Three Things You Should Know About the SoCo Music Experience in Madison, WI

    1. Just because the show’s free, don’t confuse it with Woodstock.


    Despite the fact that admission to the SoCo Music Experience was free (and the near ubiquity of white dudes with un-ironic dreads, local bands playing circa 1967 rock, and tie-dye shirts), the festival at Willow Park in Madison was nothing like the mother of all live festivals: Woodstock.


    First off, the unifying principle wasn’t getting stoned and loving each other (although, a fair amount of that went on as well)—it was to get ripped on Southern Comfort. But, doing it responsibly of course. Southern Comfort’s logo was literally all over the festival—it covered walls, signs, tents, banners, and even toilet paper in the porta-johns (I’m exaggerating). Southern Comfort was all for expanding your mind, as long as your consciousness was being expanded by their brand of booze.


    Second, the line-up wasn’t dominated by no-namers like Country Joe and the Fish or Wavy Gravy, it featured four national bands of varying musical genres (Beneveneto Russo Duo, GZA, the Black Keys, and the Roots); the kind that don’t venture to Madison very often. Given the jam-band friendly confines of Madison (where Phish are still one of the most popular bands on campus) the Roots drew the biggest crowd.


    2. ?uestlove may be the most famous drummer in America, but the Black Keys’ Patrick Carney is more menacing.


    ?uestlove is arguably the best-known drummer in America (how many drummers, besides Travis Barker can you name?), as he is often the centerpiece to the Roots’ jam sessions onstage, and thanks to appearances on “Chappelle’s Show.” But the Black Keys’ Patrick Carney is more powerful, angrier, and more entertaining.


    While playing, Carney is like an out of control locomotive, sputtering and chugging off a cliff into oblivion. He attacks the drums like they personally offended him, often closing his eyes and mouthing the drum part as he flails around his kit. The mikes and cymbals on his drum riser sway like bowling pins. Unlike ?uestlove, he only has to fight for attention with guitarist Dan Auerbach, but he often becomes the central-focus of the band.


    3. Black Thought could be one of the best live MC’s if only his band let him be the star


    Two hours before the Roots took the SoCo mainstage, Wu Tang’s lyrical swordsman GZA commanded the stage like the metaphorical samurai he claims to be. He paced the stage like tiger waiting to strike, demanding the audience hang on his every word. (Whether that worked is debatable, since most of the hippies in attendance looked terrified, while others looked elated to have the opportunity to throw up the “W”.)


    Black Thought matches GZA’s swagger, but doesn’t command the stage in the same way. Some of that could be Thought trying to refrain from entering the spotlight, but most of it is due to his band being the main draw. The band jammed pretty aimlessly for their hour and change set, with only a handful of tracks bubbling up from the improvisation (“Criminal” being the best).


    Thought was thoroughly entertaining when he was allowed to get into a verse—dropping each line meticulously– but most of the time he was playing bandleader; introducing the tuba player and laughing and wandering around. If the Roots are ever going to be as big in hip-hop as they are in other genres, they need to let Thought be the centerpiece, not the band’s improv.


    The whole festival could have been Black Thought’s, (the Roots were a great middle ground between the Black Keys and GZA) but their performance was roundly disappointing.


    Photo Credit: Chris Owyoung/