Make Music Madison strikes a chord in community

Imagine the most diverse Spotify playlist you can. Now take all those songs and play them live, simultaneously, as you run your daily errands in your neighborhood.

In many ways, that’s what Make Music Madison, an annual one-day citywide, free, outdoor day of music is. The third annual event, held on the Summer Solstice, June 21, is seeking to generate a continuous wall of music for people as they walk around participating spaces.

According to the event’s website, “music” is whatever live sound an individual or group wishes to produce, and whatever the hosting space accepts. The day will be inclusionary in terms of genres, ethnicities, styles of music, skill levels of musicians, and in the use of public and private spaces throughout the Madison community, which joins more than 700 communities around the world celebrating the Summer Solstice by filling their city with music.

Long time Madison mover and shaker, Mike Rothschild, brought the concept to Madison in 2013. The first year was a success and the event has only grown as it enters its third year.

In addition to celebrating music in all its forms, Make Music Madison is designed as a showcase for the many lakes, parks, and neighborhoods that make up Madison, says Jamie Kember, a Make Music Madison board member.

Kember, a trombonist and music educator, is also the director of the Madison College Big Band and Jazz Combo, as well as a development associate, with the Wisconsin Center for Music Education (home of WSMA, WMEA, and WFSM).

“The big idea is that anyone and everyone can come out and make music, visit neighborhoods they don’t usually get to, and sample lots of kinds of music,” Kember explains. “This year there will be more than 430 live, free performances at 111 venues located all over town.”

Kember is quick to note Make Music Madison is very much a citywide event. “On a typical day in Madison, there are pockets of activity, much of it happening at the center of town. But not on June 21! Every corner of the city will be filled with music.”

An interactive map at allows patrons to find the event nearest to them. People can also download a smartphone app to see when and where their favorite musicians, neighbors, and friends are performing.

There will be live music happening in front of businesses like Luigi’s Pizzeria, Michael’s Frozen Custard, Chocolate Shop, and Java Cat; in many parks, including Elver, Hoyt, Warner, and Penn; at block parties on Few Street and East Mifflin; and at a women’s music and arts festival taking place on South Dickinson Street. “There is even live music at the Dane County Regional Airport!” Kember says.



A community affair

The day of musical merriment is the pinnacle of all of the hard work put in by venue hosts, musicians, and organizers, according to Kember, but the real impact of Make Music Madison is in the months leading up to June 21.

“For example, venue organizers connect with the community around them to create a successful event,” he says. “They also have the opportunity to connect and start relationships with Madison’s musicians. The performers and venue organizers alike want the event to be a success. Venue organizers are encouraging people to come out to hear the musicians. Musicians are encouraging people to get out to the venues to hear their music.

“Take a look at the ‘Rhyme & Reason’ event taking place at Elver Park,” Kember adds. “Everyone involved in that event has pulled together to create what is sure to be a great day filled with music and new connections across our community.”

Connecting musicians and listeners

All kinds of musicians — young, old, polished professionals, amateurs, and students of all levels are invited to perform. And local businesses, cafes, neighborhood associations, museums, libraries, and schools are welcome to create their own performance venues to host musicians and active listeners.

“Make Music Madison volunteers work to open up doors, helping connect musicians to venues and vice versa,” says Kember. “Once those connections are made, we work to help make their events successful by spreading the word and encouraging venues and performers to take the wheel. Make Music Madison provides them with platforms to help get the word out.

“Our job is to encourage people to get involved. Once someone sees how their talents can be used, the event is then turned over to them,” Kember explains. “Make Music Madison will be forever changing because it is simply a reflection of those that are performing, organizing, and listening. The only real challenge is getting people to see how they can get involved. But once someone sees that the event is theirs, they have the power to run with it. The organization and the event is very much a ‘do-it-yourself’ celebration of music, community, and the summer solstice.”

Kember adds musicians who have not registered for the event still have an opportunity to perform Sunday, June 21. Musicians can sign up for “Mass Appeal” events at For guitarists and drummers there will be a 60s Rock Stage event as well as a Community Drum Circle. For singers there will be a Mass Choir Concert featuring the world premiere of a piece written by composer Scott Gendel. Singer-songwriter Les Hoffman wrote a piece called “It’s In Us” specifically for this event, which will be premiered with singers and instrumentalists on June 21.

Expect inspiration

People attending the event can expect to be inspired, Kember says. Inspired by the musical talent of Madisonians, inspired by Madison’s innovative businesses, non-profits, and organizations, inspired by the beauty of the city, and maybe even inspired to make music themselves!

Most importantly, he notes, event organizers hope everyone involved will be inspired to support live music and local businesses throughout the year.

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