Podcast: Music, neighbors, and grand hotels

Isthmus reporter Allison Geyer discusses another complex and colorful debate about live music in Madison.

It's a classic conflict in Madison: The people who live closest to fun stuff tend to get really ornery about all that fun stuff. In two stories over the past month, Isthmus reporter Allison Geyer has chronicled a dispute over live music at the Edgewater, a hotel that sits on the shores of Lake Mendota just a few blocks north of the Capitol. The Edgewater has been stepping up its public programming, including live outdoor music, since it re-opened in 2014 following a massive city-funded redevelopment.

But music there was placed on time-out in early July. Not only did neighbors complain about the noise, but it turned out the Edgewater didn't have the correct city permits to host concerts. In trying to get to the bottom of a stymied Natty Nation show, Geyer found some lingering bad feelings over the Edgewater's redevelopment project and what neighbors say is excessively frequent and loud music. She also followed up on a rumor that a prominent local lawyer who lives and owns an apartment building near the Edgewater, Fred Mohs, was behind the shutdown. Mohs denied this, but told Geyer he was glad about the music shutting down. He also supplied this howler of a quote, best read with a haughty Transatlantic accent:

“Nobody can understand why a hotel that wants to be a luxury hotel wants to have cheap bands with amplified music playing outside — none of the grand hotels do that,” he says. “It’s Packers jackets welcome, there’s no dress code, it’s just inappropriate.”

Why should people care about a showdown between wealthy residents and a popular venue's fairly safe music lineup? Well, it shows that a small number of people, even if their complaints are justified, have a lot of power to throw a wrench in cultural goings-on in Madison. The Edgewater debate bears some resemblance to the 2015 debate over the volume of live music in City of Madison parks, including at the east side's neighborhood festivals. Plus, Geyer has done some solid digging and occasionally funny reporting on both of these bit of drama, and the arts community needs more of that.

Geyer joined me for a conversation about her Edgewater reporting last week. Since we talked, the Edgewater has announced that it's putting the remainder of its summer music programming on hold. Give our conversation a listen here, or subscribe to the Tone Madison podcast on iTunes. The music you'll hear on this episode is Natty Nation's song "Intimidation," from their album Divine Spark.