Anna Vogelzang is a talented folk musician, but she could have been a CEO. That is evident as she doles out instructions to 25 of her friends gathered for rehearsal Monday night. Just a couple days back in town from her new home in L.A., Vogelzang has already spent many hours on the West Coast preparing for the annual Second Harvest benefit called Wintersong. But this is show week, and there’s no substitute for organization on the spot, especially when it comes to managing nearly a dozen separate bands that will take the stage at the Barrymore the night of Dec. 10 to make music for meals.
It’s more than volunteer work. It’s a folk family reunion. Many of the artists have been with the annual benefit from its start in 2012. Due to busy schedules, they don’t see much of one another all year. So, as people arrive to the rehearsal space, shouts and cheers ring through the old east-side warehouse even before an instrument is plugged in.
But Vogelzang tries to keep them focused on the show. “If you have a pedal, bring a cable!” she yells while kneeling over her notes. “Bring your own cord!” Watching Vogelzang work the room, it’s clear she also could have made a hell of a middle school teacher.
“Who has the small Christmas tree from last year?”
“Who has an off-stage tuner to bring?”
“Who can help decorate at 12:30?”
Hands pop up around the circle, as Vogelzang checks items off her massive list. The circle is a who’s who of Madison folkies. There’s songwriter Nick Brown, who just got back from the West Coast himself. Corey Mathew Hart and Paul Mitch, aka Lost Lakes, who just released a new album recorded in this practice space. Whitney Mann listens intently. She’ll front her supergroup “Love High” Saturday. And there’s also me, who will perform in the show and serve as emcee.
From out of nowhere someone slides a big cardboard box in front of Vogelzang. “Oh — there it is!” she says, plucking a strand of silver garland from a nest of colorful decorations. More instructions, pleas for help to set up Saturday, and then finally, rehearsal begins.
The program’s centerpiece, a holiday opus penned by Vogelzang with collaboration from, among others, Faux Fawn’s Paul Otteson, is the show’s birthname, “Wintersong.” The song will start the show Saturday. It’s a tricky piece — as much a one-act play as a simple holiday tune.
The song mixes a total of 10 lead vocalists inside a structure of tempo shifts and a brief, colossal key change toward the end. The first try is rocky as cues are missed and a cappella phrases are soft and uncertain. The key change is navigated on bells by Otteson, who forgot his mallet and uses a ballpoint pen to strike the notes.
“Again,” says Vogelzang after the second try. There will be several more tries before the night is over.
The nervous focus in the room is because the musicians have a lot of show to perform with little time to spare. The audience, as in year’s past, will feel the “flying without a net” thrill when the show comes together Saturday.
“There are so, so many moving parts,” Vogelzang says after practice. “There are just so many plates in the air, so just having one fall is the fear. It’s not specific. It’s ‘the fear.’”
“The night of — and the nights after — Wintersong always feel like the highest high,” she adds. “What is better than doing good for your larger community while being surrounded by your immediate community?”
Musicians in the show: 28
Tuning pedals on stage: 5
Meals served, money raised in 2014: 30,252 meals, $10,010
Meal served, money raised in 2015: 39,776 meals, $13,203