Gateway to summer – Isthmus

Tommie Smith Awards, Thursday, May 27, 6:30 p.m.: A new collaborative event coordinated by Madison College and UW-Whitewater, the Tommie Smith Awards recognizes area athletes who are also working for positive change in their communities. The event is named for lifelong social justice activist Tommie Smith, who along with fellow medalist John Carlos made the world take notice with the “clenched fist” gesture at the 1968 Olympics. Smith will speak about activism as part of the livestream, honoring Maka Chikowero (West High School), Jonas Luskey Sanders (Madison College), Eduardo Saucedo (Madison College), and Armari Tucker (Middleton High School). Register here.

An Improbable Fiction, Thursday, May 27, American Players Theatre, Spring Green, 8 p.m.: The idea is “What would it be like to sit out the plague at a bar with your favorite Shakespearean characters?” Cheers to that. An Improbable Fiction, James DeVita’s original work from last year, uses language taken largely from Shakespearean texts to discuss the strictures cast by the plague (with echoes of our own pandemic). The show was first read via a Zoomcast last fall; now it’s time to hike up to the Hill Stage and see it live. Favorites Tracy Michelle Arnold (Cleopatra), Sarah Day (Mistress Quickly), Chiké Johnson, (Othello), Brian Mani (Falstaff), Melisa Pereyra (Juliet), and Ronald Román-Meléndez (messenger) are all on deck. Find tickets at; performances continue through June 26, and other showtimes this week are 8 p.m. on May 28-29; 1 and 6 p.m. on May 30; and 7:30 p.m. on June 1-3. APT is also currently performing The Mountaintop in the Touchstone; find Gwendolyn Rice’s review here.

Build Your Own Brat Fest, Friday-Monday, May 28-31: Because the decision needed to be made a while back, organizers of the World’s Largest Brat Fest chose caution and canceled the in-person event at Willow Island for a second year. In its place is “Build Your Own Brat Fest,” which will start with brats (provided by Johnsonville) on sale at bars and restaurants in the area, with all net proceeds going to Brat Fest charities. Some venues are doing it up bigly-time by also offering live music (including several sets by Nashville-based Kirstie Kraus, a Wisconsin native); for the list of participants, see

Drive-in Tailgate Weekend, Friday-Sunday, May 28-30, Driftless Music Gardens, Yuba, 7 p.m.: The concert season at this idyllic Richland County spot begins with a trio of drive-in style shows, happening rain or shine. Camping spots are sold out, but limited admission tickets (four people per vehicle) were still available as of Tuesday. The lineup will make fans of jam-friendly bluegrass very happy: Friday is Leftover Salmon, kicking off a tour for new album Brand New Good Old Days; Saturday brings northern Wisconsin favorites Horseshoes & Hand Grenades, and Sunday is Infamous Stringdusters, touring behind A Tribute to Bill Monroe, released on the band’s new Americana Vibes label.

BDDS Bandwagon, Saturday-Monday, May 29-31: The primary 2021 concert series from Madison-based chamber musicians Bach Dancing & Dynamite Society (“Brave New World”) will be an online affair, premiering weekly on Saturdays, June 12-July 3. However, the Society is also bringing its eclectic musical offerings to outdoor locations during two weekends of free performances. On May 29, find the ensemble at Penn Park (noon) and the Green at Hilldale (3 and 4 p.m.); May 30 performances are at the Northside Farmers’ Market (11 a.m.) and Penn Park (2 p.m.); and on May 31, BDDS visits Orton Park (noon). For more information on guest performers and repertoire, visit Future Bandwagon concerts take place June 18-20.

Desires, Sunday, May 30, Paoli Schoolhouse, 5 p.m.: In this compendium of short plays, stories of love, Roman soldiers, secrets and a sundial are all joined by one common thread: human wants. “Desires” features comedies — two by Susan Glaspell and George Cram Cook and one by G.B. Shaw — presented by Madison Shakespeare Company. Dinner reservations are recommended to ensure a seat; call 608-848-6261.

Young Playwrights Festival, through May 30: Kids not only have wild imaginations but also an innate sense of drama, and Children’s Theater of Madison’s Young Playwrights program encourages that. In this webcast, 10-minute plays crafted by 70 students from four area schools are presented as staged readings, directed and acted by professional theater artists and experienced actors. The collection is viewable on demand through May 30; links are available at

VFP Memorial Day Peace Rally, Monday, May 31, 1 p.m.: The Clarence Kailin Chapter #25 of Veterans for Peace and The Progressive magazine want folks to remember the meaning behind Memorial Day with the annual Memorial Day Peace Rally, this year in virtual form. Former Madison police chief (and now the Rev.) David Couper, Will Williams and David Giffey will speak, along with one of this year’s high school essay awardees. Live music will be by Old Cool and others. The event concludes with the laying of carnations at the Spanish Civil War Veterans monument with bagpipes played by Sean Michael Dargan. Watch on Facebook or YouTube. Find more Memorial Day commemorations in the calendar.

