Tone Madison's best reporting of 2017
Venue realignments, expensive picnics, and other stories we chased this year.
There's no denying that 2017 has been an altogether strange and unsettling year, challenging the fabric of reality and along with that challenging the way Madison views itself. I'm proud that we at Tone Madison this year have often responded to this by picking up the phone, going out to bother people, and trying to find out what's going on and what people say about it.
The year gave Madisonians a lot of fundamental change to deal with. After the legendary drummer and longtime Madison resident Clyde Stubblefield died in February, Marc Eisen looked back on one memorable show at which Stubblefield was a guest, complete with audio. That very same weekend, Madison-based promotions company Frank Productions announced it would buy the High Noon Saloon from its well-liked owner and founder, Cathy Dethmers.
For a few weeks we thought the sale of the High Noon would be the biggest local-music shift by far, but then it turned out that Frank was merging with Majestic Madison, putting a whole lot of local booking real estate and the ownership of several venues under one roof. We're still waiting to hear what the resulting company will be called, and only time will tell how much the merger will really change things for the local music scene as a whole. The Majestic itself marked 10 years under new management. We got a glimpse at how the changing venue landscape in Madison dovetails with gentrification in the form of one obscenely expensive picnic deal.
When it comes to opportunity for locally based musicians, it was arguably bigger news that 2017 brought the opening of several new small venues, as Emily Mills and Emili Earhart reported in September. Speaking of small venues, jazz club Café Coda opened in February but was out of its downtown space by the end of August, and hopes to reopen soon on Willy Street.
Musicians and their advocates and fans were doing all sorts of things this year to reshape their world. The Half-Stack Sessions project aimed to make the local music scene more inclusive and equitable for women and non-binary people, though it proved beyond the comprehension of some dudes. In other music-related activism, we always knew the supposed connection between hip-hop and violent incidents at shows was nonsense, but a study from UW-Madison and the Urban Community Arts Network got some hard numbers on that. Locally based booker/DJ/entrepreneur Ankur Malhotra launched an improbable venture into small-batch vinyl pressing in India. Another dude is working on buying the old Smart Studios building, which has proven weird in all sorts of ways.
Tone Madison's contributors looked at Madison from many other angles, with Henry Solo exploring the improbable might of our Magic: The Gathering scene, Emily Mills charting the growth of the nipple equality movement, Michael Penn II soaking up the strangeness of a Lil Wayne concert, Alan Talaga meeting up with the Amazing Acro-Cats and a collector of Simpsons guest-star autographs, and David Wolinsky looking at changes in videogames events in Madison. Mark Riechers got the scoop on the massive arcade game known as Killer Queen arriving in Madison.
Several stories this year followed one of our enduring obsessions—public arts funding. With threats hanging over federal arts funding, Liz DiNovella and Scott Gordon examined how the National Endowment for the Arts and National Endowment for the Humanities have impacted Wisconsin communities large and small. City officials also wrestled with some uncertainty about how to fund public arts initiatives, as the city funded a questionable music-advice conference and then, this fall, mostly ended up funding all the same stuff it always does.