Madison has hosted homegrown music festivals before, but few of them have been as ambitious as the new Forward Music Fest, which runs Sept. 19 and 20 at venues throughout the downtown, including the Orpheum, the Majestic and the High Noon Saloon.
The two-day event will focus on punk, indie-rock and dance acts with roots in the Midwest. Bob Mould, Killdozer, Neko Case, Shearwater, Dan Deacon, Detroit Cobras, Dillinger Four, Leslie & the LYs, Pale Young Gentlemen, the Blueheels and Things Fall Apart are among the acts already confirmed. A number of regional acts are from the rosters of Chicago's Bloodshot Records and local labels Science of Sound and Crustacean Records, all of which will have a strong presence at the event.
When all is said and done, more than 50 acts will be packed onto Forward Music Fest's schedule.
"Early on we wanted to keep it really small and tight," says Jesse Russell, one of five core organizers. "But it just started spreading out."
As the driving force behind local collaborative blog Dane101.com, Russell has already helped shine a light on Madison music. So has co-organizer Kyle Pfister, an independent promoter who also writes the local music blog I'm Just Saying Is All. But Forward Music Fest, which organizers plan to make an annual affair, takes that support to another level. If everything goes according to plan, Pfister thinks it could help shake local music out of the doldrums and bring national attention to the city's arts scene.
"The idea was to bring in a lot of bands that we thought would do well in Madison and show that Madison can support a festival of this kind," says Pfister. "We're showcasing the venues, the bands and the labels and are really highlighting Madison music."
While Russell and Pfister both expect a strong response from twenty- and thirty-something music fans, they also hope that the festival's many all-ages events will pique the interest of UW students.
"We did some focus groups with students," says Pfister, who sees UW undergraduates as a huge, largely untapped market for both local and touring Midwestern acts. "And many of them never went to the High Noon or other venues even when they had all-ages events. We want to get them into the scene."
Ticket prices should appeal to impecunious students. A $25 general-admission wristband will allow entry to all events. VIP badges that guarantee admission to popular showcases by popular headliners will also be available for an additional $10 per concert. Both go on sale June 21 at the festival's website, forwardmusicfest.com.
Although they expect large turnouts for the headline acts, organizers aren't interested in getting rich off ticket proceeds. A portion of any profits will go to the Madison Area Music Awards' charitable foundation, which brings musical instruments and music lessons to children. Any additional dollars will be used as seed money for Forward Music Fest 2009.