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Sugar Maple Music Festival will delve into rich and diverse history of traditional music and dance


Starting this Friday, the Four Lakes Traditional Music Collective will be hosting its 18th annual Sugar Maple Music Festival outdoors at W.G. Lunney Lake Farm County Park in south Madison on Friday and Saturday, Aug. 6 and 7.

This year, folks can also tune into the festival via a shortwave FM radio station. Listeners can park near the festival location and enjoy the music without leaving the comfort of their cars. The station channel will be released tomorrow, tentatively.

In addition, The Four Lakes Traditional Music Collective will be partnering with the Memorial Union to provide a preview event for the festival tomorrow at 8 p.m. on the Memorial Union Terrace, free admission. The preview performance will feature one of the festival’s performing groups, Paper Wings. 

The Sugar Maple Musical Festival, as always, will be providing a variety of music all under the Roots music umbrella including genres such as rockabilly, country, folk, blues, bluegrass, Tejano conjunto, and Cajun.

Artists will include Paper Wings; SistaStrings; Bill Kirchen & Redd Volkaert, Appalachian Roadshow; Buffalo Nichols; Chickenwire Empire; Belen Escobedo y Panfilo’s Güera, Ray Bonneville, Mary Battiata and Little Pink; and Jourdan Thibodeaux et les Rôdailleurs.

In addition to the main stage, the festival will also have a separate, more intimate stage entitled the Roots and Reasons stage, in which specific performers are invited to present workshops on the creation and the history behind their music.

“It’s a chance for people to just learn more and we think that sets us apart [from other festivals]”, said Erin Johansen, the spokesperson for the event and a board member of the Four Lakes Traditional Music Collective.

Johansen emphasized the essentiality of the Roots and Reasons stage noting that a big part of the festival and of Four Lakes Traditional Music Collective is to be “educational.”

“We support a local nonprofit called Music con Brio which provides music lessons in schools, regardless of ability to pay,” Johansen said. “So we have gotten some grants and we’ve worked with them to have workshops for them in the past because we think music education is important for kids and we think a lifelong love of music forms community. [When] you can play an instrument, you can go play with other people you can have this kind of as a connection. It’s a very powerful connection to people.

“The history of music is so rich and diverse and we know the whole story isn’t always told so we want to get the whole story told,” she added.

The Roots and Reasons stage will have performers starting on Friday at 5:40 pm and Saturday afternoon beginning at noon. Friday’s lineup will feature Redd Volkaert & Bill Kirchen: Do’s & Don’ts of the Telecaster in County Music from; Dave Landau sings songs for kids; Appalachian Roadshow: Playing the Standards/Answering Your Questions from 7:00-7:45; and Paper Wings encore set.

Saturday will feature Beginning Fiddlers with Rin & Tina; Belen Escobedo/Panfilo’s Güera: Texas Border Traditions; Dave Landau sings songs for kids; Les Rôdailleurs on Louisiana French music & culture: From the root to the fruit; Louise Kirchen: I’ve Got A Song About That!; Dan Levenson: Music, Stories and Confessions of an Old Time Banjo & Fiddle Addict; and a Ray Bonneville Workshop: What’s In It for the Listener?.

Johansen expressed her excitement for one of the performers, Belen Escobedo y Panfilo’s Güera (below), who will be offering a look into the history behind their music.

“We’re really excited about her just bringing this fiddle tradition that apparently is going away,” Johansen explained. “She’s one of the last keepers of this tradition this Texas, Mexico tradition.”

One of the mainstage performances will be SistaStrings, a Milwaukee-native sister duo made up of Chauntee and Monique Ross who play the violin and cello respectively. According to them, their music is an amalgamation of classical, gospel, and folk music.

In 2020, the two were featured along with five other Wisconsin artists on PBS Wisconsin Education as a part of their Remembering and Celebrating Through Music program.

Chauntee and Monique have always been musically inclined, coming from a family in which everyone, including their three other siblings, plays music. The classically-trained pair also teach music to children. Their goal is to “diversify” the classical music sphere which has been historically a white male-dominated space.

“When I was growing up, it was hard for me to see string players that weren’t just like old white men,” Chauntee said. “We’ve talked to a lot of different people and different organizations in the classical scene and in conversations about how we do not have to be this dying art. We gotta diversify our audience and the only way you’re going to do that is by diversifying who’s on stage, and who’s writing and doing all these things. It’s a huge undertaking. Classical music is so dominated by old white guys but there’s still so much music of women and people of color and those who identify as others that have been written and are being written today that we just don’t hear about.”

“We’ve had the blessing of being able to work with students a lot in the past couple of years,” Monique added. “And I know that it’s very important for us to get across that music is power and that art or finding that way to be able to express yourself in any manner I feel like is very important for each individual. So finding which way you feel enriches you and empowers you to be able to get messages across, such as equality and inclusion, and just being good and respectful people to others around you — basic things that we forget — is so basic as we get older.”

The pair also added that there is power in having students “see working people in different careers that look like it was different from them.”

However, Chauntee noted that the responsibility of promoting BIPOC musical artists does not lie solely upon the artists themselves but upon festival organizers and large disseminators of music, such as those involved with the Sugar Maple Music Festival.

“It’s a worldwide thing where a lot of people who are running these festivals, they don’t have diversity within the planning or in the planning committees,” she said. “I don’t think it’ll ever change unless you start from the top with planning. You must diversify the committee.”

Regardless, both Chauntee ad Monique expressed their enthusiasm for the Sugar Maple Music Festival.

“It was a very easy ‘yes,’” Chauntee said. “I went to college in Madison and being able to come back and play music, it’s [going to be] a lovely time.”

The event will also offer catering with food from El Grito Taqueria, Sookie’s Veggie Burgers, Bloom Bake Shop, Pa’Pa’s BBQ, Jakarta Cafe Food Cart, Sugar River Kettle Corn, and alcoholic beverages provided by Tyranena Brewing Company and BOS Meadery. 


Those interested can buy tickets online or at the event. All kids 17 and under get in for free with a ticketed adult.