As a Midwesterner who spent a good deal of time in an insulated, liberal pocket
tucked in a conservative-leaning state, I've always had an affection for rebellious
cities in the middle of the country. Madison is infamously known as an artsy,
hip home to radicals and creative types. It's no surprise, then, that Madison
is a place where nationally-known musicians want to tour and where local talent
remains one of the nation's best-kept secrets. The city is perpetually youthful
and hopeful due to the thousands of college students that move in and out from
year to year. Brimming with idealism and beautiful natural surroundings, Madison
is a unique place to live or visit.
By Heidi Drockelman
Web resources for those who like to plan:
Just the facts… did you know?
- Madison is the capital of Wisconsin and the second-largest city in the state,
- Over the years, Madison has acquired a number of nicknames and slogans,
including: Mad City, Mad Town or MadTown, and The Berkeley of the Midwest.
- The city is sometimes described as The City of Four Lakes, comprising the
four successive lakes of the Yahara River: Lake Mendota ("Fourth Lake"), Lake
Monona ("Third Lake"), Lake Waubesa ("Second Lake") and Lake Kegonsa ("First
Lake"), although Lakes Waubesa and Kegonsa are not actually in Madison, but
rather just south of it. Downtown Madison is located on an isthmus between
Lakes Mendota and Monona. The city's trademark of "Lake, City, Lake" reflects
- During the late 1960s and early 1970s, thousands of students and other citizens
took part in anti-Vietnam War marches and demonstrations, with more violent
incidents drawing national attention to the city and UW campus.
- Oscar Mayer has been a Madison fixture for decades, and was a family business
for many years before being sold to Kraft Foods.
- According to Forbes magazine, Madison ranks second in the nation
of top places in overall education. It is home to the University of Wisconsin–Madison,
as well as Edgewood College, Madison Area Technical College, and Madison Media
Institute, giving the city a student population of nearly 50,000..
- The Onion, a satirical weekly, was founded in Madison in 1988.
- Architect Frank Lloyd Wright spent much of his childhood in Madison, studied
briefly at the University, and is responsible for the design of several Madison
- Madison's Wisconsin Public Radio station, WHA, was one of the very first
radio stations in the nation to begin broadcasting, and remains the longest
continuously broadcasting station in the country.
- Garbage is the city's most recognized contemporary contribution to popular
music. The multi-million album selling alternative-rock band has been based
out of Madison since its formation in 1994 by producer-musician Butch Vig
of Viroqua, WI. Other local bands include, Killdozer, The Gomers, and metalcore
band Misery Signals; former Go-Go Jane Wiedlin is also a local resident.
This place rules! Best place to watch/play a gig:
Barrymore Theatre (2090 Atwood Ave., http://www.barrymorelive.com/)
- The historic Barrymore Theatre features a steady stream of national acts who
are currently funneling through the Midwest. One of the big players in the Madison
live music scene for many years.
The Annex (1206 Regent St., http://www.intheannex.com/)
- One of Madison's premier mid-sized music venues, The Annex is definitely all
about rock 'n' roll. Consistently considered one of the best venues in the city,
the club prominently features local and regional talent with occasional national
High Noon Saloon (701A E. Washington Ave., http://www.high-noon.com/)
- Founded in 2004 in downtown Madison, High Noon Saloon caters to many different
styles of music, including rock, alternative, metal, indie, alt-country, pop,
punk, bluegrass, folk, and blues. They host large national acts, smaller touring
bands from around the world, and lots of local music. In addition to live music
seven nights a week, High Noon Saloon also offers pool, darts, pinball, cable
TV, and video games (some interactive), and sponsors league teams for pool and
Orpheum Theatre (216 State St., http://www.orpheumtheatre.net/)
- The Orpheum Theatre is the most intact and finest remaining example of a vaudeville
and movie theater in Madison. Today the Orpheum fills many roles in the community.
It still shows first run movies. Some are big box office hits, but most are
independent films that you rarely get a chance to see in large chain movie venues.
The venue also hosts nationally known music and comedy acts. Some recent acts
include Ween, The Bangles, The Decemberists, Modest Mouse, Bela Fleck, Feist,
The Guess Who and Frank Caliendo.
The Frequency (121 W. Main St., http://www.madisonfrequency.com/)
- The Frequency is a 99-person-capacity music venue and night club located downtown
just off the Capitol Square. They host a wide variety of local, regional, national
and international acts 7 nights a week, including weekly featured shows.
Area 51 (2513 Seiferth Rd., http://www.area51bar.com/)
- Area 51 first opened in the summer of 2008. The club's unique decor is inspired
by owner/operator Brian Hahn's many road trips across the country. He combined
the look of many of his favorite places, from different regions, to create a
one-of-a-kind look. Area 51 offers a mix of live music and DJs spinning dance
tunes. Karaoke night is also popular.
Brink Lounge (701 E. Washington Ave., Ste. 105, http://www.thebrinklounge.com/)
- An upscale wine & martini bar, coffeehouse and nightclub - all within one
12,000 sq. ft. space. While national acts float through here occasionally, the
Brink features a lot of local talent.
Majestic Theatre (115 King St., http://www.majesticmadison.com/)
- The Majestic first opened in 1906 as a vaudeville theatre. Over the years,
everything from silent movies to the shows of Harry Houdini have graced its
historic stage. You can see, hear and drink to an eclectic mix of national talent
several times each week, offering fans of every musical genre a reason to visit.
Beyond live music, the Majestic also features comedy, theme parties and "Brew
n' View" movies from time to time.
Indie Coffee (1225 Regent St., http://www.indiecoffee.net/)
- Get a first-rate cup of coffee and hang out in an environment that honors
historic Madison and supports indie music and film. Free wireless. Waffles available
all day every day.
