Now in its fourth year, the Sugar Maple Traditional Music Festival is on a roll. Ticket sales are strong, Web sites that follow traditional American music are taking notice of it, and The Chicago Tribune tapped it as a good opportunity to catch American sounds in a relaxed, bucolic setting.
"It's not bigger, and there's not more hours of music," says organizer Evan Murdock of the nonprofit Four Lakes Traditional Music Collective. "But this is the strongest lineup we've ever had. We have more national bands: Mark Newton, Jim Lauderdale, the Magnolia Sisters from Louisiana. Everyone's pretty excited about it."
But the marquee slate of Cajun, bluegrass, country and other trad-minded artists shouldn't be taken as an indication that Four Lakes is interested in modifying Sugar Maple's laidback vibe. While beer is sold onsite and rustic camping is available near the festival's two stages, Murdock says this will never be a festival for partying music fans. "We want to make sure that it's still very local, very comfortable, very family-oriented."
To maintain that friendly atmosphere, Four Lakes has kept ticket sales capped at 1,000 over the years. The collective has also maintained a special kids' performance area and music workshops on traditional American styles. Murdock notes that in years past, festival-goers have gathered in informal after-hours campfire sessions to focus on sharing music and establishing new friendships. "Although we do sell beer, we've never had any problems with people being inappropriate."
Sugar Maple isn't sold out, but Murdock wouldn't be surprised if it reached capacity on Friday or Saturday.
Would a sellout convince Four Lakes to increase its ticket cap next year? Probably, even though pushing past the 1,000-ticket mark means dealing with more organizational headaches. "Once we go over that, we have to go through the Dane County Board for permits," says Murdock. "Up till now we haven't had to deal with it. But we would. What we really want to do is avoid growing too fast and having things get out of our control."
The Sugar Maple Traditional Music Festival doesn't allow pets, so you'll have to leave Fido at home. See www.sugarmaplefest.org for ticket information and a complete schedule.
The stars come out at 5 pm
The free downtown summer series Jazz at Five is also getting a bump in talent this year, with more national acts on its alfresco stage than ever before. The series kicks off Wednesday, Aug. 8, on the 100 block of State Street with a duo performance by bass giant Richard Davis and ambidextrous Chicago pianist Willie Pickens and an appearance by Grammy-nominated vocalist Karrin Allyson and her quintet. Cuban pianist Hilario Duran (Aug. 22), Hammond B-3 groovesmith Tony Monaco (Aug. 29) and a half-dozen other local, regional and national artists will also hold forth during the series' five week run.
"It's a lot more money than we've spent in the past," says Jazz at Five's sole paid employee, Cathy Sullivan, who's spent the past six months ramping up a campaign to raise a $2.5 million endowment for the series. "It's also our most ambitious lineup so far. We hope it's the kind of direction the series will keep going in once we're endowed."
The after-work series runs rain or shine, and this year its rain location moves from the Orpheum Theatre to the Overture Center's huge glassed-in lobby. In the near term, Sullivan says Jazz at Five will stick with its increasingly crowded State Street site, but she'd like to see it change as well. A move to the Capitol Square would be ideal.
"But that requires going in front of the Legislature in order to keep serving alcohol," she says.
As for the fund-raising campaign, Sullivan says it's still ramping up. "I'd like to be through with it in two years. But that's probably a little ambitious."
See jazzat5.org for a complete schedule of events, including information on an 8 p.m. post-performance reception for Karrin Allyson on Aug. 8 at the Brink Lounge.