Previous incarnations of the space, including Adair's Lounge and before that The Slipper Club, featured a small thrust stage set against a side wall, effectively splitting the room in two and leaving musicians performing directly towards the other wall. This will no longer be an issue, though, as the stage is now set against the rear wall, opening up the space and concentrating the sound system so that it will feel and sound more like a genuine music venue. A new burgundy paint job also adorns the walls, warming up the space.
Shows at the club will be limited to Thursdays through Saturdays over the summer as a warm-up to a full calendar of concerts and other events planned for autumn upon return of the UW student population. Along with more touring acts and a regular slate of local bands, it will also host pool and dart play, along with various theme nights of music and open jams. Rotating taps and a few snacks will also be available inside, which has a capacity of 99 patrons.
Sampson talks with The Daily Page in an email interview about The Frequency, discussing the work that went into creating the club, his plans for supporting the local music scene, and more.
The Daily Page: The space at 121 West Main Street where The Frequency is located has seen significant numbers of businesses in and out of the space in the last couple of decades, including several live music clubs. What will you do in order to establish yourself more firmly?
Sampson: We plan to have an aggressive advertising and promotion strategy. Consistency will be the key to any success we may have.
What kinds of music will you host at the Frequency?
I plan to take the best live music I can get from a wide pool of genres. Why limit yourself when there are so many talented local, regional, national and international acts that need a smaller venue to call home as they build their crowd?
What kinds of non-music events will you host at the Frequency?
We're going to develop these as we go, but again I plan to be flexible and open to ideas. We intend to be as involved with benefits and other similar functions as possible. We'll be hosting things like dart league and pool league. I'm a bit of a sports nut so I'm sure that angle will be approached eventually -- go Brewers! We also have a service industry night planned as well as a musician related theme night.
Imagine a perfect week's line-up at The Frequency. What's the mix of live music and other events are you looking to achieve?
Ideally I'd like to have people coming in to check out the music regardless of genre and whether they've heard the acts performing any given evening. It would be nice to be able to have live music every single night when we don't have another event or league scheduled, and this will be our goal as we create our niche. I've seen many great bands over the last few years -- it'd be difficult to say what the "perfect" week would entail.
What's your thinking behind the name The Frequency?
The name popped into my head while I was meditating. I wanted a name that tied into music and also could have other connotations. Part of the reasoning is the idea that bands need to play Madison frequently to build their audience, we're looking to provide a consistent venue for bands to do so.
What kind of mix of music are you planning for your jukebox?
It will be rotated regularly and will include many of the acts you might catch at The Frequency. We're going retro -- I can't tell you how weird it is to call CDs retro for me -- and using a CD jukebox. I'm encouraging bands to send me discs so I can get them some spins before they come and play. There will be all kinds of different music, and you'll be able to find something pleasing to your ear while you're at the club.
What beers are going to be on tap?
We're not 100% settled, but there are some Madison standards that will be available. I like local micros; they will most certainly be included in a rotating cast of taps to keep it fresh....
What foods will you have to eat there?
We're looking mainly at frozen pizzas, hot pretzels, and a variety of other snacks and confections. Carry out is available from adjourning businesses, so if you need to eat food is readily available.
Who else besides you is on the staff at the club?
Jessica Neitzel will be managing the bar; she's extremely talented and dedicated. I'm lucky she was available. I've tapped a couple of other good folks, the commonality being a love of live music. I have Nate Bush (of Droids Attack) as a solid cornerstone, and Jake Sullivan will be an invaluable part of our team as well. I have Andrea Mirenda-Powell leading our street team too. It will be a friendly, enthusiastic, and musically savvy staff.
How does the process proceed for The Frequency to allow 18+ patrons to attend shows?
We do not have the under 21 license as of now. Alderman Mike Verveer has been very encouraging and has steered me towards obtaining this license. We intend to do so -- optimistically by fall but we don't have a set timeframe. We are also looking at some all ages shows (likely matinees) when the license is acquired. 21+ will have wristbands.
Why do you want to attract younger patrons?
I want younger people to feel more involved with their music community and have a fun, safe place to go and catch their favorite bands. In the location we're at it makes sense to be inclusive. Again, Alder Verveer has encouraged me to pursue a younger audience.
There's a sense that the greater Madison live music scene is disconnected with the UW and its students. Is this your reason for trying to open up The Frequency to 18-20 year olds?
I can't say that it's specifically related to the UW issue. It certainly doesn't hurt that we're close to campus and we intend to do what we can to get the UW students to our shows, but I'd like to see the greater Madison community as a whole embrace the all-ages shows. I've found that younger crowds tend to be enthusiastic and supportive of bands they like, and with gas prices going through the roof any money the bands can make helps. It's more about getting bigger live music crowds and keeping bands on the road. I hate seeing live music suffering because of gas prices.
Will The Frequency be open on nights when you aren't hosting live music?
Open every day for happy hour until close!
What changes to the interior of the club can people look forward to?
I think people will be pretty happy with some of the bigger changes we've made to the rock room. The sound system and stage setup will be geared towards providing the best sonic and visual experience possible in that space. I'm pretty thrilled with how it looks thus far.
There's also a lot of new paint and decorating. Silk-screened art and other oddities will be featured. It will be warm, inviting, and reflect the musical philosophy we have.
What did you learn while booking at the Annex that will help you with running The Frequency?
I learned a million different things. It was a very eye-opening experience and I'm really grateful to them for hiring me last summer. I discovered some of what works and doesn't work. I also determined that I like smaller rooms much more. The overhead is smaller and there's not nearly as much pressure to have 300+ people at a show on any given evening. Over the last five years I've been fortunate to be surrounded by talented business people and have gained a ton of experience, perspective and knowledge from them.
What have you learned while playing in various bands that will help you with running The Frequency?
I think it helps give me both perspectives. I've been on both sides of the live music coin and can use this experience to hopefully make live music equitable for both the club and the performers we have.
The Frequency will open its doors for the first time this weekend with a pair of "invite only" parties featuring various local bands that will serve as a shakedown cruise for the new club. The Friday gathering brings together The Treats, Awesome Car Funmaker, and Stephanie Rearick for a show, while the Saturday party will see Know Boundaries, The Selfish Gene, and Tancho Tancho! taking over the new stage.
The official grand opening for the club is to be over the first weekend of June, though with a trio of shows that feature Landmines (with Things Fall Apart and The Gusto), Droids Attack (with Voodoo Love Mint), and Knuckel Drager (with Brainerd and Roboman). The rest of the summer will be just as busy at the club, with most of the weekend dates through the season already booked with various touring and local acts, including Screamin' Cyn Cyn & The Pons, Freedy Johnston, Colony of Watts, Hometown Sweethearts, Sleeping in the Aviary, as well as regular gigs by Marcus King and Thee Royalty and the return of Mad Cabaret.
"We're all really excited to get The Frequency rolling," concludes Sampson, "and we hope Madison embraces the concept."