The travelin’ mccourys’ Select Session
5:15 Beth Kille
6:30 Sortin the Mail CD Release (tent)
7:30 The Travelin' McCourys
8:30 Sortin the Mail (tent)
8:40 Pop up Auction #3 (front of main stage)
9:00 The Travelin' McCourys (Set two)
THE Dobet Gnahoré select SESSION
5:15 Natty Nation
7:30 / 9:30 Dobet Gnahoré
The Old 97s
The Old 97’s is a punk/country and power-pop band from Dallas, best described as “Johnny Cash meets the Clash.” They pioneered the alt-country movement in the 1990s, blending country, folk, and rock to add a strong beat to a tried and true twang. A hard-driving band with some bleary-eyed, haunting stories to tell, the Old 97s count the Pixies and David Bowie, along with Willie Nelson, Hank Williams, and Buddy Holly as influences. Lead singer and rhythm guitarist Rhett Miller, guitarist Ken Bethea, bassist Murray Hammond and Philip Peeples on drums have played together for over 25 years, bringing that commitment and energy to their dynamic, rowdy performances, consistently turning in one critic called “a well-oiled monster of a live show.”
The award-winning Driveway Thriftdwellers, a fixture in the local country and Americana scene, are a sensational live band. At the band’s core are brothers Jon and Ryan Knudson, who were influenced by their country musician father’s love of the “twangy, crying sound of the pedal steel” but brought their own generation’s musical tastes to the mix as well. Says Ryan, “I guess somewhere between those Sunday morning drives home from church with my dad listening to the radio, then going home and listening to Black Flag and The Circle Jerks, something hit.” The Thriftdwellers earned a “Best Of” Milwaukee’s Summerfest in 2017 from the Journal Sentinel and a WAMI award for Best Country Music Act in 2017 as well as several Madison area music awards. Jon Knudson’s guitar and Ryan Knudson’s pedal steel are rounded out by Kyle Rightley on lead guitar, John Storey on bass, and Aaron Collins on drums to produce an alt-country sound that is both experienced and experimental, mixing covers and original tunes. Come enjoy the infectious fun they have with each other on stage!
Cicada Rhythm is the Georgia-based Americana roots duo of Andrea DeMarcus on double bass and Dave Kirslis on guitar. Playing an inventive blend of country, early 20th -century folk, blues, and jazz, spiced with a surprising dash of classical, the pair have garnered praise for their inventive sound and deceptively simple songwriting. Julliard-trained DeMarcus propels the beat with her virtuoso musicianship, intricately interweaving the bass line with Kirslis’ skilled finger-picking as the two harmonize in sweetly haunting vocals. The name “Cicada Rhythm” invokes the buzz of long, lazy southern twilights, making their music a perfect soundtrack for a lovely summer night.
Fun and polished, Madison power-pop band BingBong channel post-punk, new wave and ’80s guitar rock in a distinctive and spirited sound. Dynamic live shows feature the seasoned lead guitar of Danny Smith alongside the rhythm guitar of singer Pam Barrett, whose vocals have been compared to those of Chrissie Hynde. Melodic hooks and jangling guitar riffs in the vein of the Pretenders and the Smiths are given driving rhythms by Brian Bentley on drums and Julie Kiland on bass. Lyrically sophisticated songs take up pop themes of love and desire, such as “It’s Complicated,” which won the 2017 MAMA Rock Song of the Year.
Raine Stern is an award-winning, local singer-songwriter and guitarist who has been generating extraordinary buzz in Madison’s music scene as a woman to watch. Her soulful vocals, dazzling guitar-playing and charismatic, confident stage presence have propelled her to unusual visibility in a very short time, including an invitation to perform at Summerfest this year. Citing Prince and Stevie Ray Vaughn among her influences, Stern crafts her own unique blend of folk, jazz, blues, pop, rock, rhythm and blues, and reggae. As a composer, her distinctive, lyrical songwriting sensibility is based around the question, “how do I support the emotion of the story I am telling?” Ranging from an achingly expressive croon to a power growl, Stern’s gorgeous voice develops those emotions yet further. Recently--and at the Sessions--she has been backed by established musician Josh Cohen (an impressive innovator on the six-string bass), Mitchell Dalzin on electric guitar, and Brett Walter on drums, who together rock out with style, finesse and energy. Make.It.Raine!
