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Madland: Willy Wash seeks music-friendly development in Madison's Capitol East District

Sadly, the future of Atwood Summerfest is in jeopardy.
Credit:Tona Williams
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When Rökker says to pay attention to something, I pay attention.

The iconoclastic publisher of Maximum Ink, a colorful music magazine available online and distributed in print throughout Wisconsin, is a tireless champion of live music.

Rökker has booked my band, VO5, at a number of events over the past five years, and even when there's little money available (an all-too-common experience for local bands), he always treats us like royalty. We've headlined the rock stage at Atwood Summerfest the past five years, and not only do we get to bask in the glow of a great light show and a couple thousand dancing fans, but Rökker's mom cooks for all the bands and their crews. And, he provides libations concocted with his own Rökker Vodka brand, distilled locally at Yahara Bay.

Sadly, the future of Atwood Summerfest is in jeopardy, because the Goodman Community Center, which has organized the festival for 30 years, says it can’t afford the staff time to put on the event.

But if Rökker has his way, the festival will continue in some fashion.

Rökker's latest dream is Willy Wash, a campaign to create a live music corridor in Madison's Capitol East District -- akin to areas in other cities known for music, like Austin, Texas, Athens, Georgia, or New Orleans.

In a "Letter to the People" published in the latest issue, Rökker spells out what Willy Wash could mean for Madison:

Willy Wash is a movement of people who stand behind the idea that the area from the Yahara River to the Capitol, from Willy Street to E. Washington, be re-developed with the consideration of a music zone, a musical Yahara if you will...

It all started with a group meeting at the Memorial Union over a few beers wondering what Madison would be like with a world class music zone, bringing economic prosperity to a very old area while paying homage to Madison's musical history as well as the city's strong values of arts, culture, and education.

Now it has grown to a movement, putting investors, politicians, developers, city planners, and business leaders together to re-forge an area into a zone that the public and music community can live, work, and play in a city loved around the world.

There has never been a time in Madison’s history that an area so large, and so prime, be on the table for redevelopment. It is almost our fortune that early settlers of Madison turned the east part of the isthmus into an industrial area that now leaves many locations up for development...

I think it's a great idea. We've already got loads of talent and ideas. And now some people with real roots and connections in the community are getting behind a plan to make Madison even more special.

Willy Wash's list of "movers" include former Dane Coounty executive Rick Phelps, Broadjam founder Roy Elkins, Madison Area Music Association founder Rick Tvedt, and others. So far, they're all guys... I hope to see that evolve as the idea takes hold.

But let's hear it for innovative ideas for moving Madison forward in a way that values our creativity and not just the bottom line.

Soon enough, graphic designer Lia Spaulding may have to redesign her newly famous "Madtown" map to replace "Thong-and-Cape-Man Runway" and "White Girl Dreads" with "Willy Wash Music Zone."

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