What to do in Madison this weekend: Make Music Madison, ‘Murder!(s)’ and more Isthmus Picks – Isthmus

National Women’s Music Festival, June 20-23, Marriott-West, Middleton: Founded in 1974 at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana to counter the under-representation of women in the music business, the National Women’s Music Festival has since 2008 been at home in Middleton. Along with four days of concerts, the fest features workshops, speakers, film screenings, vendors, and more. The music lineup includes legends (Cris Williamson, Barbara Higbie & Teresa Trull, Bitch) along with up-and-coming artists such as Joy Clark, whose solo debut album is due this fall on Righteous Babe Records. Find the schedule and tickets at

Community Art Show, through June 23, Common Wealth Gallery: Common Wealth Development’s gallery space on the third floor of the Madison Enterprise Center has long been a reliable go-to for local visual artists with an exhibit concept and a need for a place to mount it. Case in point: the Community Art Show, which features work by more than 50 local creators, from professional to beginner, of all ages. Remaining hours are 4-7 p.m. on June 20 and noon-5 p.m. on June 22-23, and (or by appointment:

Much Ado About Nothing, through Sept. 29, American Players Theatre, Spring Green: We’re getting into the heart of APT’s summer outdoor lineup with one of Shakespeare’s comedies. Much Ado About Nothing features two unlikely couples who fall in love, along with trickery, mistaken identities (naturally) and a lot of sassy wordplay between Beatrice and Benedict. While their banter (and reluctance to admit their love) is often the centerpiece of the play, Much Ado is not entirely a frothy summer concoction. Questioned throughout are gender roles, especially the willingness with which men believe women to be unfaithful beings. Which direction will director Robert Ramirez nudge the action? Shows this week at 7:30 p.m. on June 20 and 26 and 8 p.m., June 22; in repertory through Sept. 29. Tickets at

Chris Smither + Betty Soo, Thursday, June 20, Bur Oak, 8 p.m.: Chris Smither is an American original. Miami-born and raised in New Orleans, he learned song structure as a child on the ukulele from his uncle. As recounted by Smither in the promotional materials for the new album All About the Bones: “Uncle Howard showed me that if you knew three chords you could play a lot of the songs on the radio. And if you knew four chords, you could pretty much rule the world.” All About the Bones is a haunted consideration of human nature made all the more entrancing by Austin singer-songwriter Betty Soo, who accompanies Smither on this tour. This one sold out well ahead of time, but check for last minute tickets at

Murder!(s), June 20-22 and 27-28, Broom Street Theater, 8 p.m.: Are We Delicious? resurfaced in 2023 following an extended pause due to the pandemic. The Madison ensemble most often writes, rehearses and performs a one-hour show in two weeks, but this time is back with a revival of a show the group produced in 2019. Murder!(s), subtitled “a (mostly) true crime story,” concerns a murder-for-insurance-money scheme gone awry. The production is a fundraiser to help defray the costs to mount the show at the Green Bay Fringe Festival. Tickets at

Madou Sidiki Diabaté & Salif Bamakora, Thursday, June 20, Gamma Ray, 9 p.m.: The new Gamma Ray Bar (in the space formerly home to The Frequency and Slipper Club) just opened June 1, and is already scheduling some unique concerts, including the kora duo of Madou Sidiki Diabaté and Salif Bamakora. Diabaté is of the 71st generation in his West African family’s long lineage of griots; Bamakora is his student. This Madison Music Review concert is a rare chance to see the duo in the Midwest. Tickets at

HIRS Collective, Thursday, June 20, Mickey’s Tavern, 10 p.m.: HIRS formed 15 years ago as a duo, but in the intervening years has grown into The HIRS Collective, an ever-evolving ensemble without a fixed lineup. No matter who is involved (including a dizzying array of guests on their recordings such as Shirley Manson and Melt-Banana), the band creates bracing punk rock in a dizzying array of styles with lyrics and samples shining a light on injustice and raging for a more inclusive future for queer and trans folks, people of color, and other marginalized communities. Also on the bill: Rockford trio Pains and Madison hardcore artists Solshade (previously announced band Sex Scenes is no longer making it to Madison).