Touring in the wake of their ambitious triple album, “Shady Grove,” The Figgs are diversifying their famous pub rock, punk-pop sound with more psychedelic, mood-driven pieces. That rare phenom, a high-school band that has stayed together for over thirty years, the Figgs have spent many years on the road creating their easy on-stage chemistry, both on their own and as the backing band for singer-songwriter Graham Parker. Mike Gent (guitar), Pete Donnelly (bass), and Pete Hayes (drums) craft catchy melodies and perform with a charisma that has earned them a place as a great American rock band in the tradition of The Replacements, Cheap Trick and Elvis Costello. Their earlier punk-laced, guitar-driven sound is now blended with the pleasure of the groove. As Gent says, “the best rock and roll has all of those elements — fast, soft, loud, quiet, middle ground — the roll. People always forget about the roll."
The Bottle Rockets
Missouri band The Bottle Rockets bring an Americana rock edge to their brand of alt-country. With a diverse array of influences such as Neil Young, Jackson Browne, the Replacements, and Steve Earle, they sing experimental folk-country songs of social commentary in a gritty rasp, mixing country and rock. Brian Hennemen (guitar and vocals) describes the band as “reporters from the heartland,” who tell authentic, humorous stories about recognizable characters. Other current members are Mark Ortmann (drums), John Horton (guitar) and Keith Voegele (bass, vocals). With their “punk-rock pedigrees and arena-rock energy,” the Bottle Rockets are a must-see live act.
Panchromatic Steel is a steeldrum band from Madison, playing calypso, jazz, and popular hits as a showcase for the steelpan, the national instrument of Trinidad and Tobago that was originally made from discarded oil drums. The irresistible, danceable sound of the band is due to the resourcefulness and creativity of the Caribbean musicians who invented the steelpan, thought to be the only new acoustic instrument developed in the twentieth century, and used it to play calypso and “soca,” a high-energy dance music that combined American funk and soul, classical Indian music, and Latin rhythms. Band founders Chad Bartell and Josh Pultorak honor the instrument by displaying both its complexity and its joyousness.
Singing in English and Spanish, they roll sax, accordion, guitar, and drums into a smooth hybrid groove, their effortless communication in live performances influenced by 30 years of playing together. “Never have accordions and saxophones been so much in love,” wrote one critic.
Rod Hodges(guitar/accordion/vocals), Joe Cabral (saxophone/bajo sexto/vocals), Rene Coman, (bass), and Doug Garrison (drums) are an unbeatable combination of talents who together produce a distinctive sound world perfectly suited to the relaxed music festival vibe.
Bay Area rapper Lyrics Born (Tom Shimura) is currently at the top of his game. One of the top-selling independent solo hip-hop artists, he rose from being an underground MC to become a major hip-hop icon and has earned a reputation for being one of the most exciting and consistent live performers around. Charismatic, stylish, and exciting, Lyrics Born has a distinctive, soulful rasp and a swaggering vocal delivery is equally adept at melody and rhyme. Terming himself the “funkiest rapper alive,” he weaves funk and soul influences from James Brown and George Clinton into classic rap forms. As the only Asian-American MC to release 10 studios albums and the first to play major music festivals like Coachella and Lollapalooza, Lyrics Born has inspired other Asian-Americans, a population consistently underrepresented in pop culture. He sees this mission quite simply, saying “the world needs the same diversity in the arts as we do in real life.”