Barrymore Theatre, 2090 Atwood Ave., Madison, WI
For the gearheads (and those who stole their equipment on the road):
Good n' Loud Music (5225 University Ave., http://www.goodmusic.com/)
- Good n' Loud Music began in 1976 with $900 and an old storefront on a side
street - and they've successfully avoided getting "real jobs" ever
since. Website is updated constantly with new inventory, so check back often
if you can't make it into the store.
Madison Music Company (4253 W. Beltline Hwy., http://www.madisonmusic.com/)
- Serving the music community in Madison and beyond since 1936. Their focus
is fine acoustic guitars, mandolins, banjos and resonators.
Spruce Tree Music & Repair (851 E. Johnson St., http://www.sprucetreemusic.com/)
- In business since 1980, Spruce Tree offers an extensive selection of quality
instruments along with expertise. They provide restoration and repair services
as well as appraisals. The shop also carries CDs, DVDs, books and accessories.
A number of area musicians offer lessons here as well.
Ward-Brodt Music Company (2200 W. Beltline Hwy., http://www.ward-brodt.com/)
- Ward-Brodt originally opened in 1927 and carries a broad range of instruments,
sheet music and books. The store is also active in music education and lessons.
Farley's House of Pianos (6522 Seybold Rd., http://www.farleyspianos.com/)
- Devoted exclusively to pianos, Farley's has over 100 grands and consoles available
in showrooms on Madison's west side. Here you can choose from new, used, and
restored instruments. Piano rentals, piano and voice lessons, restoration experts.
Hey DJ! Spin this! Record Stores for the hardcore:
Madcity Music Exchange (600 Williamson St., http://www.madcitymusic.net/)
- Voted “Best Place for Vinyl” by Isthmus magazine's readers poll, Madcity
Music Exchange specializes in new releases and hard-to-find titles in all formats.
They have a great selection of used CDs, LPs, DVDs and cassettes.
B-Side Records (436 State St., http://www.b-sidemadison.com/)
- Locally owned, "old school" record shop in downtown Madison, celebrating 25
years in business. Hand-picked selection of new releases, choice classics and
uncommon curiosities. Selling only new (unused) CDs, DVDs, and Vinyl, the store
prides itself on top-shelf stock, knowledgeable staff and down-home service.
Sugar Shack Records (2301 Atwood Ave., http://www.sugarshackrecords.net/)
- Sugar Shack Records was founded by Gary Feest in downtown Madison in 1981,
doing business on West Gorham Street all through the 1980s. In 2003, Sugar Shack
relocated to its present address on the city's east side, three blocks from
the Barrymore Theatre.
Strictly Discs (1900 Monroe St., http://www.strictlydiscs.com/)
- Strictly Discs launched in 1988, just in time for all the baby boomers making
the jump from analog to digital, and became the first all-CD store in Madison.
By the time the store moved into its current location tucked between the UW-Madison
and Edgewood campuses, it had solidified a reputation as one of the Midwest's
best independent music retailers. Oddly enough, Strictly Discs also carries
Ear Wax Record Shop (254 W. Gilman St, #2, http://www.earwaxwisconsin.com/)
- An independent record store specializing in underground metal, punk, noise,
psychobilly, drone, stoner, ambient, etc. They carry CDs (fewer & fewer), a
large (and growing) vinyl selection, as well as shirts, patches, studs & spikes,
belts and other accessories.
Madison Museum of Contemporary Art, 227 State St., Madison,
Madison Museum of Contemporary Art (227 State St., http://www.mmoca.org/)
- The Madison Museum of Contemporary Art celebrated its 100th anniversary in
2001. Five years later, the museum moved into a completely new facility designed
by Cesar Pelli as part of Overture Center for the Arts. The museum’s exhilarating
new home offers 51,500 sq. ft. of space for the study, presentation, and conservation
of modern and contemporary art. It includes a rooftop sculpture garden, lecture
hall, education workshop, new media gallery and study center for drawings, prints
Taliesin Preservation/Frank Lloyd Wright Visitor Center (5607 Cty. Hwy.
C, Spring Green, http://www.taliesinpreservation.org/)
- Located approximately one hour from Madison, you can tour Frank Lloyd Wright's
home and architecture school May through October. Taliesin is Wright's "source".
The ideas, concepts, theories and techniques applied to every structure that
bears Frank Lloyd Wright’s imprint had their genesis here. Wright used Taliesin
as a kind of sketch pad... a laboratory where ideas emerged, were given form,
were tested and then refined.
Cave of the Mounds (2975 Cave of the Mounds Rd., Blue Mounds, http://www.caveofthemounds.com/)
- Located 20 miles west of Madison, the National Park Service designated Cave
of the Mounds a National Natural Landmark because the site possesses "exceptional
value as an illustration of the nation's natural heritage and contributes to
a better understanding of man's environment". Commonly referred to as the "jewel
box" of America’s major caves for the variety and delicacy of its formations,
Cave of the Mounds is recognized by the Chicago Academy of Sciences as "the
significant cave of the upper Midwest.". Guided tours available.
The Wisconsin Historical Museum (30 N. Carroll St., http://www.wisconsinhistory.org/museum/)
- The Wisconsin Historical Museum is located on Madison's Capitol Square and
is full of wonderful information about the state's rich history. Explore Wisconsin's
distinctive heritage and a variety of other American history topics through
artifacts, photographs, full-scale dioramas, audiovisual presentations and interactive
Greetings, Madison! If you have a favorite hangout or rants about what's
included (or not), email
us. We'll consider it for our next Madison update, letting other touring
and local musicians know about it.
More City Scenes