Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Rocking On

Madison’s big night of music is fast approaching. The Madison Area Music Awards take place this Saturday at the Barrymore Theatre.

The awards show kicks off with a red carpet and goes on to bring together, feature and honor the best in local music, just as it’s done for the past five years. Over one hundred performers are scheduled for this year’s show, including Natty Nation, Clyde Stubblefield, Whore du Jour, Rising Gael with the Trinity Dancers, Jentri Collelo, Lucha Libre and the West High School Concert Choir.

Rick Tvedt, former publisher of local music newspaper Rick’s Café, started the MAMAs not only to celebrate local musicians, but also to support music education in Madison. He recently took some time out from planning this year’s most rocking music event—he calls it Madison’s version of the Grammys—to answer a few questions about the organization’s goals, role in Madison and state of the local music scene.

What did you envision the Madison Area Music Awards to be when you started it back in 2003? How has it changed since then?

It was always conceived of as the charity it is—to fund music programs for kids and to buy instruments. It is also intended to publicize our local artists. It really hasn’t changed much but our approach has been modified and adapted over the last five years. We see the organization becoming an association that works to better things for working musicians as well as benefiting the next generation of musicians.

The MAMAs mission statement is “to put musical instruments in kids’ hands and further their musical education.” Why is that the organization’s mission and how do you carry it out?

This is our mission because there are needs and because we want to foster the arts and music in future generations. Study after study shows the cognitive advantages to music education. There are many other factors that affect a person’s outlook on the world, their ability to enjoy life, etc. It is also a major force in keeping kids positive and out of other less desirable activities.

We are currently setting up several programs to educate kids and we are constantly getting requests for instruments and other technical items for music programs. Many of these requests come from schools—the teachers, the parent groups, the parents themselves.

How would you describe the music scene in Madison today?

Madison is difficult because it functions like two different cities on and off the isthmus. Getting more people to come into the circle of the population that frequents local music has proven especially difficult. One of the big reasons in my mind is lack of attention by the media, which is why I started Rick’s Cafe in 2003. It has gotten marginally better as of late but I think having a source that is all local music and arts content is missing.

Musicians everywhere are hurting from two major factors: the current economy and the fact that fewer people want to pay for music. The latter is more easily solvable and I believe it will be soon. When the economy goes south the entertainment budget is the first thing to go. After that follows the clubs and lack of ability to advertise, and a whole cycle clicks in. I recently read a passage to the effect of, “musicians are the first to suffer when the economy gets bad and the last to recover when it turns around.” The price of gas has also been a key factor in musicians’ ability to tour and that’s a double-whammy when you’re also selling fewer CDs because of the proliferation of downloading and the mentality that breeds.

So many people will complain about a $5 cover charge but when you think about it, it will break down to 50 cents per band member for two five-member bands to entertain you for several hours. Doesn’t even begin to address the sticks, strings, reeds, sound people, batteries, gas and so forth that it took to get these players to the gig, let alone the lifetime of dedication and practice.

What role do you see the MAMAs serving in Madison’s music scene in the future?

Like I said, I see us serving the professionals as well as carrying out the charitable goals. We’d like to offer benefits to membership. I have some really fantastic ideas in this realm but we are not there yet. We have a grant writer now and are going down that avenue. Sponsorships have been difficult and nearly impossible of late. The foremost goal is getting the organization into financial stability. It’s been a nail-biter every year and this year we had to make some painful cuts in our budget. The MAMAs is all volunteer with a six-member board that only recently expanded to eight. Having a staff and a paid director is a dream we have. That said, we’ve been in the black since the second year and that is no small feat for an organization without a benefactor or strong sponsorship. But every year gets better and we’re confident that the MAMAs will survive because it is pure of heart and the people involved are totally dedicated.

What’s new in this year’s awards show? What should audiences expect?

The MAMAs is Madison’s Grammys. Red carpet and all. We will have over one hundred performers at this year’s show. The percentage of musical performance has gone up significantly. Many of these performers are young people and that serves to underscore our mission besides being very entertaining. Performers are from many different genres. There are always a few surprises as well and there’s always one moment that’s sure to wet a few eyes. We have local celebrities who help present the awards and we use a lot of video in the presentations.

This year our recipient of the Michael St. John Lifetime Achievement Award is Marvin Rabin, founding conductor of the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestra. The man is a legend and so gracious and sweet. We are so honored to have him be there to accept our award. He joins our past winners Clyde Stubblefield, Jan Wheaton, Ben Sidran, Jonathan Little and Richard Davis. The show is a total blast, I love producing it, and I’m confident it will become a signature event for the city.

The Madison Area Music Awards take place May 9 at the Barrymore Theatre. Doors open and a happy hour is held at 5:30 p.m., the red carpet begins at 6 p.m. and the awards show runs 7–10 p.m. Tickets are $15 in advance and $20 at the door. Following the MAMAs, seven after-parties are held in clubs across Madison. Find details here.

Photos are courtesy of Dave Newton. (Find more of his MAMAs photography here.)

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