From Madison, Beth Kille has spent almost twenty years as a singer-songwriter in the Americana tradition, combining country, rock, folk and blues. Winner of an impressive 22 MAMA awards, including Female Vocalist of the Year, Kille is a mainstay of the Madison Music scene as a member of several bands and in her focus on empowering women to produce and perform. Her mission in life is to inspire all to embrace their creativity, which she does in part by regularly sharing her own extraordinary musicianship. With a rich vocal quality that blends Sheryl Crow with Dolly Parton, matched by inimitable, hard-driving guitar skills, Kille is always a crowd pleaser.
Sortin’ the Mail
Sortin’ the Mail is a Madison bluegrass band that, in the words of one review, “plays the kind of music that makes you happy to be alive.” Winners of the 2018 Madison Area Music Awards Country and Bluegrass Performers of the Year, the five-piece includes Bobby Batyko on guitar, Lonesome Willie Jones on mandolin, Brad Astor on bass, Rin Q. Ribble on fiddle, and Matt Amati on banjo. Together the group generates raw, relentless energy, their powerful harmonies invigorating original tunes to create a stomping good time.
The Travelin’ McCourys
The Travelin’ McCourys are basking in the glow of their recent Grammy for the Best Bluegrass album. Over twenty years of touring means virtuoso musicianship and the confidence to push the boundaries of their field, and they often cover unexpected material, such as the Grateful Dead or, more recently, the pop musician Passenger. Rob (banjo) and Ronnie (mandolin) McCoury, sons of legendary bluegrass musician Del McCoury, are known for their killer hard-picking solos. All band members, in fact –including fiddler Jason Carter, bassist Alan Bartram, and guitarist Cody Kilby–are highly skilled instrumentalists and have won individual awards for their skills, and their vocal harmonies are precisely honed marvels, ranging from plaintively lovely to upbeat and rousing. Years of playing with jam bands as diverse as the Allman Brothers, Phish, and the Preservation Jazz Band give the Travelin McCourys a practiced yet intuitively interactive stage presence.
Madison’s award-winning Natty Nation describes its sound as “hard roots rock reggae,” because they build on an authentic reggae foundation with soul, rock, and funk. The band truly shines in live performance, thriving on the vibe of the audience; “our ultimate goal is to uplift as many people as possible through sound and vibration,” says vocalist and bass player JAH Boogie. “We believe in creating positive energy in the universe.” Blending reggae grooves with heavy guitar riffs and smooth melodies, they draw not only from Peter Tosh, Bunny Wailer and Bob Marley, but also from Earth Wind & Fire and Jimi Hendrix. A Midwest favorite, Natty Nation has scored 31 Madison Area Music Association (MAMA) awards, including artist of the year, and played all over the world, including the Middle East, Africa, Japan, and the Marshall Islands. With Aaron Konkol (keys, backing vocals, melodica), Chris Di Bernardo (drums), Nick Czar (guitar), and Captain Smooth (live dubs).
Originally from the Ivory Coast but now based in France, Grammy-winning Dobet Gnahoré is an unforgettable performer who dances, sings, and plays percussion with radiant energy in a unique brand of afro-pop. Mixing pan-African music traditions with electronica, her songs celebrate freedom and African women in French, English, and many African languages—including her own mother tongue of Bété. She is currently touring behind her album Miziki (“Music”), which won a Grammy for Best Urban/Alternative Performance in 2018. Her powerful, socially-conscious songs become irresistible dance tracks through the magic of the French and Tunisian musicians in her group, Na Afriki, who play the guitar, sanza, balafon, calebasse and bongos. On the road internationally for over fifteen years—she has played more than 800 shows since 2004—Gnahore says “My music has no limits, no borders…Music is my life, it’s everything for me.” Join Ghahore and Na Afriki for a joyous celebration of music without borders!
