Big headliners for last Breese Stevens concerts of the season

September 29, 2017 GMT

While most of the outdoor music that makes Madison the best place to be in the summer is done for the year, the concert season at Breese Stevens Field is getting its last hurrah this weekend.

The outdoor venue will host two double bills that can’t be seen anywhere else: Emmylou Harris and Ryan Adams Friday and Modest Mouse and Gogol Bordello Saturday.

“The one thing that is really cool about both of these shows is that the co-bills that are happening both nights are totally unique to Madison,” said Charlie Goldstone, president of Frank Productions Concerts. “These artists aren’t appearing with each other on the same nights anywhere else in the country, which is something really cool that we were able to do for Breese Stevens.”

Madison-based Frank Productions, one of the nation’s largest concert promoters, originally had Emmylou Harris booked at Overture Center’s Capitol Theater Friday. The two artists are represented by the same booking agent, and Adams wanted to do a show with Harris, Goldstone said.


“He really looks up to her and thought it would be a really cool night to have them play together,” Goldstone said.

So, Frank Productions shifted the Harris show to Breese and put them on the same bill. Those with tickets to the Capitol Theater show were given refunds.

The 70-year-old Country Music Hall of Famer got her start collaborating with the late Gram Parsons in the 1970s. Since then, her steely voice has garnered her 13 Grammy Awards.

Meanwhile, Adams is a prolific North Carolina singer-songwriter, whose first album in two years, “Prisoner,” will be released in February. It’s his first album of all-new original material since 2014, and critics are calling it his best work of the decade.

In 2015, he released a 40-song live album, “Live At Carnegie Hall,” which Rolling Stone called “stunning.”

Adams last played Madison in 2008 when he was at Overture Hall. Harris was last here, also at Overture Hall, in 2009.

The owners of Madison’s Majestic Theatre are bringing Adams to a festival in Columbia, Missouri, Sunday, so it was easy to coordinate a stop in Madison the same weekend, Goldstone said.

It’s possible that Adams and Harris will sing together, but Goldstone can’t say for sure. Rootsy folk-rock singer Cory Chisel and his wife, Adriel Denae, are opening the show. Harris plays next and Adams goes last.

Saturday night, Breese Stevens hosts headliner Modest Mouse, a Portland indie band that formed in the suburbs of Seattle in 1992, and broke through in 2004 with the album, “Good News for People Who Love Bad News.” It contained the hit songs, “Float On” and “Ocean Breathes Salty.”


The band’s had a lower profile in recent years, but its most recent album, 2015’s “Strangers to Ourselves,” found some critical success. Modest Mouse is touring with Mass Gothic, which in Madison will play before Gogol Bordello, a New York-based gypsy folk-punk band known for its wild stage performances.

After Frank Productions booked Modest Mouse, they began hearing that Gogol Bordello wanted to play Madison about the same time. The members of Modest Mouse are huge Gogol Bordello fans, so it made sense to put the two together, Goldstone said.

Gogol Bordello last played Madison at the Barrymore Theatre in 2015.

In an agreement with Big Top Events, which runs the venue and shares management with the Mallards baseball team, Frank Productions handles all the major concerts. The first Breese Stevens show was the Avett Brothers in the fall of 2015. In 2016, Frank Productions put on three concerts there. This year, it was six.

The earlier concerts this year were Boston, a reprise Avett Brothers show, Darius Rucker and Jason Isbell. There was also an evening with Garrison Keillor, a night of storytelling and music, which had a different set up.

Breese Stevens Field also hosted five free Bodega events this year with live music, and five movie nights called Catch and Reel, which feature a fish fry. The field also saw a second year of the Celtic music fest Mad Gael and hosted Yum Yum Fest for the first time. There’s a food cart fest at the field Sunday, and the venue plays host to various sporting events, which is its main use.

Big Top has a year-round use agreement with the city and has hosted everything from festivals to fundraisers, said Conor Caloia, chief operating officer for Big Top Baseball and Breese Stevens Field.

Big Top gives 50 cents of every concert ticket purchased to the Madison Parks Foundation, he said.

Caloia said there have been a limited number of noise complaints, and noted that they work closely with the alderwoman and the neighborhood association. Their use agreement specifies that they not go above 100 decibels.

When Frank Productions got involved in 2015, the company didn’t know how many shows it would be allowed or how much demand there’d be.

In 2015, the capacity for the Avett Brothers show was 7,500. Now, the capacity is just over 9,000 for a general admission event, but no show has reached that yet, Goldstone said.

The Darius Rucker show did just over 7,500, and was the best-attended show since the Avett Brothers in 2015.

The concert capacity, determined by the city fire marshal, takes into account the exiting space and the number of concession stands.

Frank Productions also books events at the Alliant Energy Center, which at 8,000 has a similar capacity but offers reserved seats.

“It all just comes down to ‘where does the show belong?’ Is it better to do it in a place that’s all seated? Or a place that’s general admission?” Goldstone said.

The time of year is a factor, because people like to be outdoors for concerts when the weather permits.

Another factor in determining where a show goes is its scale. The Alliant Center can handle larger-scope productions than Breese Stevens, which doesn’t have a permanent stage.

Frank Productions also promotes concerts at the Kohl Center, where in the past two years it has brought Shania Twain and Carrie Underwood. It has the Foo Fighters coming up in November at the Kohl Center, where the capacity ranges from 12,000 to 16,000, depending on the configuration.

Shows are going well at Breese, Goldstone said. “It’s amazing. You walk around and what’s really cool to see is the look on people’s faces when they come in there for the first time.”

Many people come to shows at Breese Stevens for the venue itself and may not necessarily buy a ticket to see that band somewhere else, he said.

“We are just really lucky that we have it in our backyard,” Goldstone said. “To the extent that we can keep bringing great acts there, we’re going to keep doing that.”