Make Music Madison turns the whole city into a stage Tuesday as it celebrates the summer solstice for the fourth consecutive year.
The number of performers is down for the first time this year because the event falls midweek, but organizers expected that, said the event’s founder, Michael Rothschild.
The daylong festival has been on June 21, regardless of the day of the week. In 2013, its inaugural year, it was on a Friday. In 2014, it was a Saturday, and last year it was on a Sunday. Because this is a leap year, the event this time is on Tuesday.
Still, at least 340 concerts (as of press time) are scheduled for the fourth annual Make Music Madison. They will take place at almost 100 locations around the city. Last year, on a Sunday, 325 individuals and groups gave more than 440 performances at 110 outdoor venues.
“So, it is down a bit,” Rothschild said about Tuesday’s event. “I think what’s most interesting is that virtually everyone who’s heard that we’re on Tuesday has said. ‘Wow, what a bad idea that is, no one will show up. No one will participate.’ I think to have 340 concerts on a Tuesday is pretty cool. Internally I think we are pretty happy with the 340 concerts.”
Make Music Madison president Elizabeth Simcock said the response to the weekday festival has been a nice surprise.
“We didn’t know what to expect coming into this year, but we’ve had a great response to Tuesday,” she said.
Some musicians and businesses are able to participate who haven’t been able to in previous years, she said.
Although the event is scaled back from previous years, organizers expected it to be even smaller.
Many of the concerts are compressed toward the end of the day, and Make Music Madison intends to see what kind of feedback it gets after Tuesday in terms of continuing to hold future events on June 21, said Katherine Davey, the event’s managing director. “Next year I don’t know what we’ll do,” she said.
A lot of the musicians need to play before work, at lunch, or in the evening, Rothschild said. Some of the performances are taking place early, during the morning commute, with some during the afternoon commute. Many concerts are clustered over the noon hour, with more child-oriented music in the morning and afternoon at places like the Madison Children’s Museum and the Vilas Zoo.
The motto of the event is: “Performed by anyone, enjoyed by everyone,” and Make Music Madison is all about giving amateur musicians of all stripes a chance to perform in public.
It’s hard to estimate because the festival is so spread out, but Simcock said Make Music Madison — which is not ticketed or gated — has drawn roughly 20,000 spectators each year.
Simcock, who sings and plays traditional Irish instruments, is not signed up to perform herself this year for the first time.
Instead, she is looking forward to getting to many of the venues and seeing people who are possibly performing in front of people for the first time. Even though she is heavily involved in the organization of the event, she’s constantly surprised, she said.
“My favorite thing about the day is just going out and just stumbling upon a stage that I didn’t realize was exactly in this spot and listening to musicians I’ve never heard before,” Simcock said.
Mark Fairchild is a seasoned musician whose fingerprints are all over Make Music Madison. He has a day job, but performs music four to six times a week. He’s in three bands, all playing at Central Park on Madison’s Near East Side Tuesday. “I try to make sure I don’t sleep,” he said.
Fairchild, who’s on the Make Music Madison board, hosted the stage at James Madison Park last year, where 13 different performers played throughout the day. This year, he’s hosting a stage at Central Park, where 11 performers are scheduled to play between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m.
“This event is really about getting anyone who has played an instrument in the past or sung in the past to get their instrument out of their closet, dust it off and come out,” he said.
Performers are at all levels of experience and talent. The vast majority are not professional musicians.
Make Music Madison has had a couple of people whose first performance was at the event and who are now doing music on a larger scale, Fairchild said.
“My life’s goal is to make sure more people can enjoy music and be more involved, especially in such a great community event,” he said.
The idea for the festival started with Fête de la Musique in Paris in 1982. As it spread across much of the world, it continued under its French name. In the U.S., the large-scale participatory public performances have been called “Make Music” plus the name of the city.
About 700 cities worldwide have planned events this year, Rothschild said.
Rothschild, a retired marketing professor at UW-Madison, got the idea to bring the celebration to Madison after his nephew, Aaron Friedman, started Make Music New York nine years ago.
One event that is happening in both New York and Madison is being sponsored by a Texas company, which is supplying 1,000 Boomwhackers, or tuned percussion tubes, that will be handed out at the Madison Mallard’s game Tuesday evening. The band Sunspots will lead the crowd in the Survivor song “Eye of the Tiger.”
“It’s probably our biggest and coolest event that we are doing for Make Music Madison this year,” Fairchild said.