Harmony Bar - 20th Anniversary

by Mike Huberty
March 2010

As one of the area’s most carefree and nonchalant taverns, Madison’s Harmony Bar on Atwood Avenue has been delighting local residents with music, food, and drinks for the past two decades. Twenty years in business makes it one of the city’s longest-lasting live music venues in an industry that usually chews up clubs and spits them out. To celebrate the launch of their third decade, owner Keith Daniels is sponsoring an all-day anniversary party on March 14th at The Barrymore Theatre right down the road.

And the rationale behind it is simple. “I wanted to throw a party.”, Daniels says. “I wanted to throw a good party for all the good people that have been coming for twenty years. We’re having Bunky’s (a cafe also on Atwood and another near-east side of Madison tradition) do the catering because I want all our people to have the day off. And I still thought that we should do a little something for the neighborhood. So, we decided to put a five dollar cover on it and it all goes to the Goodman Community Center.” So, it’s not only a party but a benefit for one of the area’s most valuable programs for at-risk youth as well.

That dedication to community is something that Daniels expresses as one of the factors of the bar’s long success. “It’s been an equal split between the neighborhood that I love, the music that I love, and good food”, he says. “What works for me is that I’ve got real good people. Our turnover is rare. Even in the kitchen, I think our most recent hire has been going on four years now. I pay pretty well and I do one thing that I don’t think any other bars in town do and that’s for the full timers, I contribute to 401Ks and we have health insurance. That keeps the good employees here. It’s not just a music bar, first and foremost, it’s a neighborhood bar, and that neighborhood supports us. And I still like what I’m doing twenty years into it. The longevity stems from the quality of product we provide.”

Daniels has a family history with the classic Wisconsin tavern, “My parents owned the Harmony Bar in Burlington, Wisconsin”, he explains. “And my Dad did it for seventeen years. It was a similar kind of neighborhood bar. I was living in LA and I’d been in bars for a long, long time. I thought I’d never a manage a bar again until it’s mine. I went to school here, I lived in Madison and knew the layout of the land and knew I wanted to come back. ”

The Harmony has music nearly every weekend and Daniels remembers his favorite show. “Paul Black and The Flip Kings in November of 2005, because that was inspiration for me and another guy named Keith to produce a record for him called Live At The Harmony.” Some of his other favorites are The Bel-Airs (playing the 20th anniversary show this month) as well as pianist Marcia Ball.

For bands wanting to play The Harmony Bar (the usual styles are rockabilly, blues, bluegrass, cajun, or folk) the best way to contact Keith is to stop by or call almost any weekday morning, “I’m old school, I don’t do emails, I don’t have a cellphone. If anyone wants to get a hold of me, put it in the mail or come by.“

Daniels describes his bar’s niche as a place ”...for people who aren’t pretentious and just looking to have a good time… We have a real relaxed style.“ People can experience a little bit of that style at The Harmony’s Twentieth Anniversary Party. Featured acts include Chicago’s Cash Box Kings, the aforementioned Bel-Airs from Missouri as well as Madison favorites like The Jimmys, The Jim Schwall Band, The Midwesterners, and the Westside Andy/Mel Ford Band. The party starts at 1pm and goes until 10pm.

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