Butt-rock and nu-metal at Taste Of Madison: A data analysis
We crunched the numbers on WJJO's weirdly repetitive stage. (Photo: Returning headliners Nonpoint. Photo by Francesca Ludikar.)
The end of summer is signaled by various events. Back-to-school sales. Lane closures and blocked roads to direct fledgling university students up Park Street. An encroaching mass of Madison-area residents looking for one last chance to vaguely walk around and eat things in public while being somewhat entertained.
Since 1983, Taste Of Madison has provided one of the final hurrahs in Madison's busy and often overwhelming festival season: two days of music and outdoor fun, all for the low cost of free admission, and catered by an enticing if all-over-the-place mix of local restaurants and chains. (This year's selection ranges from Madison-area treasures like La Taguara and Common Pasta to godless fondue empire The Melting Pot.)
But free is never truly free, and for much of Taste Of Madison's run, we have been paying a steep price.
Locally owned and operated, yet rarely locally focused, WJJO 94.1 FM focuses on bringing hard rock to the ears of Dane County listeners. Like three other radio stations in the the Mid-West Family Broadcasting group, JJO sponsors an annual stage at Taste Of Madison. And just about every year, the JJO stage shows an unreal dedication to the gargly melange that many of us in “the biz” refer to as butt-rock.
Look, I love nearly all things metal and punk, and sometimes even listen to JJO when I'm scanning the FM dial. I have made a personal journey to the back room of a goddamn arcade to see metalcore band Underoath play an acoustic set at something called the "WJJO Sound Lounge." When the station announces two whole days of free live music, odds are pretty decent that I should find at least something to get excited about. But for the last few years the lineup has induced nothing but a tectonic eye-roll. The lineup for this year's Taste, taking place August 31 and September 1, is no different, culminating in a Sunday headlining set by P.O.D.
One could almost be forgiven for thinking that that WJJO has been bringing the same bands to the big stage year after year. The lineup is never truly memorable, and the names all seem to blur together. To get to the bottom of this and check my own perceptions with a dose of reality, I took a deep dive into the bands that have played both the Saturday and Sunday WJJO stage at Taste, digging up lineups going back to 2007. Other stages were not included in this data analysis, as I wanted to focus entirely on the butt-rock bonanza that awaits all who cross through the event's pungent curtain of fryer grease. Take an empirical look, and what you get is a who's-who of band names you can’t even pronounce without yarling a bit: Bobaflex, Divyded, Trapt. If you turned in this list of bands as a parody of a lame hard-rock lineup, it would get rejected for being too on-the-nose. (Side note: How has Buckcherry, the ultimate burnout dingleberry of '90s rock, not played this stage in the last decade?)
This year’s headlining band, Nonpoint, will make 2019 its fifth year playing Taste Of Madison in the period studied. Wisconsin’s very own '90s alternative cover band, the unnervingly named Foo Foo Dolls, is slated to play the stage for the third year in a row. Since 2017, Foo Foo Dolls have continuously been booked on the Saturday stage. (This year, the band will play both a Saturday slot on the JJO stage and a Sunday spot on the "Resistance" stage—more about that in a second.)
It seems that the WJJO stage is stuck in a time capsule. Apart from the outlier of 2015, which included both metalcore scenesters We Came As Romans and theatrical black metal act Avatar, each year's lineup has stuck to much the same parameters, emphasizing mostly post-grunge and nu-metal sounds.
The list of bands that have played the stage since 2007 is so repetitive that our Google Sheet began to try to autofill everything just a few minutes into compiling the data. We've created two visualizations here to put it into perspective. One is a bar chart ranking bands according to how many times they've been booked at the JJO stage over these past 13 years. The second is a spreadsheet showing when bands have played consecutive years on the stage. We sourced the information from online show listings and digital newspaper archives. One caveat is that we were only able to account for the announced schedules of the stage; it could be that some bands booked for the stage ended up having to cancel and didn't actually play, as sometimes happens in the unpredictable world of live music.
Apart from the WJJO stage, this year brings The Red Jumpsuit Apparatus to the "Alternative 105.7" stage. This stage is presented by Mid-West Family Broadcasting's youngest and most hilariously branded property, The Resistance, an alternatively focused station “playing the newest up and coming alternative acts such as 21 Pilots, Imagine Dragon[s] and Cage The Elephant.” Nothing screams new and upcoming and...resisting, or something, like a warmed-over emo band from Florida.
The good news is that folks who show up with earplugs and a full wallet can still focus on enjoying some very good local food, and the event does raise some money for local charities. While Taste's music lineup hasn't exactly kept up with the times, its food selection actually seems to be getting better. The rows of tents harnessing the sweet power of empanadas, ice cream, tacos, cheese curds, and everything else will prepare you for your impending fall food coma.