“Tag’s Deal”- or How I Became a Concert Promoter (for those too timid to ask)

I look forward to July 20 with some trepidation.

No, it’s not because we have Immortal Technique at High Noon on Sunday. We do hip hop shows on a fairly regular basis, and we generally have less problems – the occasional obnoxious tag (as in graffiti) notwithstanding – than, say, at a Yonder Mountain show packed with over-served hippies.

July 20 is the anniversary of my move to Madison twenty years ago. I moved here from Dayton, Ohio to pursue a doctorate in Agricultural Economics under the guidance of Dan Bromley, a thoughtful Natural Resource economist who was also one of the few remaining expositors of the Institutional School of economics. Institutional Economics, with its holistic multidisciplinary approach, offered an alluring respite from the arid confines of neo-classical orthodoxy and its extreme reliance on mathematical equations and statistics. I looked forward to studying with Dan in the hopes that my interest in economics as a means of grappling with the complex issues facing us – particularly global environmental crises — would lead to a career in academia.

Man plans, God laughs. Before I could get to the good stuff, I had to pass muster in the form of prelims, and in order to do that, I had to take classes in Micro, Macro, and Econometrics. My math training upon arrival was minimal – I had never before seen a proof. In short, I was screwed. For the first time in my life, I was a failure.

In retrospect, I should have transferred to Sociology or Political Science, but I tried sticking it out. I could write well, and consequently had a paper published shortly after my arrival. I was invited to present my ideas at a couple of conferences, and I ended up getting featured in a video shot at an academic conference exploring the emerging discipline of Ecological Economics, one that was shown on college campuses across the country, even making its way to the Clinton White House (true story.)

But then more reality set in. I fell in love, hard, only to see it end in a slow-motion train wreck. And my parents died, both of them, within six months of each other. I was in a world of pain.

So I dropped out and became a concert promoter.

I sometimes think I subconsciously started up this business so I could drink on the job, which I did in the early days to good measure. It’s an occupational hazard, one that I now try to avoid, but then it helped me when little else could. Of course, what drinking gave, it took back and then some.

I intended when sitting down to write to ruminate about my early recollections of the Madison music scene, kind of a “then and now” retrospective. I do remember the first time I went to O’Cayz. I can’t remember the band I went to see, but I do remember thinking it was a long walk from campus. I saw Negativland at Club D, Fishbone at Headliners, Mahlathini & the Mahotella Queens and King Sunny Ade & the African Beats at the Barrymore — as many shows as I could fit in while wading through those dense math equations of my early grad school days.

I remember Phil Gnarly & the Tough Guys at the Wagon Wheel, Marques Bovre at the Crystal, the Indigo Girls playing the Terrace in front of what seemed like 6000 people, Lou Reed signing autographs at Club De Wash, the Gomers doing their crazy theme nights, also at Club D.

Bunkys, R& R Station and GS Vigs have all been torn down. Inn Cahoots became The Chamber, which became Mass Appeal, which became the King Club, giving way, most recently, to Woofs. Club de Wash burned down on a miserable February morning, and, not five years later, the same fate took out O’Cayz.

All I can say is thank God for Cathy’s perseverance.

O' Cayz Corral, Post- Fire

O' Cayz Corral, Post- Fire

I’m sitting upstairs at High Noon while I write this, listening to Sarah Borges & the Broken Singles rock out and thinking about how I used to drink Budweiser while waiting for the guys at No Name Printing in the basement of the old Buy ‘n’ Sell — which stood in this very spot — to finish up my flyers so I could go hit State Street.

I wonder what life would have been like as a college professor, if my original intentions upon landing here 20 years ago had been fulfilled. It was my dream to be a public intellectual, to get paid to read and write and think. I still have my regrets, that restless longing for what might have been.

On the other hand, I wouldn’t have had the life experiences I’ve had. I get to chat with Lyle Lovett, hang out with Patti Smith, witness the ongoing explosive genius of an artist like Ryan Adams. It’s not all like that; there’s a lot of endless work, lots of nights like tonight with 50 people in the house and a few hundred shy in the till. But, all in all, it doesn’t suck.

