The story of Forward Music Fest is an unlikely one.
With no major corporate sponsors, few staff members and next to no free time, the Forward Music Collaborative will turn their dreams into reality as they attempt to pull off the largest music festival Madison has, perhaps, ever seen.
The idea of Forward Music Fest was born during happy hours shared among Kyle Pfister, Jesse Russell — an editor at Dane101 — and Bessie Cherry — a former promoter at Caf� Montmartre — only about a year-and-a-half ago. Their idea, according to Pfister, was a simple one.
“We sat down and started talking about it, like, ‘What about this idea of having all the venues come together for one weekend and doing something festival-esque?’ And it really started out as informally as us just chatting,” said Pfister, a 25-year-old Madison resident who runs the blog Justsayinisall.com.
At the same time, a similar idea was brewing in the minds of Jamie Hanson, 26, and 22-year-old Dane County Supervisor Wyndham Manning. But it wasn’t until fate — and a barbeque — brought the fivesome together to create this event.
“We all had the same vision for what we wanted to do,” Manning said.
That vision grew into what will soon become Forward Music Festival, a two-day, 72-band music festival that will fill eight Madison music venues this Friday and Saturday. An event of this magnitude, however, wasn’t the group’s initial plan.
“We had really planned on making it smaller, but, I mean, we didn’t really expect the size that it became,” Manning said. “It sort of snowballed into this.”
It was freedom from the restrictions of the Wisconsin Union Directorate’s Music Committee that allowed the festival to involve nationally renowned acts like Neko Case, Flosstradamus, Bob Mould and Killdozer as well as grow at a seemingly exponential rate, said Manning and Hanson, the co-founder of WUD-sponsored Madison PopFest. However, this also meant the group was initially left with no money aside from that in their own pockets.
This lack of support meant that all five members built this festival in their spare time, forced to plan this event immediately following their nine-to-five jobs — and sometimes even during them. But it’s a labor of love, explained Manning, Pfister and Hanson as the three stuffed badges for the upcoming festival.
“If we were all only mildly obsessed with music, we wouldn’t be where we are today,” said Manning, adding, “We’re like the hockey mom of music in Madison.”
With this “maternal” role, Forward Music Collaborative, now with the help of local sponsors, hopes to reform Madison’s music scene, which all three said is sorely lacking when it comes to residents’ and students’ motivation to explore local bands. But it goes even deeper than that.
“There’s sort of this illusion that there’s a big DIY scene here, but there’s not really,” Manning said. “Like, fuck, if everybody just came up with ideas and decided to follow through with them, it’d be pretty amazing what we can do. I mean, who would have guessed I’d be a fucking Dane County Supervisor? …We’re trying to be the tipping point, we want people to … compliment what we’re doing.”
Although they aim to unify the Madison music scene, members of the Collaborative certainly acknowledge the buzz — coming even from reputable sources like Pitchfork and Paste magazine — surrounding their festival.
“This is the biggest thing to ever happen to the Madison music scene. I challenge you to prove me wrong here,” Manning exclaimed.
“People will name their children after us,” Hanson joked earlier.
This “benefit,” though, isn’t undeserved. The group will donate all proceeds of this event — day passes are $25 and two-day passes are $40 — to benefit the Madison Area Music Awards.
“I think it’s fair to say that all of us have had our lives changed by music, and it shouldn’t be right that only those that are privileged enough to have the time and opportunity enough to be able to do something like this should have that influence in their lives,” Manning said. “We really want to be able to share that influence.”
However, there are a few downsides to this event. Because the fundamental idea of Forward Music Fest overlaps with that of the free Madison PopFest, Hanson said the latter event will not continue this year. Additionally, space capacities at clubs limit the number of attendees allowed in each venue, and, according to Russell, festival-goers could be turned away if capacity has been reached.
But the group isn’t focusing on the negative, and they hope others aren’t either.
“This is our proving ground, this coming weekend,” Manning said. “That’s the detriment of this music scene. You don’t need to be a cynic; you can actually be a part of it.”
More information, tickets and a full lineup of Forward Music Fest is available at forwardmusicfest.com.