Wurst Times Fest: Madison’s Local Music Festival
People sometimes say to me that we need an all-local music festival. Well, we’ve had one for five years now and it’s called Wurst Times Festival.
Wurst Times was created by Rodney Knocke with help from Nick Berigen, Jodi Kitts, David Leemkuil and others. Three years ago they asked the Madison Area Music Association to get involved, adding the organization as a benefactor along with Second Harvest Food Bank. While it’s true the event was started as a response to the gubernatorial recall election and more specifically, Johnsonville Meats’ support for Walker, it has evolved into a workingman’s celebration of unity and of local music.
The setting for WTF is the 701 East Washington Avenue complex which houses the High Noon Saloon and the Brass Ring. The Brink Lounge has also participated in past years but had a conflict with a wedding this year. An outdoor stage was rolled in by Hanah Jon Taylor which really elevated WTF to a festival level. Brats (Hoesly’s Meats), Tofurkey Brats, Dashelitos Hot Sauce, Mustard Girl and 3 Sheep’s Brewery IPA were also served along with cheese curds (naturally), pub chips, deep-fried green beans and chicken wings. Food contributions were graciously supplemented by the Brass Ring. Java Cat came early to fuel the setup crew with coffee. Special thanks to Amsterdam and Leslie for her support and for setting up her booth. There are no national artists to suck funds away from the charities and local artists; every performer at Wurst Times Festival gets paid out of a meager budget. Some donate those payments back to the charities. The immensely hard work of setting things up and organizing is all done by volunteers.
Saturday, May 23rd was the date of this year’s event and it was an absolute glorious day in every way. John Nichols spoke to the crowd and delivered a message of solidarity. The two indoor venues were nearly full all day long. Each performer seemed to bring their own audience and there is absolutely no doubt that people were turned on to local bands they have never heard or seen playing live. A large tent and umbrella tables kept the parking lot stage attendees comfortably out of the sun.
The music was simply outstanding. Twenty-two acts appeared and high praise was relayed to me from numerous attendees for the comp0lete lineup. The High Noon stage was where I spent most of my time as that was the MAMA stage but I was able to stage-hop all day, introducing as many acts as possible and catching snippets here and there. The crowd reaction was fantastic and I report that both performer and fan were having a quite enjoyable time. (Sadly, it appears that none of the city’s other “music journals” previewed or covered the event; what’s up with that?)
The festival in sum was perhaps the finest collection of local music performances I’ve witnessed. The High Noon stage performances were a complete joy. Richard Wiegel started it off with his classy fingerstyle guitar. He is truly a gentleman and a towering figure in Madison music folklore. Post Social was incredible and these kids are mostly still in high school, an amazing performance that underscored the MAMA mission of funding music programs for Madison-area youths. Oh My Love were so good I am at a loss for words, speechless. Check them out now! If that weren’t enough, Dolores followed. In the 2015 Yearbook, they are probably the pick for “Most Likely to Succeed.” They rocked hard and were quite fun to watch, blending sounds of the Doors, Syd Barret psychedelia and Phish-type riffing and weirdness. Beth Kille brought 2014 Guitarist of the Year Michael Tully and the two delivered an electrifying acoustic set, Tully receiving several ovations for his guitar soloing. The Mascot Theory were recording down the street at Clutch Studios, took a break from that to come play a set and then went back to the studio. They were absolutely on fire and many people remarked to me how much they enjoyed them. Stop the Clock closed out the day on the High Noon Stage with inspired originals and covers, especially their set-closing version of “Me and Bobby McGee” with Brianna Hardyman receiving cheers for her incredible vocal performance while Mike Massey delivered a stunning keyboard solo, then trading licks with the incredible guitarist Joel Pingatore, bringing their performance to a rousing finish.
Highlights from the other stages included Gabe Burdulis on the Brass Ring Singer/Songwriter stage. Burdulis was on hiatus from his extended stay in Nashville and played songs from his new album Youth City. Also debuting some new songs from their upcoming album Bellatopia were the Getaway Drivers who also sported a new singer, Iris Hutchings.
WTF has been building on each year’s success and you can bet that the 2016 version will even better. Hats off to Knocke and all those who worked so hard, especially to the sponsors and performers. The complete list of performers is below:
MAMA/HIGH NOON STAGE
BRASS RING STAGE
Dave Sweeney and Chris Kuter
Andrew Lynch Trio