Tuning Up the Town

Support growing to make Madison Indiana’s music capital

‘Madison Music Movement’ aims to drive
economic development

April 2020 Cover

(April 2020) – When Madison, Ind., singer-songwriter Jimmy Davis packed up and moved to Nashville, Tenn., early last year, he quickly found out just how difficult – and expensive – it is for up-and-coming musicians to break into the big time. Especially in a city that has long been the mecca for discovering and developing the next big recording star.
In a RoundAbout story published in January 2019 about Davis’ planned move, he said he planned to stay with friends and hopefully land a job at a recording studio. He also hoped to eventually find a house to rent and then bring his wife and children down to live with him. He then would need to find a good school district for them, he said.
But within a few months, Davis was back home in Madison, playing his regular gigs around town. He said he returned to Madison for family reasons. But he is still working with friends and a recording studio in Nashville to produce his first album soon.
“It’s something I’ve been working with private funding for five years,” said Davis, 42.
One of his recent gigs has been to perform for the past two years at Todd and Joe Boone’s annual Kentucky Derby party, held at Richwood on the River in Milton, Ky. Had the event not been cancelled this year due to the coronavirus, this would have been the eighth year that the Madison, Ind., brothers have been holding the party, which last year drew 400 people, Todd Boone said. Davis is again scheduled to perform this year.
In getting to know the Boones, Davis and Todd Boone began having several discussions about the growing live music scene in Madison in recent years. As a result of those talks, last year they came up with a plan to try and expand upon the music scene’s momentum in the town in a way that would help drive economic development.

Jimmy Davis, Bill Lancton

Photo courtesy of Thomas Family Winery

Guitarists Jimmy Davis and Bill Lancton perform at Thomas Family Winery in Madison, Ind.

Davis’ experience of trying to make it big in Nashville and the financial challenges he faced got Boone and Davis thinking – with all the live music venues in downtown Madison, why can’t Madison develop a reputation for being more music friendly – perhaps using a “build it and they will come” approach? And at a lot lower cost to musicians than renowned Music Cities such as Nashville, Tenn., Austin, Texas, and Asheville, N.C.
As a local business owner and multiple property owner and lover of live music, Boone late last year set to work on a plan to develop Madison as Indiana’s Music City, despite its small size of only 13,000 residents.
The infrastructure is there, and the town already has a strong reputation as a tourist town, with its riverfront summer festivals and hundreds of historic buildings that make up the nation’s largest National Historic Landmark District. Madison boasts several hotels, bed and breakfasts and Airbnbs. Boone and his wife, Mary Beth, even own an Airbnb, along with two other businesses on Main Street.
And construction is under way to convert the largest structure in downtown Madison into an 85-room Fairfield Inn and mini convention center – right on the riverfront. It is expected to open in spring 2022.
Finally, Madison has in recent years seen a dramatic increase in the number of live music venues in the downtown, in addition to its three large music festivals – Madison River Jam (cancelled this year due to coronavirus) that is replacing the 14-year RiverRoots Music and Folk Festival in June, the Madison Regatta’s growing Roostertail Music Festival in July, and the 20-year-old Madison Ribberfest Blues Bash in August.

Joe Perkinson

Photo courtesy of Red Bicycle Hall

From left, Danny Lee Cook, Jordan Wilson and Joe Perkinson perform at Red Bicycle Hall in Madison, Ind.

In addition, the Madison Chautauqua Festival of Art, held annually in late September, also features two days of live musical performances on the Lanier Mansion North Lawn and at various locations around the show. Meantime, the Madison Main Street Program and the Friends of the Lanier Mansion stage regular monthly outdoor concerts throughout the summer months. The eight owners of the Red Bicycle Hall present a regular series of concerts throughout the year. And the nonprofit group Kindred Folk Society, in partnership with Louisville public radio, presents a monthly concert series from January to May, with most events held at Red Bicycle Hall.
And just last November, a new music event called Mad Hop Music Festival enjoyed major success with its one-day, five-venue live music event in downtown Madison. Plans are under way to not only continue this new event but to expand it.
Live music can be heard somewhere in downtown Madison nearly every night of the week, and certainly on weekends at any one of these venues – Off Broadway Tap Room, Thomas Family Winery, Red Bicycle Hall, Mad Paddle Brewery, House of Jane, Rembrandt’s Gallery & Wine Bar, Riverboat Inn’s outdoor deck, and on rare occasions at The Little Golden Fox, Rivercrest Lighthouse and the Ohio Theatre. These venues add to the tourism experience for visitors and provide regular entertainment for residents. And they also contribute a sizeable impact to the local economy.

