Dane County Fair, July 21-24, Alliant Energy Center: Free concerts and family fun are happening all weekend long at the Dane County Fair. The fair kicks off Thursday with Hometown Heroes Day, and a Madison Roller Derby exhibition game (6 p.m., in the Coliseum). Friday is Kids Day at the Fair featuring free activities, games and the Kiddie Farm. The fair will partner with Second Harvest Foodbank and its Adopt a Dairy Cow program on Saturday. Sunday is Family Day, with the main stage coordinated by La Movida radio and featuring music by Los Fugitivos, Carlos Catalán y Los Príncipes del Amor, La Septima Alianza and others. Find the full schedule at danecountyfair.com.
Mel Chin, through July 31, Madison Museum of Contemporary Art: Conceptual artist Mel Chin‘s exhibit There’s Something Happening Here looks back on his 43-year career with objects, projects, prints and drawings. The exhibit includes sketches, diagrams and other prep work for Chin’s large scale sculptures, paintings and conceptual art pieces, which illuminate the thinking behind the multilayered, allusive works. Galleries are open Thursday-Sunday noon-6 p.m.
Thursday’s Happier Hour, Thursdays, through Sept. 15, High Noon Saloon, 5 p.m.: Since FPC Live took over High Noon operations, touring bands have all but taken over the venue’s schedule. But the club’s Thursday night “Happier Hour” on the patio is still a great showcase for Wisconsin musicians. Still to come in July: Lake Geneva punkabilly by Wise Jennings, July 21; and Blind Melon meets Led Zeppelin via Milwaukee’s Dropbear Collective, July 28. Alert! Bonus happy hour shows on the patio include Oshkosh-area synth-friendly rockers Horace Greene on Friday, July 22.
60 Years of Peace Corps, Thursday, July 21, UW Memorial Union-Great Hall, 5:30-9 p.m.: 2021 marked six decades since President John F. Kennedy’s executive order started the Peace Corps, but the pandemic put a damper on much celebrating. This summer Returned Peace Corps Volunteers of Wisconsin-Madison is hosting a 60th anniversary social to highlight the work of volunteers both in other countries and here in the U.S. promoting better understanding of the world’s many nations and cultures. Guest speakers include Manuel Colón (from the Chicago Peace Corps office), along with storytelling. It wouldn’t be a party without music; dancehall reggae/pop will be provided by Jimmy Sugarcane. It’s free to attend, but an RSVP to email@example.com is requested.
Frank Martin Busch & the Names album release, Thursday, July 21, East Side Club, 5:30 p.m.: WheelHouse frontman Frank Martin Busch and his side band, The Names, play rootsy standup country that goes equally well with dancing or drinking, or both. This gig celebrates the release of the band’s debut album, Deep and Simple. Migrants Mexican restaurant will be providing the food.
Julius Caesar, July 21-31, Young Shakespeare Players Playhouse: It’s a great thing to introduce kids to performing Shakespeare, to present drama as something fun and active and not difficult or impenetrable. The Young Shakespeare Players have been doing that since 1980 and even have their own dedicated theater near Trader Joe’s. The troupe’s current play is Julius Caesar, one of The Bard’s more straightforward tragedies, and also one of the shorter plays. That said, there’s no shortage of mayhem and intrigue, and some of the great speeches. Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears! At 6 p.m. on July 21-22, 27 and 30, and 1 pm, July 24 & 31.
PhotoMidwest New Member Show reception, Thursday, July 21, 700 Rayovac Drive, Suite 212, 7 p.m.: The Studio Gallery at PhotoMidwest has been closed to the public since the onset of COVID in 2020, but its regular gallery hours from noon-4 p.m. on Saturdays resumed this month. On the walls: An exhibition of work by new members of the nonprofit, volunteer-run photography collective. A reception for the exhibit takes place at 7 p.m., July 21, and the exhibit is up through Aug. 27.
Tim Heidecker, Thursday, July 21, Barrymore, 7 p.m.: It’s not that unusual to have a combined bill of a comic and a band, but it is unusual for the comic and the lead singer and guitarist of the band to be the same person. But that’s the case with Tim Heidecker as he performs his Summer Tour of Comedy and Music, his first two-act tour. Heidecker will be taking his “No More Bullshit” stand-up character on the road, and appearing with The Very Good Band during the second half of the show. Heidecker himself is a quirky folk-pop presence well worth catching; his new album, High School, was released in June.
