A Music Lover’s Guide to Madison, Wisconsin

Terrace After Dark Concert Series
Terrace After Dark Concert Series | © Richard Hurd / Flickr
Photo of Victoria Borisch
Freelance Writer28 May 2018

While Madison may not immediately come to mind as a music hot spot, Wisconsin’s capital has some excellent opportunities for attending live performances in historic theaters or the shadow of the Capitol. For those who want to avoid the crowds, there is no shortage of quality record stores selling everything from classic vinyl to the latest hits.

Unique Venues

Orpheum Theater

Theater
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Orpheum Theater | © Phil Roeder/flickr
Orpheum Theater | © Phil Roeder / Flickr
Built in 1926, the Orpheum Theater has stood the test of time, including several arson attempts. The theater’s sign is impossible to miss on State Street, and visitors will not only be treated to musical performances but also the ornate French Renaissance interior. While primarily a live performance theater today, this Wisconsin landmark is the sponsor of the annual Madison Independent Film Festival.

Ivory Room Piano Bar

Bar, American, $$$
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The piano culture of downtown Chicago is the inspiration behind the Ivory Room Piano Bar in Madison. The bar has two pianos, allowing for both solo and dueling piano performances. The energetic, all-request shows and excellent craft beer selection will help make sure your night ends on a high note.

Crescendo Espresso Bar + Music Cafe

Cafe, American, $$$
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There are few things in life better than the combination of fresh coffee and live music. Crescendo Espresso Bar + Music Cafe combines both. The intimate setting takes performances to the next level by allowing visitors to get very up close and personal with the performers, making them feel like they are part of the act.

Must-Attend Events

Concerts on the Square

Music Venue
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Concerts on the Square | © Ryan Tir / Flickr
Concerts on the Square | © Ryan Tir / Flickr
Throughout the summer season, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra puts on a weekly outdoor concert event on the lawn of the State Capitol building. The Concerts on the Square series takes place on Wednesday evenings and runs for six weeks. It is a great opportunity to enjoy some excellent classical music performances free of charge.

Terrace After Dark

Music Venue
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Sunset at Memorial Union Terrace | © Richard Hurd / Flickr
Sunset at Memorial Union Terrace | © Richard Hurd / Flickr
The University of Wisconsin-Madison Memorial Union Terrace is one of the best spots in the city to watch the sunset, and after the sun goes down, the entertainment begins. The Terrace After Dark music and film series includes a number of live music performances throughout the summer. Many of the acts are up-and-coming, so you’ll have the chance to check out some great shows for free.

Music Stores

Sugar Shack Records

Store
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If you’re having a difficult time tracking down the album that you’re after, Sugar Shack Records is the place to go. If it’s not in the store, don’t hesitate to ask the helpful staff to check the warehouse where they have an even bigger selection. In addition to records, you’ll also find some great music memorabilia here.

Ear Wax Record Shop

Store
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Ear Wax Record Shop | © Courtesy of Ear Wax Record Shop
Ear Wax Record Shop | © Ear Wax Record Shop
For those looking for something other than mainstream music, be sure to check out Ear Wax Record Shop. This independent record store is tailored specifically toward fans of the metal, punk, ambient, noise, drone, stoner, and psychobilly genres, with stock ranging from new and used CDs and vinyl to band shirts and wristbands.

MadCity Music

Store
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MadCity Music has a great selection of hard-to-find records as well as popular new releases. Local artists can even sell their music in the store on select days, making it easy to find out what’s happening on the Madison music scene. Famous faces tend to pop into the shop from time to time, so you never know who you might bump into while shopping here.