Building on momentum

With all the efforts over the years with many stakeholders from the Madison music scene – and a belief that both Boone and Davis echo – the infrastructure is already there for making Madison into Indiana’s Music City. But to lure musicians to come live and work in Madison, a strategy would need to be developed to help offset the costs of housing, healthcare and other needs. It may also require the opening of a recording studio where these musicians can work and educate others to come into the industry. Such a strategy would require financial investment and local support from city government and community leaders.
“We needed to develop a plan for going forward and then recruit stakeholders who support it,” said Boone, 53, a Shawe Memorial High School and University of Dayton grad who now works as a national sales director for a large electrical company based in Pittsburgh.

Red Bicycle Hall

Photo courtesy of Red Bicycle Hall

A large crowd gathers for a concert at Red Bicycle Hall on April 4, 2018. The venue plays host to local musicians, tribute bands and out-of-town performers from around the country.

And that’s exactly what Boone has done. Along with Davis’ input “over many late night conversations,” Davis said, Boone has created what he is calling the Madison Music Movement, “M3” for short. It is designed to capitalize on Madison’s growing live music scene and “to fuel job creation, economic growth, tourism development and artistic growth, and strengthen the city’s brand.” To present his ideas to others, he generated a business plan focusing on five initiatives and citing examples that have succeeded in other cities, both big and small. In February, he met with the Historic Hoosier Hills in Versailles, Ind., to form a nonprofit under their auspices for the Madison Music Movement. Nonprofit status would enable the new organization to apply for grants, receive donations and pursue other such funding.
“Cities like Nashville and Austin have become so expensive to live and work that many people are looking for new places to go develop their creative talents,” Boone said. “And we think Madison can become one of those places. A lot of people have already been working very hard for some time to bring live music to Madison. This is a plan to extend the momentum they have created – not to replace it.”
His strategy for Madison is buttressed by what he calls the five pillars for success:
• Providing financial support for offsetting  mandatory royalty fees paid by musicians and music venues. These fees are paid to the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers, or ASCAP, and Broadcast Music Inc., or BMI, that are, in turn, sent to its members for the musical copyrights to play a particular song. Boone has discussed with local tourism officials the idea of raising money via donations or grants from the future M3 nonprofit group to help offset these costs to musicians and local music venues, thus making it easier for business owners to offer live music every day.
• Creating a health alliance for Madison musicians. This would require meeting with local medical, dental and vision providers to create a plan to offset some of the health costs for local musicians who qualify. Such a program could possibly grow to offset healthcare costs through grants.
• Establish a state-of-the-art recording studio for musicians to develop their talent. Boone and VisitMadison Inc. Executive Director Tawana Thomas recently met with Hanover College President Lake Lambert to explore the possibility of establishing a music recording studio on campus that could be used for local musicians and to educate students in the field. “Or it could be established at Ivy Tech or by some private investor because it would be a profit-generating business,” Boone said.
• Provide low cost transient housing via city or state grants or other means for musicians wanting to move to Madison. And Davis will tell you that this initiative is the one that will change the game for Madison, if successful.
• Support and grow Madison’s “delivery system” for live music, such as music venues and festivals. This is already well under way, considering the 10 venues mentioned above plus the now four annual music festivals that already exist and the continued addition of common gathering areas for musicians and artists.
“We want Madison to be known for more than just festivals,” Boone said. “We want the downtown to be busy every weekend with people looking to see live music like we saw at Mad Hop.”

Getting the word out

Boone first met with tourism’s Thomas in spring 2019 to discuss his ideas for M3 and to request her support for ASCAP fees. Thomas said she saw the potential economic benefit and agreed to lend her support. After several more informal meetings between Boone, Thomas and Davis, M3 was formed.
But with last November’s mayoral election coming, Boone said he wanted to wait until after the election to begin showing his plan to community leaders to try and generate support. So starting in December 2019, Boone began making the rounds and has since received favorable reaction from newly elected Madison Mayor Bob Courtney and some leaders of local business and industry.
Contacted in late March for a comment about the initiative, Courtney said, “The M3 Movement is visionary, and I am happy to be a part of expanding performing arts in the City of Madison. I was encouraged by the ideas and vision that are developing for a long-term sustainable brand to make our city Indiana’s Music Cap-ital. There is much to learn from other communities that have forged this path before us, but Madison has tremendous potential in this area. To be successful, we have to innovate and be out of the box creative, and we know that, ultimately, this approach will drive our tourism economy and offer a unique quality of life for Madison area residents.”
In February, Boone met with, and garnered support and interest from, members of the Madison Area Arts Alliance, which formed seven years ago to support and develop the Madison area’s visual and performing artists and musicians.