Jeff Burkhart album release, Thursday, July 21, The Bur Oak, 7:30 p.m.: When band activity was on hold due to the pandemic, Madison singer-songwriter-guitarist Jeff Burkhart (of honky-tonkers The Dirty Shirts) kept the music flowing by writing and recording an album on his own. The result, Just a Kid, features 10 new songs reflecting on moments from personal to cosmic. It emerged on streaming services in April, but the time has come for the album’s official release party. Also on the bill are Madison singer-songwriters Jane Hobson and Andy Moore (a longtime Isthmus contributor).
Much Ado About Nothing, July 15-24, Madison Country Day School, Waunakee: There is tragic Shakespeare and comedic Shakespeare, hard Shakespeare and, well, less hard Shakespeare, winter Shakespeare and summer Shakespeare. Surely the delightful Much Ado About Nothing is comedic, less hard, and summery. The tale of how Beatrice and Benedick get together is one of the Bard’s least taxing and most delightful, and you can catch this version from Madison Shakespeare Company, set in the dusty Southwest, outdoors at the Madison Country Day School’s amphitheater. It’s a beautiful setting just off River Road as the Yahara wends its way toward Lake Mendota. Shows at 6:30 p.m. Fridays and 5 p.m. Saturdays-Sundays; tickets are available now on Eventbrite.
Two Evenings of Visual Art, Music and Movement, July 22-23, Arts + Literature Laboratory, 7 p.m.: Between Spaces is an interdisciplinary exhibit by Kelly Parks Snider, considering the COVID-19 pandemic with poetry, prints, sculpture and other works, on display until Aug. 6 at ALL. As part of the exhibition, Parks Snider is collaborating with LunART and Madison Ballet for a program of music, dance and spoken word. Works by Madeleine Dring and Ethel Smyth will be performed by Iva Ugrcic on flute, Heather Huckleberry on oboe, and Alyona Waldo on piano. Madison Ballet choreographer/dancer Yu-Jhe Sun will premiere a new work on pandemic separation, with musical accompaniment by pianist Eric Tran. Interspersed throughout will be poetry and reflections by Parks Snider.
Respect: A Celebration of Women in Music, Friday, July 22, Majestic Theatre, 8 p.m.: This concert, which became an annual tradition in the beforetimes, makes a triumphant return in 2022 with a tribute to 10 iconic musicians ranging from Joni Mitchell (by Sydney Prall) to Lauryn Hill (Teresa Marie Hardy) to Brandi Carlile (Kari Arnett). The band for the evening is once again The Big Payback, and WORT-FM host Cooper Talbot will emcee. The concert will raise funds and awareness for the Women’s Medical Fund, a nonprofit supporting Wisconsin residents’ access to abortion.
Five Star Tease, Weekly on Fridays, Dance Life Studio, 8 p.m.: Drag, burlesque and singing are just the beginning of what audiences can expect every Friday from Five Star Tease. The series aims to represent bodies of every color, size and gender identity, and create a space of self-love and acceptance. Upcoming headliners include Shimmy LaRoux, July 22; and Kitson Sass, July 29. Five Star Tease is produced by transgender artists Tulsi Sol, Amethyst Von Trollenberg and Miss Mercury Stardust (aka The Trans Handy Ma’am on TikTok); find the full schedule at mercurystardust.com.
Midwest Fire Fest, July 23-24, Westside Park, Cambridge: Cambridge puts a special spin on the small town summer festival by centering it around “all things created with fire, heat, and smoke, including but not limited to clay, metal arts, welding, forging, hot glass, food, and performance.” Artist demos go on all day, along with a slate of bands including What We Once Had, Val Siegal Power Polka, Matthew James & the Ramble, Rare Element and Dead Horses. Festival hours are 10 a.m.-10 p.m. on July 23 and 10 a.m.-4 p.m., July 24; full schedule at midwestfirefest.com.
