A little music on a State Street summer afternoon

Grooving, on a Saturday afternoon

Don’t know if it gets any better than this weekend (07-6/7-2019) in Madison, WI. First of all, the weather was and is glorious. Largely overcast the first part of Saturday but cheery, nonetheless, temps in the upper 70s and not terribly humid, surprising given the daily drenching we’ve been getting.

The managing director of the Policy Werkes found himself on State Street where he espied something called a Trolley Pub. It consists of eight stools (four on each side), six of which were occupied by 20-somethings energetically pedaling what amounts to a four-wheel bicycle built for eight. The non-motorized vehicle stopped in the 200 block, directly in front of the old Capitol Theater facade of the Overture Center. 

A designated driver, whom I took to be the proprietor of the contraption, remained behind. The pedalers disappeared into a storefront which I determined to be Cask & Ale, a strategically lit cave that boasts over 700 whiskies. Not this early in the day! Blaska carried a Paulaner hefeweizen, the only Munich beer on tap, out onto a sidewalk table on this fine, early afternoon. My thoughts drifted back to the Danube Symphony tour we took with Our Ms. Vicki McKenna in May, which ended in that Bavarian capital.

Directly across the street played the ornate scrollery and whimsical filigrees of the old Capitol theater, built in the 1928 when Norma Desmond was still big stuff but the movies were getting smaller. The first (partial) talkie, The Jazz Singer, was released the year before. Madison may not be Old Town Munich, but it has its moments. 

We were similarly pleased when new construction in the 100 block spared the terracotta Castle & Doyle facade, which dates from 1921. “Coal” it says on each side of the company name, evoking a time when trucks unloaded this fossil fuel down chutes built into the side of every home. Let’s hope no  Global Climate Change believers are triggered. (O.K., enough politics for today!)  

It was good to see some old favorites remaining. The decor in Nick’s restaurant remains straight out of the 1940s. The Parthenon still carves up a delightfully messy gyro but its old competitor across the street is long gone. We bought pipe-legged pants at Jazzman years ago, when they still fit us.

People watching is never dull. Young and old, the hurried and the leisurely, window shoppers and bar hoppers. The life on street level is the beating heart of a city. Kudos to Mayor Soglin for jump-starting the first civic center and restricting motorized traffic on State Street and for Dave Cieslewicz for promoting bicycling. (There, I said it. Aaargh!)

Amidst these reveries we became aware of the most heavenly sounds coming from the corner of State and Johnson Streets, directly in front of the neo-classic Yost Kessenich’s ladies wear storefront, now incorporated into the Overture Center. It was a vibraphone. Safe to say, we’ve heard buskers play violins, saxophones, guitars, and trumpets, but never a vibraphone. Its mellow sound echoed perfectly off the surrounding buildings; the effect as calming as that of a campus campanile on Parents Day.

A man named Eric expertly wielded two mallets in each hand. Fully the equal of Lionel Hampton in my decidedly non-expert opinion! Somehow, Eric was able to engage in conversation with appreciative passersby while continuing to coax bliss from the aluminum bars. Blaska wedged a clutch of paper bills into his well-filled hat. Upon leaving, five little sprites — maybe 4 and 5 years old — twirled and fluttered before his music.

A midsummer afternoon’s dream. 

(Later than evening, shots fired in the 100 block, man beaten. Story here.)


About David Blaska

Madison WI
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4 Responses to A little music on a State Street summer afternoon

  1. George's Son says:

    Daytime Madison is great, and easy to enjoy, thanks for the reminder. RE: Shots fired -Thank Gawd they’re mostly bad shots, or just posing w/ sound effects… Take an Airsoft to school one day, and a few years later, a stolen Glock downtown…. In either case, it seems to be a revolving door w/ little fear of consequence.


  2. Cool music to hear on State Street!


  3. John Marx says:

    When I was in my 20s I spent as much time as possible on State St. I often started the day with breakfast at the Rennie’s at State and Lake. Lunch was often at Ella’s Deli. Evenings found me behind the wheel of a Checker Cab looking for and always finding plenty of fares. I still love the place. All out of town visitors walk it with me (on the way to the union terrace, another local treasure). If I ever get tired of it, its because I’m circling the drain. Thanks for the mental picture of a perfect State St. day. Let’s walk it together some time.


  4. richard lesiak says:

    Come the Dells, music every evening outside, free, like concert on the square. Then hit the Grateful Shed that was just covered by the Cap Times.


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