Last month, The Frequency owner Darwin Sampson announced through a Facebook post that his downtown music venue would be not be booking Hip-Hop acts for one year after an altercation at a Hip-Hop show left one of his staff members in the emergency room. He later softened the that message, which was sent out in the heat of the moment after the incident, and said that he would replace the ban with a plan.

Hosting shows 7 nights a week, The Frequency books local, regional, national, and international acts in a variety of genres of music. Several fights in previous months and the March 2 altercation led to Sampson’s initial proclamation of declining to book Hip-hop shows which he said at the time was for the safety of his employees. From the community, the move was met with anger, threats of boycotts, and shouts of discrimination and racism from social media.

“On that day, The Frequency ownership concretely learned the message of impact verses intent,” Dana Pellebon, a local music and theater promoter whose husband owns The Frequency, tells Madison365. “To re-hash the events that have since been discussed ad nauseam in the press and social media is not productive. However, we do know that moving forward our intent created a negative disparate impact to the Hip-Hop community. For that, we sincerely apologize and look for ways to move forward. In order to move forward in a meaningful way, we are reaching out to the community as a whole.”

Pellebon, who is African American, says that The Frequency is looking to “hold ourselves, our audiences, and the music community accountable” for the decisions that are made about the scene.

Dana Pellebon and her husband Darwin Sampson own The Frequency in downtown Madison. (Photo by Dan Myers)
Dana Pellebon and her husband Darwin Sampson own The Frequency in downtown Madison.
(Photo by Dan Myers)

“We are opening up our processes and our minds to engage and help grow the local Hip-Hop scene,” she says. “Other genres have had the benefit of these experiences and the local Hip-Hop community needs this same consideration.”

With that in mind, The Frequency management and staff have announced that they will hold a meeting Monday April 25, 6:30-8:30 p.m. at their 121 W. Main St. location. Pellebon says that it will be a listening session on The Frequency’s end and an informational session for the community. “Our focus will be on four areas: accountability, policy, booking, and growth. We would like for hip hop artists, promoters, and audience members to attend and hear what we are proposing and give us your feedback,” she says. “Share your frustrations. Work with us to come up with viable solutions. We want to hear from you. It is important for your voice to be heard in this process.”

Mark “ShaH” Evans, co-founder and vice president of Urban Community Arts Network (UCAN) and owner of Get Your Buzz Up, says that The Frequency was one of the last venues where Hip-hop was allowed to perform in Madison.

“You are seeing a lot more house parties pop up and places that don’t have licenses to do live music … people are putting things together,” Evans says. “Hip-hop is still being performed around the city, just not at the major venues. People are trying to do certain things, but it’s just moving pretty slowly.”

Evans expressed his own concerns going into the April 25 meeting at The Frequency. “They are formulating guidelines and doing a lot of things which is great but there are guidelines that the ALRC has already passed to cover all genres of music that I and others have come up with sitting at the table with the mayor’s office and MPD [Madison Police Department],” Evans says. “I’m interested to see how the guidelines mesh. I’m sure that they will mention at the meetings that the police will do walk-throughs. The problem when you start doing walk-throughs for some genres and not others is that you start alienating groups of people.”

Mark "ShaH” Evans
Mark “ShaH” Evans

Evans says that whatever rules get put down should be universal to all genres of music. “Nobody should feel like they are getting persecuted for no reason,” Evans says. “You should have the same kind of security at a folk show that you should have at a Hip-Hop show – within reason.

“People are losing sight that the last fights have been drunk women fighting. It wasn’t a brawl or knives or shooting. Just drunken fighting. That’s it,” Evans adds. “All this coverage is going on but nobody is talking about the fact that it was drunk women fighting. Two women got in an altercation and one threw a beer bottle and the sound guy got hit. That sucks. I’ve had it happen to me. But it’s still just two drunk people fighting.”

Evans says what happened at The Frequency is less than what happens downtown on campus on any given night. “And let’s not even talk about all of the sexual assaults that are going on downtown that people sweep under the rug and don’t mention,” he says. “So that makes me a little skeptical about when we start talking about ‘new rules’ for specific genres.”

The Frequency has caught a ton of flack this last month but they should at least be given some credit for trying to keep Hip-Hop alive when almost every other venue in Madison is completely afraid of it, right? “Don’t get wrong. I love Darwin [Sampson]. Darwin’s my homie,” Evans says. “He still runs a lot of Hip-hop shows by me – local and national. The issue is bigger than just The Frequency. This is about all of Madison. If certain rules are enacted at The Frequency, then are other places going to follow the same rules? Then we run into the problem that we already have.

Conscious Object performs at The Frequency.
Conscious Object performs at The Frequency.

“We have so many talented [Hip-Hop] artists that are getting so much love outside of the city,” Evans adds, “but they can’t do anything within it. That’s a problem.”

Pellebon says that they want to have a commitment to help the scene as a whole thrive and give young acts an opportunity to be featured and perform.

“We are announcing a Hip-Hop showcase that will happen at The Frequency. We would like to make this showcase a reoccurring part of our calendar. We invite the community to be a part of planning this event and making it happen,” she says. “We want our local promoters to be mentoring new acts and bringing them to the table. We want to give our Hip-Hop underground artists an opportunity to be seen by a wider audience and we want to offer an opportunity for women’s voices to be heard in the scene in a real way.

“We at The Frequency take our commitment to the music scene as a whole very seriously,” she adds. “We have made some missteps, but we want to correct our mistakes and build on a new vision for the community.”