Local singer-songwriter and guitarist Kari Arnett has been generating a lot of buzz recently. Drawing from country and folk roots, she has carved out her own niche in the Americana scene with lyrical storytelling and musicianship that have scored praise from Rolling Stone. Arnett is currently touring behind her 2018 debut album, When The Dust Settles, which features songs that balance the personal with the universally resonant. Formed by her rural Wisconsin childhood of writing, playing, and singing music, Arnett cites influences from Neko Case and Tom Petty to Alison Kraus. Her hauntingly powerful vocals, which can equally belt out country anthems or turn sweetly aching for an intimate ballad, have drawn comparisons to Stevie Nicks and Dolly Parton. Whether accompanied only by her own acoustic guitar or backed by her talented band of pedal steel, keyboard, and fiddle players Arnett impresses with her confident stage presence—she is clearly a rising star to catch!
Michael Brenneis Plutonium Players
Drummer Michael Brenneis formed the eight-piece jazz ensemble the Plutonium Players to feature some of the best of Madison’s jazz community for his unique 2018 concept album “Plutonium,” which explored the effects of industrialization. Designed around driving, strange, and memorable rhythms, dissonant arrangements and sophisticated melodies, the music is, in the words of one reviewer, “gorgeous, thrilling and just a little bit terrifying.”
The JC Brooks Band
Hailing from Chicago, the JC Brooks Band is an unforgettable live act playing their own unique brew of what they call “post-punk soul.” A master showman, praised by Rolling Stone for his “enveloping stage presence and palpable charisma,” Brooks theatrically commands the stage in perpetual motion while his expressive vocals range from raspy growl to lovely falsetto. Equally explosive is the tight sound of the brilliant musicians; combining elements of funk, soul, indie rock, R&B, and punk, they have been described as “Otis Redding fronting the Stooges.” Equal parts James Brown and the Clash, the JC Brooks Band is a guaranteed crowd-pleasing blast.
Milwaukee-based Buffalo Gospel creates their own blend of country western and Americana in a sound that manages to sound both traditional and fresh. Known for their “wildcat live performances,” they count among their influences Hank Williams Sr,, Bonnie Raitt, and Townes Van Zandt. The band’s name signifies the strength of the buffalo in conjunction with “gospel” in the sense of “truth,” and their shows balance sorrowful ballads with buoyant two-steps in what the band’s founder Ryan Necci acknowledges is a highly personal mix. Writes one critic, “the band will get you dancing before breaking your heart with soulful, gritty ballads.”
Melissa Carper and
Melissa Carper and Rebecca Patek play what they call “Brand New Old-Time Songs” (which is also the name of their recent album). Their plaintive vocal style and spare accompaniment evoke old-timey mountain music, reaching back decades to channel the sounds of the early twentieth century. Hailing from Nashville and Austin via Arkansas, where they also play with bluegrass stalwart Sad Daddy, Carper and Patek are virtuoso singers and musicians. Memorably moving acapella harmonies alternate with Carper’s claw-hammer banjo, guitar and upright bass, and Patek’s fiddle and guitar. In her Sessions debut, Patek is in fact revisiting her own roots, as she is a former member of the Madison Symphony and three-time Wisconsin State fair fiddle champion!
The Cash Box Kings
Energized by a brand-new album that just dropped in May, the Cash Box Kings bring their original “bluesabilly” back to the festival stage. Formed originally in Madison WI as an homage to post-war Chicago blues, the Delta blues of the 1920s and 30s, and rockabilly, the band keeps roots tradition alive while infusing it with a fresh energy. Oscar Wilson’s confident stage presence and commanding vocal style are the result of decades of experience in the Chicago blues scene. Wilson’s classic singing pairs perfectly with the soaring harmonica of band co-leader and founder Joe Nosek, creating a memorable sound MOJO magazine labelled, simply, “flawless.”
Paul Cebar and
the Tomorrow Sound
Milwaukee musical icon Paul Cebar and his band create a funky polyglot sound from a phenomenal range of musical rhythms, including African, Latin and Caribbean, rhythm and blues, and zydeco. Inspired originally by the dance bands of western Louisiana and his native Midwest as well as his early years of playing folk coffee houses, Cebar winds his deft guitar playing around unique grooves backed by the percussion, keyboards, saxophone and bass of the Tomorrow Sound.
