In 2007, the revival of the Majestic Theater as a concert space was my Madison music story of the year. This year, a few people with an awesome vision for a major musical festival made my choice easy:
1. Forward Music Festival is born
The inaugural Forward Music Festival brought 72 bands to eight Madison venues in September. The list included headliners Neko Case and Bob Mould, a Killdozer reunion, the Detroit Cobras and the Dillinger Four. Five organizers and 50 volunteers made it all happen, even without major sponsorship. And while attendance left room for improvement, organizers vowed the festival would return in 2009.
2. Gas prices slow down touring
Rollercoaster gas prices are at a low point as 2008 concludes. But for most of the year, prices hovered near $4 per gallon. That put a crimp in the touring plans of a lot of Madison bands.
"We're just not as willing to take chances on shows now, given the expense," bassist Mike Huberty of Sunspot told me last May. "We're basically sticking to the markets we already know work for us."
3. DJ Pain 1 tops Billboard, JAMZ on Saturday night
Local hip producer DJ Pain 1 was Madison music's breakout story of 2008. He produced a track on The Recession, the album by Atlanta-based hip-hop artist Young Jeezy that went to #1 on the Billboard album chart in September.
When DJ Pain 1 wasn't making waves nationally, he was hosting the most creative local radio show of 2008: The Saturday night live mix show on 106.7 FM, Madtown JAMZ. Pain co-hosted the show with his longtime friend and Fall Guys rapper, MC Starr. The show features live, local shout-outs and free-form DJ mixing late into the night.
4. Madison gets a pop star
Jane Wiedlin is the Go-Go who propelled the band to pop fame by penning the music to "Our Lips Are Sealed." This year, the Oconomowoc native left L.A. and made Madison her home. She bought a house in Maple Bluff and got domestic with her beau, Madison recording engineer and musician, Travis Kasperbauer.
In September at the Willy Street Fair, Wiedlin introduced her new Madison-based band, Lady Robotika.
5. MP3 "single releases" rival CD releases
CD releases are still a seminal event for local bands, but in 2008, more Madison artists began promoting regular MP3 single releases on their websites.
Lorenzo's Music and Sunspot turned their single releases into anticipated monthly web events for their fans. The format had its advantages - the videos that accompanied these singles brought life to the sites as well as the sounds of Madison.
Local bands embraced free music as a way to build an audience. Red Romero sold out the Orpheum's Stage Door by handing out free EPs and encouraging fans to copy them and give one to a friend.
6. WSUM gets $400,000 gift
In May, outgoing UW-Madison Chancellor John Wiley allocated $400,000 in unrestricted university grants to help WSUM move into a new studio.
"We pitched $250,000 and held our breath," recalls station manager Dave Black. "He looked at us and said, 'Are you sure that's going to be enough?' We knew we needed $400,000 or more, so we swallowed hard and asked for $375,000. He rounded it off to $400,000."
WSUM's new studio will reside in the hip University Square project at the corner of Lake Street and University Avenue. The move from their current State Street studio is set for this January.
7. Goodbye King Club and Club 770
2008 began with news that King Club owners Tristan and Lisa Gallagher were closing the King Street music venue that had become a mainstay for local bands. By spring, the King Club had become Woof's, and Clyde Stubblefield's Funky Monday jams had relocated across the street to Madison's.
Nick Nice recently bid Club 770 adieu with a "wrecking ball" dance party. Club 770 was the cafeteria inside Union South that morphed awkwardly into a weekend music club. With Union South being demolished and rebuilt, Club 770 is no more, at least for now.
8. Hello Frequency and Project Lodge
Local musician Darwin Sampson ended his tenure booking shows at the Annex and opened his own club, the Frequency, in May. Local bands that had previously played the room at 121 W. Main back when it was the Slipper Club all had the same reaction: Isn't it great he moved the stage to the back of the club?
In February, Portland, Ore. transplants Chris Buckingham and Kendra Larson opened the Project Lodge, an art gallery and music venue on East Johnson Street. The venue favored all-ages indie shows from both local and touring artists.
9. Science of Sound is label of the year
The small, Madison-based independent record label started by Ricky and Terrin Riemer released three of my top ten local CDs this year. Pale Young Gentlemen, Sleeping in the Aviary and Whatfor proved that some of the most ambitious Madison bands are finding support at Science of Sound.
10. Natty Nation on tour of the year
For a lot of local bands, playing gigs beyond the state line is a logistical challenge. This year, Natty Nation not only crossed the Badger border, they took their "positive message" songs across the globe. The reggae-rock band spent most of November touring Africa and Asia to play music for U.S. troops.
While they toured, I exchanged e-mails with members Demetrius Wainwright and Aaron Konkol. "The troops are tired," they told me. "Some are on their third or fourth tours. We gave them a listening ear and some positive music to relieve their stress on the dance floor."
Happy new year!