A Madison institution, the charming Harmony Bar may be the last venue in the country without a website. They rely on a dedicated fan base and word-of-mouth to advertise their shows, though they did just start a MySpace page to fill the void until they get a site up and running. They just barely beat The Midwesterners to it, as lead singer/guitarist Richard Wiegel admitted to me during a recent interview. The Midwesterners play the first stop on the Madison Music Project Charter Club Tour at the Harmony on Saturday night at 9:45 p.m.
"I just set up a MySpace page for the band last week," he said. "It used to be that you spent thousands setting up a web page, now you can do it for free."
That's not all that has changed in the 40 some years that Wiegel has been a Madison-area musician. "Back in the '70s and '80s, you could play four nights a week in Madison and make a living, you can't do that anymore," he said, explaining that the Midwesterners only play about 30 shows a year, focusing on rooms like the Harmony and the Brink Lounge. They have also been fortunate enough to get the opening slot on several Barrymore shows, most recently appearing with Marcia Ball earlier this month.
These are some of Wiegel's favorite rooms to play and the band has been recording their gigs in hopes of eventually compiling a Midwesterners' "live" CD. This will likely be the band's next release, following last year's well-received Riding With Chuck. That would be Chuck as in Berry, not Norris. Wiegel has always been influenced by Berry and the tracks on this record reflect that affection, including one Berry original "You Never Can Tell." In addition to the proposed live record, Wiegel hopes to put out another solo record eventually, "if I can find the time to write the songs."
The band that played on that record is also the current touring line-up, and includes Mark Haines on drums, Tom McCarty on bass, and D. Ernie Conner on guitar in addition to Wiegel. John Chimes, who Wiegel calls a "world class musician" and one of his favorite local performers, guests on piano. Even though the Midwesterners self-titled first record came out in 1991 and featured both Haines and Wiegel, they have only existed as a touring band for the past five years.
That makes them the elder statesmen of Madison's roots rock scene. Wiegel describes newer bands in that broadening genre, such as Dear August and Earl Foss' Brown Derby, as "being young at it." While Madison has a jazz society and a folk society, he admits that there isn't a roots rock society, which presents some challenges in keeping track of the local scene.
In fact, while Madison has a vibrant music scene, there is no one genre that dominates it, which a passing glance at the MMP directory should make rather evident.