Curd Fest, Saturday, July 23, Breese Stevens Field, 4-8 p.m.: In all its only-in-Wisconsin glory, Curd Fest highlights the squeaky nuggets with fried cheese curds, fresh cheese curds, plus cheese demonstrations and sampling featuring Madison native Sarah Kauffman a.k.a. “The Cheese Lady” and more. Also, loosen your belts, there’s a curd-eating contest! Food trucks will also be on hand to round out the major food groups. Admission is free.
Monona Terrace 25th anniversary, Saturday, July 23, Rooftop Gardens, 5:30-9:45 p.m.: Can you believe it’s been 25 years? The long battle to get a version of Frank Lloyd Wright’s design built finally came to fruition in 1997. In the years since Monona Terrace opened, the originally divisive project has become an indelible part of the city’s skyline, its rooftop a popular site for summer fests like Dane Dances. Mo T is celebrating with a party featuring music, dance and a drone light show. Extra Crispy Brass Band kicks the hoopla off at 5:30 p.m., followed by the Dynamic Badgerettes Dance Team at 6:30 p.m., Orquesta MAS at 7 p.m., DJ Pain 1 at 8 p.m., People Brothers Band at 8:30 p.m., and the light show over Lake Monona at 9:30 p.m. The event is free, but the rooftop does have capacity limits. For full event details see mononaterrace.com/25. Rain date: July 24.
Sam Ness album release, Saturday, July 23, Majestic Theatre, 7 p.m.: Sauk City native Sam Ness has been a musical road warrior since he was old enough to drive to Madison for open mics, and that path eventually led to busking across Europe before returning to the Midwest for many more shows…and a growing arsenal of strong original songs. A pandemic-enforced break from concerts led to the acclaimed 2021 collection The Cabin, and Ness is back with City Lights and Smoke on July 23. An all-star bill for the release party includes Old Soul Society and Corey Mathew Hart. Find music (including the hauntingly catchy single “Slow It Down”) and more at samness.us.
Opera in the Park, Saturday, July 23, Garner Park, 8 p.m.: Madison Opera’s annual Opera in the Park is back in full force this summer. That means the opera company will be joined by the Madison Opera Chorus and the Madison Symphony Orchestra, as before the pandemic. Guest soloists — soprano Vanessa Becerra, mezzo Margaret Gawrysiak, tenor Limmie Pulliam, and baritone Michael Adams — are all making their Madison Opera debuts. Selections are wide-ranging from Mozart’s “The Marriage of Figaro” to Bernstein’s “Trouble in Tahiti,” and one song the audience will get to conduct with light sticks. The event is free, so bring your blankets and picnic baskets to Garner Park for a memorable evening of music under the stars.
Sinking Suns LP release, Saturday, July 23, Mickey’s Tavern, 10 p.m.: Madison trio Sinking Suns is back with Dark Days, a new collection of precision pummeling likely to make the year-end Top 10 lists of hard rock fans far beyond Wisconsin; it’s the band’s second release on LP through long-running East Coast home for heavy music Reptilian Records. (Hear the new album here.) The bill is packed with noisy delights offering unique takes on punk, including Chicago visitors Boybrain as well as Madison’s own Space Tugboat and inimitable one-man sonic invasion ROBOMAN.
Art in the Woods reception, Sunday, July 24, American Players Theatre, Spring Green, 5 p.m.: APT takes advantage of its idyllic grounds for the second incarnation of Art in the Woods, featuring installations by seven artists: Alicia Cosnahan (aka DECOY), Thomas Ferrella, John Himmelfarb, Peter Krsko, John C. Pahlas, Dennis Robert and Katie Schutte. The artists will be on hand to talk about their work during the opening reception on July 24; the installations will remain in place through Oct. 9, and you don’t need a show ticket to view the art.
We hope it’s handy for you to find Picks grouped together in a single post. The individual Picks can still be found in the usual places online: collected here, and sprinkled throughout all the events.
Note: Many venues and businesses may continue to maintain individual requirements for masking, as well as proof of COVID-19 vaccination and/or a negative test for entry. Before heading out for any in-person event, confirm it is still taking place and check for any attendance guidelines on the relevant business websites or social media accounts.