Hey music promoters, here's something to envy. Jeff Burkhart and a couple of his friends threw together one of the largest showcases of Madison music you'll ever see, and it took them a couple of hours to organize.
Burkhart is no stranger to the local scene. He writes songs and plays guitar for the Madison honky-tonk band the Dirty Shirts and the old-time Americana act the Barley Brothers.
In less time than it has taken him to write a song, Burkhart arranged for 25 acoustic musicians to populate every corner of State Street this Saturday, April 17, from 1 to 2 p.m.
"We just put out a very broad message," says Burkhart. "We wanted to keep it simple. We had a spreadsheet of all the corners on State Street. Within two hours of sending out an electronic invitation to musicians, we had half the corners filled up. It was that easy."
They'll be playing to raise money for the nonprofit agency Burkhart directs by day, the Literacy Network.
The event, Busking for Books, adds a local-music element to the carnival atmosphere that will pervade Madison this Saturday. It's the same day as Isthmus Green Day, the Wisconsin Film Festival and the first 2010 Dane County Farmers' Market, and it features the Badger spring football game at Camp Randall Stadium.
If you want to catch all 25 Busking for Books performers, you'll need to spend less than three minutes with each one. Start at State and Lake and you'll be greeted by Black Star Drum Line, the Boys & Girls Club hip-hop drum group started by local percussionist Joey B. Banks.
Wild Heart will play country-pop across the street, in front of the Digital Outpost. Outside Walgreens, the TakI Allstars will add some dub and reggae to the sundries you might shop for inside.
"It's possible that if we have enough volunteers, I might even be able to play a little guitar myself," says Burkhart. One of his bands, the Barley Brothers, will occupy the corner at State and Carroll in front of the Wisconsin Veterans Museum.
"I've been playing music as long as I can remember," says Burkhart. "I started playing guitar when I was 15, and then I learned to write songs." The Dirty Shirts will release an album of all-original songs later this year. They play the first Tuesday of every month at the High Noon Saloon.
Even if he doesn't find time to perform this Saturday, Burkhart isn't likely to be disappointed. His enthusiasm for the Literacy Network takes no backseat to his interest in songwriting.
"About 17,000 people in Dane County don't have the essential skills to read a prescription on a bottle," he says. "About 38,000 don't speak English well enough to navigate the school system.
"Literacy Network teaches reading, writing and speaking skills to help support people's employment goals and their community involvement, and well as helping them become more involved with the education of their children."
About 500 volunteers work with 1,300 learners each year.
On Saturday, each musician will be accompanied by one of these volunteers.
"People will walk by, see all this music and wonder what's going on," says Burkhart. "We'll have people there to say, 'Here's what we're doing.'"
Led by a Madison songwriter, Literacy Network will count a lot of other Madison musicians as volunteers this Saturday.
"I personally know about half of the performers," says Burkhart. "And I would say a lot of them signed up to do this because they know me."