Much like the return of University of Wisconsin-Madison students, football tailgating and pumpkin-spiced everything, the Willy Street Fair has become a surefire sign that summer is winding down in Madison.
The two-day event, slated for this Saturday and Sunday, traditionally rounds out the east side’s annual glut of street festivals with dozens of vendors, a parade, and five stages of music along two blocks of Williamson Street.
“It’s like we save the best for last,” said Gary Kallas, the executive director of the Wil-Mar Center — a neighborhood resource and events center that partners with the community and economic development nonprofit Common Wealth to host the fest. “It’s just warm, fuzzy and everything people love about these (festivals), and about Madison.”
When it comes to music, it’s not just the sheer number of stages that sets Willy Street Fair apart, but the number of institutions involved as well. WORT-FM, Tone Madison, the Madison Music Review, the Madison World Music Festival and the Madison Folk Music Society were among the groups that helped curate their own slice of the festival’s lineup.
Here’s a quick sampling of five of the artists playing at the fair that may be worth your time:
The Madison World Music Festival will once again host a stage on Willy Street to compliment its core lineup of performers at the Memorial Union. Rounding out the Willy Street lineup is Gili Yalo, an Israeli-Ethiopian singer who uses Afro-beat and funk to tell stories both uplifting and heart-wrenching about life among the African diaspora living in Tel Aviv. Kallas called Yalo’s set “arguably is one of the most accomplished and intense Saturday nights at the fair, ever.”
Gili Yalo performs on Saturday at 7:45 p.m. on the Main Stage.
The Madison Folk Music society’s lineup for the festival has its share of local giants, like Lou and Peter Berryman and Ken Lonnquist. One interesting non-local act is Kendra Swanson, a popular Milwaukee artist who performs an intimate flavor of farmhouse folk, with songs that hit on themes of nature and Midwestern life.The singer plays a mean banjo and guitar to buoy a gentle and soulful voice that evokes folk legends like Joni Mitchell and Joan Baez.
Swanson performs on the Folk Stage on Sunday at 2 p.m.
His & Her Vanities
The stage that the music and culture website Tone Madison curated features a Madison rock band that’s long been under the radar: His & Her Vanities, a 17-year-old four-piece post-punk band. The band has been a resource for other local punk acts through its label and recording studio, but its own music also shines: It has evolved from a raw basement recording aesthetic to a mature sound that’s in turns vivacious, catchy and twisted.
His & Her Vanities performs on the Ingersoll Street Stage on Sunday at 6 p.m.
Ska isn’t dead, not if Los Meskales have anything to say about it. The young local Mexican ska band takes the genre that had a brief commercial dalliance with punk in the 1990s, and marries it with Latin and surfer rock elements. The end result is a chirpy, high-energy and brass-heavy sound that will scratch the itch of anyone who misses the heyday of Less than Jake.
Los Meskales performs on the WORT Underground Stage on Sunday at 3:30 p.m.
One of the most notable touring acts at the fair will be on the Willy Street Beats stage, which celebrates house and techno artists. Jon Hester grew up in Chicago, where he says he used to sneak into clubs and raves to learn about the art of electronic music. Now, the Berlin resident is known for concocting dance beats of his own that are smoky, metallic and just a little sinister.
Jon Hester will perform on the Willy Beats stage on Saturday at 8 p.m. For those eager to dance the night away, Hester is also sticking around for a Willy Street Beats after-party at the High Noon Saloon, 701A E. Washington Ave., which kicks off at 9 p.m.