The summer of 2006 on a Saturday afternoon in June I heard about a free blues concert in Madison. Not the famous Madison Blues Festival with B. B. King and other headliners, but a Blues Picnic with local bands and some out of town bands (local bands from other areas) for FREE at Warner park in Madison. It was put on by the Madison Blues Society.
I was intrigued. So, Max and I went to check it out. We parked and walked toward the music that was drifting towards us across the park. The first band had already started by the time we got there. The crowd was pretty sparse to begin with. There were people in chairs in the grass and a handful of folks dancing on the cement in front of the band. There was no real stage, just an area under the shelter where the bands set up.
I hadn’t heard of any of the bands that were scheduled to play, but the first band was good. We explored the area and the food stands and tents that were set up and got a feel for the event. We found a spot and sat on the edge of the cement between the dancers and the grass people who were in chairs. The first band was still jamming . There was plenty of people watching to do. It was an interesting crowd and there were people of every persuasion and economic level to be had there. Everyone was digging the music though and the sound was good. Max seemed to like it. I was wondering how this had happened for several years and I had never heard of it before. We perched on the edge of the cement and soaked up some pretty good blues music.
Live music adds a nuance that you just can’t get from a record. The sound may not be perfectly engineered and flawless with 20 takes to get it right, but what it may sometimes lack in studio perfections, the energy makes up for. The guys in the band were loving playing, the audience was loving hearing. There was quiet foot tapping from the chair people, and sometimes tame and sometimes 60’s wild hippie dancing happening on the cement dance floor. It was very very cool.
If you look in the archives on the website for the 2006 Blues Picnic you can see all the shots from the day. The ones here are from the archive shots by Paul Hirschey. Here are 2 showing Max (sleeveless white shirt) and I (black shirt) at the show. We are at the bottom BETWEEN the other guy in sleeveless white t-shirt and other guy in black t-shirt.
The second band featured a trumpet player, which Max was playing in school at that time and I think he really like that. I wish I had known to bring a chair! Next time. The guitar player was good and the crowd was filling up the section between the grass and the “stage” so much that I was worried we were going to get stomped on by some of the dancers. Plus, you couldn’t see the band anymore. The music was still getting to us though.
The weather became an issue. Clouds were rolling in, dark ones. Off in the distance lightning and thunder could be heard. There were announcements about the weather from the organizers and a shifting of equipment by the bands to draw them up tighter under the shelter. A small section of folks left before the rain arrived.
When the rain did come, starting slow, people that had stayed even after the announcements, put their exit strategies into effect. Some fled. Some found trees to stand under. Some were allowed graciously under food tents and shirt stands or hung out in the bathrooms. A few brave souls donned ponchos and just took it full on. Max and I managed to get a place under the shelter. It rained hard for about 5 minutes, then let up and then continued at only a sprinkle. We were getting soaked because we were on the outer edge of the shelter, but we kept shifting forward as other people left until we reached one of the huge support columns. We huddled there, behind the band and to the right. It was a weird perspective, but the sound under the shelter was still good and the band continued to play once the hard rain stopped. Max and I stayed for that bands set, then when they broke down their stuff and the organizers announced an extended break before the next band, reluctantly, cold and wet, we headed for home.
It was a very cool event and as I wrote this entry I revisited the website and think that this year, 2012, will mark my return to the Madison Blues Picnic.