Amy Noel

Photo courtesy of House of Jane

Amy Noel performs at the House of Jane music venue in Madison, Ind. The venue plays host to songwriter’s sessions.

“I was really impressed with the comprehensive approach for the project,” said Kim Nyberg, the Arts Alliance’s executive director. “It will take a village. It’s kind of like the architecture in Madison – it’s not just one historic building that makes Madison nationally important, it’s the collection. Our musical heritage and today’s music scene is very much like that. It’s the collection of it all and everyone doing their part to move this forward together.” 
Nyberg said she liked the cities that Boone used to make his point. “I am familiar with all the towns that were listed in the plan. I’m particularly a big fan of the historical success of Muscle Shoals, Ala. It is very important to learn from others as we go along, but, more importantly, we have to make it the Madison way.”   
Boone said he also met with, and gained support from, Dominic Grote, CEO of Grote Industries in Madison. Grote sees it as a way of growing the local population of potential employees for his company, Boone said. A lively music scene can help retain existing employees and attract new ones by making Madison a more desirable place to live and work, he said.
It would likely boost Madison’s already burgeoning tourism business. VisitMadison Inc. reported the town received more than 400,000 visitors last year. It also reports tourism annually contributes $35 million to the local economy, and that innkeepers taxes – the tax paid by guests staying in hotels, B&Bs and Airbnbs and whose proceeds go directly to fund the county’s tourism – increased 20 percent last year.
“It’s easy to get people to go to places like Nashville and Austin because they’re fun,” Boone said. “The question is, what will it take to build Madison into a place like that? The seed is being planted, and now it’s starting to take root.”
Boone said it is important that people understand that this process will take years, not months, to accomplish. “It’s a journey; it could take 15 years to see this happen. But I don’t want to be here 15 years from now complaining about what Madison could have been. I want to do what is necessary now to make it happen and start getting people on board. We want to use music as an economic development promoter. We want to make musical events like Mad Hop and Ribberfest not just happening here on certain weekends, but instead it would be happening every weekend in Madison.”
In late March, Boone said the new M3 board had been formed. Several have already agreed to serve with him as board members for the new nonprofit organization – dental surgeon and musician Dave Butler, Red Bicycle Hall co-owners Tony Novello, Kevin Watkins and Charlie Rohlfing, Mad Paddle Brewery’s Kim O’Conner, House of Jane music venue owner Jane Vonderheide, Grote, Thomas and Davis to name a few. Morgan Foods founder John Morgan and Mayor Courtney have agreed to be honorary members.

Off Broadway Tap Room

Photo courtesy of Off Broadway Taproom

Live music is offered nearly seven nights at week at Off Broadway Tap Room in Madison, Ind. Performing above are (from left) Joe Perkinson, Jordan Wilson, drummer Kerry Mefford, lead singer Amy Noel and Danny Cook.

“There has been a lot of interest fairly quickly for M3,” Boone said. “People are seeing what it can potentially do for Madison – if is successful.”
The Boone brothers were looking to be the first to donate to the cause by donating the proceeds of this year’s Derby party to the cause. But with the cancellation, that will now have to wait until next year. They are still hoping to motivate others to support the group.
Meantime, excitement is growing as word spreads about the new M3 group and its goals.
“I wish there were people with this kind of mentality toward music when I was just coming up,” said Madison-based singer-songwriter Rusty Bladen, who was just learning about it. “The toughest part for young musicians just starting out is covering your expenses – not just expenses for going out and playing a gig but also your living expenses. A lot of them have to have day jobs to make ends meet. But to have a program like this to help offset those expenses, it would make a big difference.”
Davis said he thinks local musicians would support the plan. “I think they will embrace it because they know that rising tides raise all ships.” He said Madison has “several pockets of groups promoting music. We just need to get them all working in the same direction. And this is a plan that I think can do it.“
Davis said many musicians are leaving Nashville because they are being priced out of the market. Many are having to move way out into the suburbs to afford to live there. He said creating a recording studio in Madison would be a major draw for other musicians looking for a place to land.
”My dream is to create an environment that is conducive to supporting singer-songwriters and helpful for them to make their own music,” Davis said. “Madison has always had an abnormal amount of musical talent for the size town it is. I think this movement is going to happen – maybe not in a year or two but for the next generation. I’m stoked about it.”

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