At the Regent Street Retreat bar near campus, Chuck - third table from the front - is having a birthday, a milestone that wins him a free T-shirt from the musician on stage, plus the song of Chuck's choice.
Tonight is also Donut Night, meaning that everyone who craves a powdered Hostess treat can scarf one down between sets with their beer.
And yet, that is not the only reason tonight is a special night.
Tonight, yes tonight, might be the 700th time that Greg has seen Pat McCurdy's show.
Or - maybe it's just the 698th time.
Or the 702nd time.
Really, who's counting?
Greg (who asked that his last name not be used) is technically a PatHead, one of the legions of fans who come back and back and back again to the one-man shows by Milwaukee-based songwriter and quipster McCurdy.
McCurdy's performances are part singalong, part comedy improv. They feature songs from the 13 CDs he's recorded over the past three decades, and others that he makes up on the spot. Often, they contain the names of his most hardcore followers.
"It's a good time," says UW-Madison senior Casey Cardinal, 22, "even when he picks on you."
McCurdy's fans get hooked on his presence, his lyrics, his banter with the audience, but also on each other. Most are in their 20s and 30s, and know that if they just show up each Tuesday night with the $5 cover charge in hand, they'll find themselves surrounded by familiar faces and a familiar sort of party.
"It's everything. The shows, the people," says Greg, who is certainly not McCurdy's most devoted fan, he adds, even though he's been a regular since 1998.
"Not even close," he says. "There are Milwaukee fans that have been seeing him since two bands ago."
McCurdy's career is well documented on his web site, www.patmccurdy.com . His monthly newsletter, "Pat," lists his gigs, which sometimes number seven or eight a week, taking him from Chicago to St. Paul and to every corner of Wisconsin.
Mike O'Brien, 35, was a McCurdy groupie for eight years before the singer asked him to be his light technician.
"I told him his Madison shows were on me," says O'Brien. "It would seem like I'd get tired of doing this after awhile. But I can't miss a show, because I know that if I miss a show, I'll miss some joke that would have me in stitches."
Indeed, says Mike Yeutter, 21, a civil engineering student at UW-Madison.
"He's very entertaining. It's the songs. They're fun. They poke fun at life," he says. "They're fun to sing along with. And then there's the few drinks we have."
Katherine Olson, 32, has been a McCurdy regular since 1999, though she used to make the shows more often.
"I'm a little more sporadic nowadays," she says. "A lot has to do with not being a college student and having to get up in the morning."
Still, on this particular night, Olson has shown up front and center, taking her place at a table at the foot of the stage. McCurdy quickly picks her out of the crowd and begins a string of good-natured Katherine jokes.
"It's a Tuesday night thing," she later explains during a break. "You can have a drink. Relax. And pretend it's the weekend."
Contact Gayle Worland at firstname.lastname@example.org or 608-252-6188\ \WEB EXTRA
Watch video and experience a McCurdy show
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