The Jimmys, Monday, May 31, East Side Club, 2 p.m.: If you’re looking for live music this Memorial Day, celebrate with a free concert by The Jimmys at East Side Club’s lakeside Tiki Bar. For more than a decade this all-star band has recorded and played the blues with an R&B twist; their most recent album, Gotta Have It, remains high on the Roots Music Report Top 50 Wisconsin Album Chart more than a year after its release. In 2020, the Jimmys were inducted into the Madison Area Music Association hall of fame and were honored as Best of Madison winners. Currently, you can vote for the group in five Independent Blues Awards categories through Aug. 31.  

Madison Mallards, Monday, May 31, Warner Park Duck Pond, 5:05 p.m.: The mighty Ducks take on the Lakeshore Chinooks as the Mallards return after the unanticipated hiatus of 2020. For the opening series, one section in the grandstand and one general admission section in the Great Dane Duck Blind will be available for fully vaccinated fans; full capacity for the Duck Pond kicks in for the June 4 game, but socially-distanced seating options will remain available for at least two weeks. (Find current COVID-19 protocols here.) In addition to the ballgame, the playful new Maynard will be making his traditional special entrance. Ticket options range from $42-$10. The Mallards also take on the Chinooks Tuesday, June 1, at 6:05 p.m.

Dragonfly Monitor Training, Sunday, June 5, 1:30 p.m. (RSVP by May 31): Picture yourself in fields of native grasses, aiding science with zen-like concentration. This can be you — with or without the zen — if you participate in virtual training for dragonfly monitoring, a citizen science project of the UW Arboretum. The training is a crash course in identifying species and on how to record and submit data. It’s free, and a great chance to get out in nature and give back to the community. You can even do it alone, if you prefer — just you and the dragonflies. RSVP here by May 31.

Carole Boston Weatherford, Tuesday, June 1, 7 p.m.: A Room of One’s Own hosts a virtual event with Carole Boston Weatherford, an award-winning author of books for kids and young adults, who will discuss a pair of works about 20th century cultural icons with Cooperative Children’s Book Center librarian Megan Schliesman. In the verse novel Beauty Mark, Weatherford follows Marilyn Monroe’s deeply challenging childhood, and how her rise to fame was accompanied by a slew of new hardships. Becoming Billie Holiday is a poetry collection about the life of the legendary singer, who also faced many life challenges. RSVP for a link to the Crowdcast livestream.

Culinary History Enthusiasts of Wisconsin, Wednesday, June 2, 6:30 p.m.: Chef Dave Heide of Liliana’s, in Fitchburg, has launched Little John’s Kitchens & Restaurants. The theory is that Little John’s cooks for those in need with food that others may not be able to use. Questions that Heide will be addressing in his CHEW talk include: What if we applied a business mindset and innovation within the broken food supply chain? What if nonprofits with meal programs could reduce their costs and have more resources for their direct services? What if the meal programs were more nutritious and delicious? What if at the same time fresh usable food was rescued that would otherwise have been thrown out? Find a link to the Zoom meeting at

Punkie Johnson, Thursday, June 3, Comedy on State, 7:30 p.m.: As a regular performer at the Comedy Store in Hollywood and a featured player on the just-completed season of Saturday Night Live, up-and-coming stand-up comedian Punkie Johnson is making a name for herself across the country. The comedian’s fresh perspective and raw honesty makes for a hilarious combination. Join Johnson for a laugh (or 20) at Comedy on State. ALSO: Friday-Saturday, June 4-5, 7:30 & 10 p.m.

Lyndsey Ellis + Donna Woodall Trio, Thursday, June 3, 7:30 p.m.: The weekly livestream series from the stage of Stoughton Opera House concludes with a book launch event for Bone Broth, the new novel by Lyndsey Ellis. The story of a Black family in St. Louis, the novel explores how they navigate society’s inequities and their own interpersonal dynamics; Sarah Fenske of St. Louis Public Radio says the novel also tells “the story of St. Louis — with a half-century of history woven throughout its pages.” Music for the event will be by Milwaukee jazz-folk singer-songwriter Donna Woodall with bassist Ethan Bender and guitarist Bob Monagle. Find the livestream on YouTube.  

We hope it’s handy for you to find the Picks in a single weekly post. The individual Picks can still be found in the usual places online: collected here, and sprinkled throughout all the events.