Award-winning instrumental band Graminy fuses classical and roots music into distinctive “class-grass.” Lively and improvisational, their instrumentation blends a classical string trio (violins, viola and cello) with elements of a bluegrass rhythm section (mandolin, guitar and banjo) in original compositions. Named after the botanical term for the grass family, Graminy writes music inspired by ecological and biological processes, such as germination, which they see as a metaphor for their compositional process. “Our number-one goal is to play great music, the kind that taps your toes and also taps your mind,” says founder Michael Bell.
Based in Nashville, Lilly Hiatt has followed her own path of what she calls “punktry”-- blues, country and folk mixed with garage and alt-rock. The daughter of singer-songwriter John Hiatt, Hiatt openly admires her father but has gone in a more rock-oriented direction, drawing as much from grunge as from the classic Nashville sound. Touring behind the acclaimed Trinity Lane (2017), which critics hailed as “one for the books” and Rolling Stone tapped as one of the best Americana albums of the year, Hiatt brings her distinctive blend of raw honesty and closely observed story-telling to the festival stage. Alternately melancholy, whimsical, or resilient, her songs trace her own past struggles with relationships and sobriety.
The Kissers have been Madison favorites since they began over twenty years ago as a group of rock musicians inspired (by the Pogues, natch) to learn Celtic music. That rock background may still echo through their revved-up arrangements, but the changing lineup has mastered the traditional Celtic instrumentation of whistle, fiddle, uilleann pipes, banjo, guitar, accordion, and mandolin, winning acclaim and awards for their musicianship. Billed as “Irish-Country-Punkadelic music wizards,” the Kissers stir up their audiences with furious, skillful playing combined with the rollicking energy of their unique on-stage chemistry.
Kansas City indie-rock band Making Movies breaks genre boundaries with its combination of Afro-Latino rhythms and psychedelic rock and roll. Touring in the wake of their much-anticipated album, ameri'kana (released May 2019), Making Movies worked with salsa icon Rubén Blades and David Hidalgo of Los Lobos to create what they call “both a music and a movement,” “No Te Calles” (“Don’t Be Silenced”). Simultaneously sincere and theatrical, the Chi brothers from Santiago, Panama and the Chaurand brothers from Mexico connect directly with their audience, issuing impassioned pleas to rescue democracy through participation. Singing in Spanish and English, Making Movies combines fuzzy rock-and-roll guitar hearkening back to the Beatles, U2, and Peter Gabriel, with traditional salsa, merengue and cumbia rhythms.
Mal o Dua
Cedric Baetche and Chris Ruppenthal are Mal-O-Dua, a Madison duo combining French swing, gypsy jazz, and Hawaiian slack key guitar music with a touch of Kentucky finger-picking to create a uniquely eclectic sound. Strings played with unusual, virtuoso techniques are the hallmark here, with the band’s name coming from the French “Mal aux doigts” (“my fingers hurt”). Introducing songs with entertaining stories about their genre and origin, Mal-O-Dua is a reliable festival fave.
Evan Murdock and
The Imperfect Strangers
One of Madison’s favorite folk bands, Evan Murdock and The Imperfect Strangers create the perfect festival sound, blending practiced musicianship with audience-engaging humor in songs about “love, loss and dinosaurs.” Upright base, guitar, drums, and accordion back Murdock’s comfortable deep twang in an easy irresistible mix that hints at Murdock’s bluegrass roots (his mandolin was legendary) and nods toward country, blues, and rock with a hint of cajun. Famous for their fun-loving live shows, Evan Murdock and the Imperfect Strangers will also tug on your heartstrings with laments of loss and longing sung in beautiful harmony.
