Give these guys a TV show!

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Posted by QD on August 21, 2008 at 08:00:25:

This in my opinion is worthy of being taped and aired on TV at least at an off-hour. Help Madison TV reconnect with its localism!

'Mad Toast Live' gives musicians their own chat show
Katjusa Cisar ? 8/21/2008 5:37 am

Mary Gaines and Chris Wagoner have been playing and touring with bands from Madison for more than 20 years, but recently they were looking for a steady gig. And they wanted to spice things up and not do the same routine every week.

So they created "Mad Toast Live!" -- a live weekly music, talk and variety show on Tuesdays from 7 to 10 p.m. at the Brink Lounge, 701 E. Washington Ave.

They invite local, regional or national musicians onto the show, interview them about their music and then play together. It's part talk show, part goofy sing-a-long and part serious jam.

Since starting in mid-May, they've had more than 20 musicians on their show, including Rick Tvedt, Marques Bovre, Tret Fure, Boo Bradley and Tracy Jane Comer.

"You might hear about a musician, but if you want to get to know them a little better or understand where they're coming from, then you can come down to our show and learn about them in a really informal way," said Wagoner. "The idea is that it's a conversation. The spark catches and it can go anywhere. It's not a hardcore interview."

"We're not like Conan O'Brien. We just let it flow," added Gaines, a Madison native who met Wagoner in 1984 on his first day in town after he moved from his hometown of Oskaloosa, Iowa. They've been playing and touring with various bands since then, including the Moon Gypsies, the Common Faces and the Stellanovas. Their longstanding collaboration extends offstage, as well; in October, they celebrate 19 years of marriage.

"We've been gigging so much for so long that we haven't been able to be connected to the local scene as much as we'd like to," said Wagoner. "Literally, we wanted to kick ourselves out of our shells and try something different."

On a recent Tuesday evening, it's clear that when Gaines and Wagoner are among other musicians, things roll along just fine.

"What's your process?" Wagoner asks Kris Adams, a local prize-winning songwriter.

Adams answers slowly and melodramatically, "I go out into the moonlight in my robes with my notebook." But all joking aside, she and the other guest, Andrew Nath, get into an interesting conversation about keeping up a creative flow as a songwriter.

Later, Gaines and Wagoner join them both on songs, picking up the rhythms and chords as they go. Gaines plays cello, bass and guitar. Wagoner plays violin, viola, lap steel guitar, accordion and a few of the "plinky instruments," like mandolin and ukulele.

The hosts usually ask standard interview questions, like how the musician got into music, what his or her inspirations are and the meaning behind certain lyrics. Gaines particularly loves stories from the road "because they're usually stranger than anything you could make up."

Wagoner sets up a record player at his side each Tuesday. They invite guests to bring in a seminal album or "the recording that you don't think anyone would think you would have."

One guest, Kenneth Burns, brought in a lunchbox filled with 45s, half of it disco. It inspired a group jam of ABBA's "Dancing Queen."

The whole purpose of "Mad Toast Live!" is to instigate, Wagoner said. "Generally, we like people. We're people people. We're not trying to be the big stars of the show. It's not 'The Chris and Mary Show.'"

On a more philosophical level, they're trying to give attention to the music that's gotten buried in the current entertainment culture of television and shows like "American Idol."

"The whole idea of entertainment (in) society now is 'Bring it to me. Gimme what I need.' In the past, it used to be a little more that people were exploring what's out there," said Gaines. "Bluegrass, folk, jazz, acoustic music -- all that stuff really seems sort of underground."

That doesn't mean that "Mad Toast Live!" will limit itself to certain genres. "I want to have a scratcher (DJ) on," said Wagoner. But because of the limited space for a set-up, it would be hard to host a full band, he added.

For right now, "Mad Toast Live!" is free. The Brink Lounge pays Gaines and Wagoner. But the issue of whether or not to charge a cover is one of the things that Madison musicians debate a lot, said Wagoner. It's not necessarily about money, but rather the intrinsic value of music to society. Charging a cover sends the message, "Oh wow. That must be something really special."

Gaines added, "Music is played free everywhere, and I don't think that helps live musicians very much. Music is an art form, whether it's the simplest two-chord song or a symphony, and it's worth something."

Her advice for Madison audiences is to "just lift your head up and listen for a little bit. Do it with an open mind and you might find that there's so much more out there than you think."


Aug. 26: Singer/songwriter Asa Miura for a Common Faces reunion

Sept. 2: Scott Stenten ("double-guitar tapping wizard") & Ellie Erickson (builder and player of stringed-instrument monstrosities)

Sept. 9: Dave Fellow (guitar and humor) & Annie Chiles (fiddle player with the North Country Drifters and Yid Vicious)

Sept. 16: Doug Brown & Michelle Duvall (classic jazz duo)

Sept. 23: Songwriter L.J. Booth, one of Willy Porter's early mentors

Sept. 30: Randal Harrison & Andy Ewen (of local rock/blues band Honor Among Thieves)

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