I still remember the first time I drove into Madison, down Park Street until it dead-ended into Lake Mendota, lost and not a little bit scared. I’ve watched the buildings go up, the skyline change, the city grow and prosper. And, I like to think, I’ve grown up and changed with it.

I’m glad I was bad at math and good at rock. And I’m very glad I moved to Madison twenty years ago.

Thanks to all who have supported our shows over the years and continue, so generously, to do so.

Tag Evers

Tag Evers

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Will NOT Comply: Wilco guitarist Nels Cline sticks with non-commercial fare

I’ve been fortunate to be involved with every Wilco show since their first show in Madison at Club de Wash in November 1994. The band had just formed out of the acrimonious split that occurred between Uncle Tupelo frontmen Jeff Tweedy and Jay Farrar. I had a birds-eye view of the last throes of that collaboration at an Uncle Tupelo show I presented at the Barrymore in March 1994, one of the last shows the band did before breaking up.

Jay Farrar (vocalist, guitarist), Jeff Tweedy (bassist, guitarist, vocalist), Mike Heidorn (drums)

The original members of Uncle Tupelo sitting From left to right: Jay Farrar (vocalist, guitarist), Jeff Tweedy (bassist, guitarist, vocalist), Mike Heidorn (drums)

Jeff and Jay at that point were not talking to each other. The tension was palpable, with Jay walled off and aloofly cocooned, and Jeff noticeably upbeat — perhaps relieved the end was near. I remember that the Bottle Rockets opened the show, and vaguely recall Brian Henneman joining them onstage. That the line-up, apart from Jay, essentially became the band that only months later debuted as Wilco. (I also remember staying up all night at a hotel on E. Wash — the Aloha?–with Jeff and the guys, joined by Mark Spencer of Blood Oranges — who was touring with Freedy Johnston. The Bushmills did us in as we watched the 1967 Casino Royale spoof on late-night television — starring Peter Sellers, Woody Allen and Orson Welles — it was a hoot.)

A lot has happened to Wilco since, more than can be captured in a single paragraph. The Reprise to Nonesuch saga resulting in the ground-breaking Yankee Hotel Foxtrot — expertly captured in the great documentary I Am Trying To Break Your Heart, a Grammy nod for A Ghost is Born, and several line-up changes, including the addition of avante-garde jazz guitarist Nels Cline.

Jeff Tweedy & Wilco

Jeff Tweedy & Wilco

That Nels would join Wilco in 2004 was no real surprise Wilco fans, even those who preferred the early days of A.M. and Being There Cline is highly revered in No Wave and free jazz circles, an area of interest for Tweedy and Co. spurred by their collaboration with NYC producer/musician and Chicago transplant Jim O’Rourke. (O’Rourke and Tweedy had recorded a record together with drummer Glenn Kotche under the rubric Loose Fur, which led to Kotche joining Wilco in 2001.) Cline was also a member of The Geraldine Fibbers in the 1990s, a band that played the East End around 1997. I’m not sure, but they might have opened for indie supergroup Golden Smog, another one of Tweedy’s side projects.

Drums

Nels Cline Singers: Nels Cline (guitar) Devin Hoff (Bass) Scott Amendola (Drums)

Fans of Thurston Moore, Marc Ribot, Elliot Sharp, Albert Ayler, Ornette Coleman — you are strongly encouraged to check out Monday’s show with The Nels Cline Singers at High Noon on Monday, June 2. An instrumental trio, The Nels Cline Singers offer an evening of improvisational jazz that rarely comes to Madison, at least not since 1993-94, when John Zorn visited Madison twice in the span of six months.

Doors or this mind-blowing show open at 7pm, and Painted Saints (featuring Paul Fonfara — interviewed in this week’s Onion) kicks off the evening at 8pm. This is an 18+ show. Tickets are $16 adv and $18 dos, and are available HERE. See you there!

– Tag Evers