Three years ago, Anna Vogelzang organized a group of Madison folk musicians to play their twists on classic holiday tunes to a packed crowd of 200 people.
In 2012, the aptly-named Gates of Heaven synagogue in James Madison park hosted the first annual Wintersong Concert.
“2012 was magical because it was so pure and intimate,” Vogelzang said. “There were 200 people and it was just a beautiful night.”
But after its seminal year, the venue was not large enough to accommodate the growing crowd of Madisonians eager to engage in the acoustic holiday show.
The event grew exponentially with each passing year, moving from the small chapel to the Majestic and, for the last two years, it has been at the Barrymore Theatre.
This season the festivities will include a more substantive raffle and emcee Andy Moore of Wisconsin Public Television to moderate the event, but the concert at it’s core remains the same heartwarming holiday kickoff event it was at its inception.
Since the beginning, all proceeds from the concert go to Second Harvest Food Bank of Wisconsin, which services food pantries in 16 southwestern Wisconsin counties, and promotes food assistance programs like FoodShare. Since 2012, Wintersong has raised money for 40,584 meals in southwestern Wisconsin, Vogelzang said.
Though some artists have shifted projects and some bands have moved, the lineup is primarily composed of that core contingent of Madison folk musicians. Each band plays three songs individually and everyone comes together for an opening number and a closing number. In previous years these groups numbers were original, like “Christmas on the Isthmus” by Corey Mathew Hart.
This year Phox, Anna Vogelzang, Love High — an R&B and soul group headed by Whitney Mann — Faux Fawn, Crane Your Swan Neck and Hart will be gracing the Barrymore stage.
Hart attended the first Wintersong Concert as a member of the audience in 2012, but as an active member of the Madison music community, he knew he wanted to be a part of it in the future. Hart said the vibe of that first concert is what made it so unique in Madison.
“The positivity and the warmth of the season,” Hart said. “There was no ego from any of the performers, they were really fun and loose and the audience was so quiet and attentive. To have a cool space like the chapel, and there wasn’t a PA or anything — the audience was really quiet.”
When the event moved to the Barrymore in 2014, it was the first time Hart had played a venue of that caliber in Madison. He said singing holiday tunes in the company of his fellow Madison musicians is what he loves most about the Wintersong experience.
Vogelzang said it’s the spirit of community and holiday cheer that had people lining up two blocks into the Atwood neighborhood last year to buy tickets for the event.
“There are definitely other shows in town that celebrate the season,” Vogelzang said. “But I think a couple of them are more festival-orientated and we are really a sit-down variety show. Every band plays three songs and a lot of them are songs that people know … Everybody loves Christmas music.”
Wintersong 2015 will be at the Barrymore Theatre Dec. 12. Tickets are available at $18 in advance and are available at B-Side Records, Frugal Muse, Strictly Discs, Star Liquor, MadCity Music, Sugar Shack and the Barrymore.