If I remember rightly, and I’m not saying I do, I think The Fountain used to be a seafood place in a previous life. I’m not sure because I’ve been away from downtown Madison for quite a while now. While I worked on cap square I took a walk down State Street about once a week and knew just about every restaurant, shop and tavern, but it’s been a long time since then and a lot of things have changed. Somebody with a big red crane tore down about half of the 100 Block, for instance. That’s a change that would scramble anybody’s memory.
The Fountain seemed familiar, though. I have a dim memory of eating a sit-down dinner or two in the room where we saw the big band. It’s not a big room. It’s certainly not a room I’d expect to be able to squeeze into if there was a full-sized big band already present, although I’d have to qualify that by saying I’ve been in the presence of a real live big band just once in my whole life. I’m entirely willing to admit that I think they’re big mostly because they got ‘big’ in the name.
The room that they call the upstairs bar has three or four booths against one wall, room for maybe a dozen tables in the middle of the floor, and they’ve managed to park some really teeny two-person tables against the wall between the windows or, in our case, up against one window, a fact I mention only because the windows aren’t insulated, giving me a terrible case of goosebumps the night we were there. Yes, thank you, I’ll have some cheese with my whine.
The band was scheduled to start playing at five, but five came and went and there were still guys lugging big, black instrument cases through the door. They didn’t seem to be in much of a hurry, either. Five clearly meant five-ish.
We passed the time with a couple of beers and, for appetizers, we ordered onion straws. Why do we do this? We know from experience that we shouldn’t. Our bodies aren’t young enough to eat that much deed-fried snack food, but we order it anyway because wow that’s good snack food, especially with dipping sauce. And when you wash it down with beer – *bliss!* Paid for it later, though.
(If you’re really hungry, I recommend the reuben sandwich. I have never before seen corned beef slices so thick on a reuben anywhere. I ate just half of it and was well and truly serensified, even unto the next day.)
The band started playing around five-thirty and just BLEW MY SOCKS OFF! Literally. And then I couldn’t find them, not even wadded up in the toes of my shoes. That shouldn’t even be physically possible, but when a half-dozen saxophones backed up by a half-dozen trombones and an indeterminate number (couldn’t indulge my urge to count; a pillar was in my way) of trumpets start channeling the spirit of Count Basie, socks are gonna fly. I couldn’t find them anywhere. I had to go home sockless.
The first set lasted about an hour and comprised four or five toe-tapping numbers, then the band took a break to grab some beers and reload. “Do you want to stay for the second half?” My Darling B asked. “Hell, yes!” I answered without having to think about it. So we did. When they came back and started playing the second set, they blew my shoes off. Found those under a nearby table, though, so I didn’t have to walk barefoot through the snow to get home.
The Fountain Big Band meets on the last Sunday of every month at The Fountain, 122 State Street. I know that’s where we’ll be four weeks from now.