Harry Whitehorse International Wood Sculpture Festival, through June 22, San Damiano, Monona: This ambitious festival brings together a slate of wood sculptors from around the world for a week-long residency, to show their work, create new work, and involve the public with demos and other entertainment. Harry Whitehorse, the late Ho-Chunk sculptor from Monona, inspired the festival that will focus on both contemporary and traditional wood sculpting techniques.The public is invited to watch the artists work 9 a.m.-5 p.m. daily from June 15-21; each day highlights a different art form. Update: Due to a rainy forecast, the closing ceremony on June 22 has moved up to 10 am, with a community potluck to follow. Find a schedule at

Make Music Madison, Friday, June 21, various locations, 8 a.m.-9 p.m.: Celebrate the summer solstice with free musical performances all around the city as part of the worldwide Make Music Day. The lineup continues developing until show day, but in 2023 more than 1,500 musicians of all genres and experience levels participated in 621 registered sets at 196 locations — the highest number of events in any North American city. This year, organizers hope to stage 700 registered performances, which can take place at community centers, museums, retail shops, restaurants, parks, theaters, places of worship, private residences and other locations. Many performers play multiple sets throughout the day, led by Madison singer-songwriter Xander Anim delivering eight sets (!) and Waukesha-based Chente Medina with six. (And we would be remiss if not noting our favorite performer name of the day: Fruity Gut Oracle.) It’s hard to find a better way to spend the longest day of the year; plan your adventure at

A Midsummer Night’s Dream, June 21-23, Schumacher Farm Park, Waunakee: Waunakee’s Hannah Nies returned from studying theater at college on the east coast wanting to bring community theater to her town. That dream is realized this weekend as Nies directs Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream outdoors at the bucolic Schumacher Farm Park, a fitting backdrop for the summer romance. Shows are at 7 p.m. on Friday and Saturday and 2 p.m. on Sunday. If you’re not near Waunakee, Summit Players is also performing the same play at Blue Mound State Park on Sunday, June 23 (educational workshop at 1 p.m., play at 2:30 p.m.; it’s free, but state park admission is required).

Live on Queen, Friday, June 21, The Sylvee, 7 p.m.: A Madison summer tradition, the free outdoor concert series Live on King, is taking the summer off. But one of its annual parties is moving inside to keep the good vibes flowing in 2024, as Live on Queen will visit the Sylvee. Host Bianca Lynn Breeze will welcome a bevy of drag performers to the stage: Taylor Ashton, Bambii Banx$, Bev, Coyote Graves, Jacques Infiniti-Hall, Aviana C Laurent, Loretta Love Lee, Josie Lynn, Jasper Madison, Lola Rome, Savannah C Sanchez, Tenacious Eddie, Iiman K Trinidad, Jupiter Voyer, CiCi Voyer, Angel Voyer and Aylin Voyer. Live music is provided by Kat and the Hurricane (who will be joined by K.I.L.O aka SkitL’z to perform the stellar just released single, “Costume“), along with sets by DJs Femme Noir, Sarah Akawa and Cover Gurrrl. Admission is free. More info at

Step Right Up, Ma’am — Stories of Resilience, June 21-23, Overture Center-Promenade Hall: TNW Ensemble Theater draws from the words of local talent, including poets Fabu Phillis Carter (Say It Loud, I’m Black and I’m Proud) and Dale M. Kushner (What Couldn’t Be Said), and the writings of TNW’s co-artistic director Danielle Dresden (Henny and the Strawberries), in this exploration of women and resilience in locales as disparate as America’s antebellum south and Europe during the Holocaust. Shows at 7:30 p.m. on June 21, 3 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. on June 22, and 3 p.m. on June 23. Tickets at

BLAX, Friday, June 21, Communication, 7:30 p.m.: Milwaukee emcee/songwriter/producer BLAX has built a wide-ranging discography since his days in Fresh Cut Collective in the early 2010s. His latest EP, WEMBENYAMA, showcases an artist at the top of his game, with bars that flow like a river over alternately calming and churning musical beds. BLAX is on tour with Louisville, Kentucky, duo Rmllw2llz and DJ DS, and the Madison show also features Madison’s own Rob Dz. Note: Masks required. Tickets at

Murder by Death, Friday, June 21, Majestic, 8 p.m.: While Murder by Death hasn’t enjoyed the saturated popularity of their fellow Louisville band My Morning Jacket, considered together you could say they forged a Louisville sound for rock from 2000 on. Literary, glossy, and emotive, the sextet continues to play thick slabs of rock for their devoted followers and enlightened newcomers. With Wildermiss. Tickets at