Orquesta MAS (Madison All Stars), is a salsa band made up of a diverse group of 12 of Madison’s finest musicians. Hailing from Colombia, Ecuador, Mexico, Puerto Rico and the United States, the band showcases local talent Madison talent to get you dancing to its hot Latin rhythms.
Cris Plata and Extra Hot
Tex-Mex singer-songwriter Cris Plata and his band Extra Hot meld the musical styles of his native border country--norteño (Northern Mexican border), conjunto (European-influenced) and ranchera (Mexican country)--into their own distinctive form. Accompanying himself on guitar, the Madison-based Plata performs with gentle charm, interspersing his country-folk songs and ballads with stories from his childhood in a music-making family. Band members provide harmonies with pedal steel, dobro, and other strings in music that mingles lilting swing with melodic hooks.
Les Poules à Colin
Based in Montréal, the young but seasoned performers of Les Poules à Colin (“Colin’s Hens”) have crafted a distinctive Francophone mix of traditional Québécois, Breton, and Louisiana folk with old-time jazz, pop, and original pieces. Taken from a familiar Québécois song, the band’s name humorously draws attention to the lone male in the band (whose name is actually Colin!). As the sons and daughters of folk musicians in the same community, the members of the band were practically born with instruments in their hands, demonstrating effortless mastery of fiddle, guitar, lapsteel, banjo, mandolin, piano, bass and foot percussion. Over this they layer ethereal singing in French and English. While they can turn in an upbeat Celtic reel with the best of them, their pop edge also leads them to explore moody reboots of old ballads to create an entirely original take on their musical roots. Developing an enthusiastic following and racking up prizes for both their instrumental prowess and their infectious joy in performing, Les Poules à Colin absolutely must be seen live.
Darren Sterud Jazz Orchestra
The Darren Sterud Orchestra features an ever-changing lineup of Madison’s finest established jazz musicians along with new talent, with trombonist Sterud himself familiar from myriad local groups including Mama Digdown's Brass Band. Committed to bringing “a little bit of the Village Vanguard right to downtown Madison,” Sterud mingles improvisation with old-style favorites in his commitment to both entertain and to educate audiences about the important American art form of jazz.
Anders Svanoe Double Trios
Jazz saxophonist and composer Anders Svanoe originally put together his “double trio” for his 2018 album, “747: Queen of the Skies.” An esteemed veteran of Madison’s jazz community, Svanoe showcases the versatility of the sax on original pieces, setting off its ability to “float like a butterfly and roar like a buffalo stampede” against trumpet, stand-up bass, and drums.
From Bogotá, Colombia, Tribu Baharú plays a style of Afro-Caribbean folk music known as champeta, a supremely danceable and high-energy style with a rhythmic base. Inspired by the celebrated pulsing sound-systems of Columbian coastal cities such as Cartagena, champeta centers on high-speed bass and drums laced with bright soukous-style guitar. Tribu Baharú’s live shows feature acrobatic dancers and positive messages about keeping the memory of the ancestors alive, sung in sung in street dialects. Be prepared to dance and sweat! As NPR declares: “There are very few guarantees in life. But one of them must- must! 0 be that as soon as you hear the music of Tribu Baharú you'll start moving (I promise).”
Hardworking local darling WheelHouse is a nationally touring Americana and bluegrass band with a large fanbase and an energy to match. Their musicianship honed by over 220 shows year, the four-piece features fiddle and guitar leads over the driving rhythm of the upright bass and winning three- and four-part harmonies. From covers to originals (such as the locally popular “Come Back In--Dive Bar Anthem”), the group brings an upbeat vitality and new momentum to the folk bluegrass sound. A self-described “all-in band,”-- as in “all business, and all fun”--WheelHouse consistently turns in sensational live shows.
Wisconsin country rockers Wrenclaw bring their lively mix of gospel, delta, and back-country roots, along with their reputation as Madison’s “most reliable and rowdy bar band,” to liven up the festival stage. Harmonizing in classic whine and twang style, Wrenclaw backs its vocals with harmonica and slide guitar.