Madison sings end-of-summer blues

· Jun 28, 2001 Tweet

If Summerfest somehow fails to quench your musical appetite or pop rock simply isn’t your cup of tea, the Madison Blues Festival, August 30 and September 1, may be the perfect way to cap off a long, humid summer.

For the past three years, Madison’s Olin-Turville Park on Lake Mendota has been home to the Madison Blues Festival, an annual gathering of some of the biggest names in blues this side north of Chicago’s House of Blues.

In 1998, some 11,500 people were drawn to what was then a one-day event. One year later, the festival drew in excess of 20,000 people over two days, and this past August the attendance rose to over 28,000, with many more being turned down on a sold-out second afternoon.

With an even more spectacular lineup and positive word-of-mouth, one can barely begin to imagine how Madison’s 4th Annual Blues Festival will turn out this year. Since its conception, the festival has provided an amp and a few thousand ears for the likes of Ray Charles, Buddy Guy and The Allman Brothers Band. While crowds have demonstrated a willingness to travel to the event from all ends of the continent, stage acts have reciprocated, coming from all angles of the United States.

This year, Johnny Lang and George Thorogood and the Destroyers headline the Friday and Saturday shows, respectively, but the equally strong supporting acts, extending throughout the day, demonstrate the festival’s full strength. On Friday, Lang will be preceded by Taj Mahal, Bo Diddley and a host of others at the main stage. Saturday brings Little Richard, Kenny Wayne Shepherd and Otis Rush, with a number of smaller acts at the main and second stage throughout the day.

The main stage will start up around 1:00 p.m. this year and extend for some ten-plus hours into the night, most likely wrapping up around midnight each day.

Surely, the main stage is where the crowds will be, but to overlook the more intimate second stage or the beer garden stages would be a mistake. In the past, the three beer gardens have included an acoustic stage for smaller acts. If these lesser-known artists are not enough to draw a crowd on their own, the restriction of alcohol consumption to the beer gardens always helps their cause. Last year, Mama Digdown’s Brass Band, with roots in Madison, took their act to the festival grounds, parading throughout Olin-Turville Park.

If anything, the festival’s most daunting task has become accommodating the overwhelming amount of people that show up. Operating on a first-come-first-seat basis, the main stage faces a lightly wooded hill that is checkered about two-thirds of the way up with festival seating. Just beyond, anyone who can’t snatch up a permanent seat is welcome to throw down a blanket for free or park their butt in an available rental chair for anywhere between four and five dollars a day. Festivalgoers are welcome to bring their own foldout seats as well.

While an early arrival may eventually take its toll on your legs and derriere, last year’s festival not only raised issues of uncomfortable over-crowding at the main stage, but those without tickets by early-evening of the second day were turned away. Therefore, a ticket in your hand long before the show and an early arrival will probably make for a more enjoyable experience.

Between and during acts, guests can choose from any number of Madison-area restaurant-catered booths for snacks, meals or cooling refreshments, usually at tolerable prices given expectations at music festivals.

Tickets for the 4th Annual Madison Blues Festival can be purchased by mail order through the Madison Civic Center or through Ticketmaster and include free parking at the Alliant Energy Center, blocks from Olin-Turville Park. Madison Metro will again provide a shuttle bus between the lot and the festival for a small fare


This article was published Jun 28, 2001 at 12:00 am and last updated Jun 28, 2001 at 12:00 am


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