Independent Prism Festival fuses music and art in a rural Wisconsin setting

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“We can either try to make this artist community better or leave,” explains Prism Fest founder Jake DeHaven on his organizational motivation. “I thought a grassroots organically grown, almost a ragtag group of artists would be a fun event to put together.”


The two-day festival brings a strong lineup of regional and local musicians from the upper Midwest, headlined by Chicago’s Post Animal and Milwaukee’s GGOOLLDD, with the cream of Madison’s independent crop filling out the rest of the event. From the Hussy, Proud Parents and Slow Pulp to Trapo, Ra'Shaun, Kainalu and Son!, the local list is impressive. A dual focus on artist installations, along with the music, promises to make the 200-acre Common Gardens farm in Dane, just outside Madison, a magical experience.

We’ve seen a lot of local festivals come and go. Forward Festival, before it was rebranded with a tech focus, was originally an indie music festival. The Bubble Festival lasted two years before disappearing into indie oblivion. Frozen Fest is still alive, but now has those unsettling Live Nation connotations. While the Madison neighborhood festivals bring a wide variety of music genres into the mix, none of them have been focused 100% on emerging independent artists from a local and regional level. You know, something a little bit edgier in the Eaux Claires vein. Well, Prism is looking to change that mindset.

“I love that festival (Eaux Claires),” says Jake. “It really was the foundation for me musically from a personal perspective. That whole music community up in Eau Claire has always been like a benchmark for what I’m looking at.”

Jake has more than just a fan’s fascination with the whole Eaux Claires/Justin Vernon mystique. His older brother, John, recorded and toured with Bon Iver. The two brothers are also teaming up to open an independent music venue and cafe on Winnebago Street in Madison this fall.

Fusing art and music into a celebratory experience is one of the goals for the festival.

“Prism has this air that is so unique,” says Jake. “The people that are involved are so unique in the way they think. It spurs these really interesting art installations out in the woods. It’s lot more of an eclectic experience. The way the artists put together these installations is so inspiring. Prism is a little bit looser, more improvisational.”

According to Jake, the music and art of Prism is only upstaged by the pristine environment of Common Gardens.

“The star of the show is the property,” he said. “It’s so special. There is enough topographic change to make it interesting. There are moments of ridges that overlook these amazing valleys, but it’s soft enough that it’s not exhausting for people.“

Jake also plays with local Madison band Tejsa and appreciates the personal connection that a live performance can bring to the table.

“Everyone is making music in their basement, putting it up on Spotify and trying to get a blog to cover it," he said. "The real element on how an appreciator of music grows a love for something is when you see the live experience. I’m really excited about the moment and the experience it creates.”

Bring in the fall equinox with the PRISM Music and Arts Festival, Friday and Saturday September 21 and 22, on Common Gardens in Dane, Wisconsin. Camping is available onsite. There will be showers, porta potties and food trucks along with plenty of craft beer. A shuttle from the Memorial Union to the festival site will be in service both days.

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