Liquid Forest, June 21-22, Liquid, 9 p.m.: For electronic music fans who aren’t making the trip to Michigan this weekend for the annual Electric Forest festival, Liquid has you covered. Liquid Forest offers two nights of rave culture featuring more than two dozen regional performers, including trap sounds by Asiimov, bass/house from VOSS, and dubstep producer The Only Wolfman. Find various ticket options at

Pixies + Modest Mouse, Saturday, June 22, Breese Stevens Field, 5:30 p.m.: If seeing Pixies (when did they drop the “the,” exactly?) at Breese Stevens Field was not on your bingo card for, like — ever — we feel you. Yet here they are. Original members Black Francis, Joey Santiago and David Lovering are still with the band; Emma Richardson steps in for Kim Deal to provide the beautiful disparities for those hallmark songs where the male and female lead vocals don’t seem to have much to do with each other. Forerunners of grunge and the loud-soft-loud mix that Nirvana would later popularize, Pixies still attack their songbook with both melody and sheer volume. Co-headliners Modest Mouse hail from the early 1990s Pacific Northwest yet can sound more like late ‘80s British bands like Depeche Mode. And soulful singer songwriter Cat Power is the opening act? We can’t think of a reason not to go to this show. Ticket info:

Keb’ Mo’, Saturday, June 22, Orpheum Theater, 8 p.m.: Keb’ Mo’ has been a regular presence in the Top Ten of the Billboard blues charts since the release of his self-titled 1994 album, but his career stretches much farther back than that; he played in Papa John Creach’s backing band, Zulu, in the 1970s. Mo’s most recent album, Good To Be…, maintains a sunny, laid back vibe even when taking on heavy topics, and earned his 12th Grammy nomination (he’s won five). With Phillip-Michael Scales. Tickets at

A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Sunday, June 23, Blue Mound State Park, Blue Mounds, 2:30 p.m.: Summit Players is the only theater troupe in the country that tours state parks with productions of Shakespeare. This year, it’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the tale of four truly mixed-up lovers and the mischievous spirits who confuse them. No tickets are required, and the play is free (although state park admission is still necessary). The play is shortened to about 75 minutes and intended for ages 8 and up, but of course adults are also welcome. The performance at 2:30 p.m. is preceded by an educational workshop at 1 p.m.

Greyhounds with Steve Berlin and David Hidalgo, Sunday, June 23, Gamma Ray, 7 p.m.: Your eyes did not deceive you when reading that event title. The Austin duo Greyhounds (Anthony Farrell and Andrew Trube, formerly of JJ Grey’s band Mofro) will be joined by Los Lobos members Steve Berlin and David Hidalgo for this one-time event. If you need more incentive, long-running Madison sonic explorers Lorenzo’s Music is opening. Tickets at

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, June 27-Sept. 7, American Players Theatre, Spring Green; discussion June 23, UW South Madison Partnership, 7 p.m.: APT moves away from romantic comedy with this 1982 August Wilson play that centers on conflict during a recording session for blues singer Ma Rainey. Rainey’s real life inspired the play; “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” is one of her own songs. Upcoming performances are at 7:30 p.m. on June 27 and July 3, and 8 p.m. on June 29; tickets and info at Also: At 7 p.m. Sunday, June 23, APT and UW’s Odyssey Project will hold “A Dialogue about Ma Rainey” at the UW South Madison Partnership, 2238 S. Park St., to explore the play’s themes with director Gavin Lawrence, associate artist director Alys Dickerson and members of the cast. All are welcome.

They Might Be Giants, Sunday, June 23, Barrymore, 8 p.m.: Far from being relegated to footnote comedy band from the late 1980s status, They Might Be Giants are selling out their ambitious current tour. The band’s chunky electric guitar work and philosophic, often absurdist, lyrics made them worthy followers of brainy art rockers Talking Heads, though the duo of John Linnell and John Flansburgh never hesitated to plug in songs of pure childlike fun (“Cowtown”). While this tour has been based on two nights at each venue with different setlists, Madison only gets one. Predictably, the show sold out almost immediately, but if you put your head down you may be able to research and snag a ticket somehow.

Find the individual Picks collected here, and as part of the full calendar of events.

Editor’s note: This post has been updated with a new lineup for the Mickey’s show on June 20; and a schedule change for the final day of the Harry Whitehorse International Wood Sculpture Festival.

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