Lake Geneva’s favorite waterside summer concert series is back this year, with an exciting lineup and a few surprises. See what awaits concertgoers this year.
Music by the Lake is once again ready to fill the air around Aurora University at George Williams College and Williams Bay, Wis., with beautiful music. The outdoor summer series each year showcases such diverse artists as Maureen McGovern, The Ramsey Lewis Trio, Kenny Loggins, the Chicago and Milwaukee symphonies, and KC & the Sunshine Band.
It began in the 1950s, and was suspended in 1969, when financial support waned. Its venue, Lewis Auditorium, stood several years longer, but was eventually demolished in 1999. A tent was erected on the site when the college merged with Aurora University shortly afterward. President Rebecca Sherrick decided to reinvent the once-popular music series in the summer of 2000, enlisting the assistance of Christine Flasch.
As artistic/executive director for Music by the Lake for all 14 years, Flasch works year-round to bring diverse national and international artists each season to the modest venue. In 2008, the tent was replaced by the permanent Ferro Pavilion, with covered seating for 650 and adjacent open-air terrace seating for approximately 550. In addition, the natural hillsides that surround the Pavilion can accommodate more than 1,000 concert attendees. Bringing a picnic lunch to enjoy on the lawn area has become a popular tradition at Music by the Lake.
“We’re trying several new things in the season lineup this year,” says Flasch. The first is a change in the opening concert, traditionally a Big Band with a vocalist. This year, it’s Blood, Sweat & Tears, with new front man Bo Bice, runner-up to Carrie Underwood in “American Idol.”
“Activity around the lake isn’t quite in full swing, and we decided to go with a rock concert this year, to draw a little different audience and more locals,” Flasch says. “Blood, Sweat & Tears is on the order of Chicago, featuring a rich horn section.” The group scored in the 1960s and ’70s with numerous hits, including “Spinning Wheel,” “You’ve Made Me So Very Happy” and “Lucretia Mac Evil.”
Next, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Beatles’ U.S. television debut, is tribute band BritBeat, on July 19. “There are so many Beatles bands out there, but this is a fantastic Chicago-area group that’s wanted to play Music by the Lake for three years,” says Flasch. “I was contacted very early this season by Chris Getsla, who performs the role of Paul McCartney – he even plays a left-handed guitar – who told me about several new additions for the anniversary year, including an Ed Sullivan character. They look like them, sound like them, and they put on a great show.”
The band’s multimedia performance spans Beatle history, from Sgt. Pepper to Abbey Road, with vintage costumes and authentic instruments.
Returning for a second consecutive year, for the Children & Family Concert on July 27, is Laurie Berkner, a very popular children’s musical artist. “We had such a marvelous response last year,” says Flasch. “Laurie has a huge following. We drew 1,100 last year, when our typical attendance is 300 to 400. She’s also a wonderful person who connects sincerely with her audience.”
Berkner became popular with featured music videos and appearances on programs on the Nickelodeon television network.
Aug. 2 brings “Jim Witter’s Piano Men,” who plays the music of Elton John and Billy Joel. “We’ve had fans asking for Jim for three or four years now, and we were finally able to book him,” Flasch says. “We’ve never actually had that genre here, and I think the timing is right for him to attract a large audience.” Witter’s show creates a kind of musical time machine, taking listeners back to the 1970s, and utilizing rear projection to recall headlines, fashion, cars, toys and even television shows of that decade.
On Aug. 9, The Beach Boys – the original boys of summer – take the stage. The Grammy-winning group performs hits from its more than 50-year history, many celebrating summer: “Surfin’ Safari,” “Fun, Fun, Fun,” “California Girls,” “Catch a Wave.”
The season closes on Aug. 17, with Ladies for Liberty, a trio of vocalists a la The Andrews Sisters, singing music of the 1940s, backed by Gary Christensen’s All-Star SUPERband. In addition to popular hits like “Boogie-Woogie Bugle Boy” and “Bei Mir Bist du Schoen,” they also perform patriotic songs.
“Their sound is so close to the Andrews Sisters, it’s amazing,” says Flasch. “Their patriotic songs are really moving.”
To complement the experience for patrons, the festival this year is expanding food options.
“We’ve always had the College Inn, located in our Conference Center, open for concerts,” Flasch says. “But once the show starts, it’s a bit of a walk to get there. So, we’re adding food carts outside the pavilion, with made-to-order wood-fired pizza, fresh popcorn, nachos, sweet treats and water and soft drinks. The College Inn will still offer sandwiches, salads, burgers and ice cream.”
For tickets/info, visit musicbythelake.com, this year with enhanced video capabilities and an upgraded ticket-buying process.