Summer in Madison has always been a boom time for live music, but with new events and venues proliferating like dandelions — both here and across the state and region — it’s becoming ridiculous, in the best way possible. If you are independently wealthy, have unlimited free time and the ability to teleport, you could spend close to half the hours between June and September soaking in must-see live performances. But since most of us don’t enjoy such luxuries, feel free to use the following list to prioritize your jam time.
Memorial Union Terrace
Wednesdays through Saturdays, all summer
Any fears that the reconstruction of the Terrace — the site of many a spectacular evening of summer music — would not be done in time for summer music were put to rest in mid-May when the venue, complete with a bigger stage and a better sound system, opened its colorful new patio. From Cajun to salsa to jazz, rock and blues, the Union’s extensive schedule has you covered. This summer’s headliners are grouped under the “Wisconsin Jams” banner. Among over three dozen announced acts, be sure to circle your calendars for Lili K (June 2) and Kyle Megna & the Monsoons (June 10).
David E. Jackson
High Noon Saloon Summer Patio Series
Thursday evenings through Sept. 29, plus Monday, July 4
The High Noon is best in summer, on the patio, when sunset gilds the music and the sweet night air gently cools. The list of local artists set to own the outdoor stage includes a heavy dose of folk rock, with the Wells Division (June 2) and the Mascot Theory (July 17), roots rock with Pine Travelers (Aug. 11) and power pop from BingBong (July 21).
Shitty Barn Sessions
Most Wednesdays (sometimes Tuesday, Thursday or Friday) through Oct. 5, Spring Green
The Barn’s harmonious change in leadership was one of the biggest feel-good music stories of the spring, and summer is when audiences will really see the payoff. The sold-out Bully show (July 6) would be a can’t-miss in any venue; in the rough-and-tumble, intimate confines of the Barn, it’s going to be legendary. Several other shows on the docket are already sold out, too, but there’s still time to score tickets to acts like ME eN YOU (July 27), the Pines (Sept. 14-15) and, as the billing puts it, An Intimate Evening with Cribshitter (Aug. 17).
Swear and Shake
Sunset Music Series
Many Thursdays from June 9 through Aug. 11, East Side Club
Turns out live music sounds just as sweet from the other side of Lake Monona — maybe even sweeter, given that the beautiful downtown skyline is your view and not your backdrop. The six-date series kicks off with New York folksters Swear and Shake (June 9) and closes with Nashville-based Americana act Los Colognes (Aug. 11).
Horseshoes & Hand Grenades
Live on King Street
Various Friday evenings starting June 24, Majestic Theatre
The Majestic Theatre’s free summer concert series always draws a monster crowd to the streets surrounding the Capitol. This year’s lineup features the return of Grateful Dead tribute band Dark Star Orchestra (June 24), plus indie rockers Lewis Del Mar (July 15) and Ra Ra Riot (July 29), Stevens Point bluegrass boys Horseshoes & Hand Grenades (Aug. 5) and party hardy cover band Rod Tuffcurls & the Bench Press (Aug. 12). Rounding out the season is the blues-punk of the Kills (Sept. 16).
Shake the Lake
Saturday, June 25, John Nolen Drive (Broom Street to Blair Street)
Year two of Madison’s fireworks-fueled festival in the shadow of Monona Terrace ups the musical ante and splits the demographics. Country fans get Jon Pardi, while the more alt-rocking among us get a double dose of Guster and Blitzen Trapper. Whichever option you end up choosing, it’s free, family-friendly and freaking awesome.
Brian Bowen Smith
Wednesday, June 29, through Sunday, July 10 (closed July 4), Henry Maier Festival Park, Milwaukee
Sure, it’s beer-soaked and more than a little hectic, but you won’t find a deeper and more diverse lineup of music to salt your summer than what’s playing at the Summerfest grounds. The Marcus Amphitheater is a little throwback-y this year, with gigs by Paul McCartney (July 8) and a double-bill featuring Sting and Peter Gabriel (July 10), but it’s leavened with the presence of Selena Gomez (June 29). The fest’s other stages feature everything from Garbage to the Decemberists, Jason Derulo, Willie Nelson, Passion Pit and “Weird Al” Yankovic.
Steve Miller Band
Breese Stevens Field
Fridays, July 1, Aug. 19, and Sept. 9, Breese Stevens Field
Breese Stevens opened in 1926, was recognized on the National Register of Historic Places in 2014, and yet had never hosted a major concert before last October’s sold-out visit by the Avett Brothers. This year the venue is set to host not one but three major outdoor concerts. The Steve Miller Band keeps on a-rockin’ us back to the ’70s (July 1), with the blues harmonica of Charlie Musselwhite and the smooth jazz of local hero Leo Sidran in tow. Jeff Tweedy and Wilco will return to Madison with Kurt Vile & the Violators opening (Aug. 19). Cake finishes the season (Sept. 9) with support from Dr. Dog.
Hazel & Pine
Carly Rae Jepsen
Pitchfork Music Festival
Friday, July 15, to Sunday, July 17, Union Park, Chicago
An out-of-state road trip’s never out of the question, and Madison is only about a three-hour drive from Pitchfork, one of the coolest and fastest-growing regional summer music festivals. On the schedule this year are 44 artists, topped by ex-Beach Boy Brian Wilson (performing Pet Sounds in its entirety) and also including Beach House, Sufjan Stevens, Broken Social Scene and even Carly Rae Jepsen. And unlike Chicago’s behemoth Lollapalooza, tickets for all three days are still available.
Central Park Sessions
Various Thursdays from July 28 to Sept. 8, plus Friday, Aug. 12, Central Park
The lineup for the Literacy Network-sponsored Central Park Sessions will transport Madison around the world over the course of this summer while raising money for nonprofits. This year’s itinerary includes Ireland, featuring Dervish and the Kissers (Aug. 11); Africa, featuring Mali’s Fatoumata Diawara (Aug. 12); and Central America, featuring Latin Grammy winners Monsieur Perine and the Palenke Soultribe (Aug. 18).
Mile of Music
Thursday, Aug. 4, to Sunday, Aug. 7, multiple venues, Appleton
If there’s an Americana act that event organizers haven’t managed to pack into the streets of downtown Appleton for their annual four-day indie-artist event, we have no idea what it is. The hundreds of performers would stretch a lot further than a single mile, but feel free to try to see as many as you can. Madison faves Ida Jo, Seasaw and Teddy Davenport are among the assembled, as are bands from New York (Dreamers), Nashville (the Jag) and Australia (Julia Jacklin).
Friday, Aug. 12, and Saturday, Aug. 13, Foster Farm near Eau Claire
This second iteration of Justin Vernon’s musical festival — an event that somehow manages to feel both like a laid-back visit to a friend’s cabin and Wisconsin’s own Woodstock — has a slightly less A-list feel to its lineup than last year. But that’s not going to change the chill vibe when thousands of people stand in silent amazement under the stars to hear Bon Iver play “Holocene.” A whopping 54 acts — that’s more than Pitchfork! — will play, including Erykah Badu, Beach House and Vince Staples. For the old-timers who grooved on last year’s Indigo Girls set, this year Bruce Hornsby & the Noisemakers will perform The Way It Is in its entirety.