Music by the Lake draws world-class entertainers to Williams Bay, Wis., every summer. This year’s lineup promises musical diversity, seasoned talent and well-regarded speakers.
Ahhhh, summer and Geneva Lake in southern Wisconsin … sand, swimming, boating, fine dining and shopping. What could possibly make a summer day in this region even more appealing?
How about a little night music?
As the sun goes down, the lights come up on the lakefront Ferro Pavilion stage at George Williams College (GWC) in Williams Bay, Wis., for another exciting performance in the Music by the Lake concert series.
Music by the Lake began in 1951 and was revived in 2001, explains Sarah Russe, vice president of community relations for Aurora University, which operates GWC. In addition to summer concerts, the university presents a year-round cultural calendar that connects the beautiful campus to members of surrounding communities.
“With Music by the Lake, we schedule four Saturday night concerts and two Sunday afternoon performances, including one for children,” Russe says. “We choose a mix of music styles that includes blues, orchestral music, jazz and classic rock of the 1970s and ’80s.”
Russe likens the atmosphere to Chicago’s Ravinia, but on a more intimate scale.
“Guests can choose pavilion or terrace seating or bring lawn chairs, blankets and picnic baskets to sit on the lawn,” Russe says. “Most seating overlooks the lake. People can purchase sandwiches, salads, ice cream, snacks and beverages, and pavilion ticket holders can purchase wine and beer.”
This year’s concert schedule opens with the Lake Geneva Symphony Orchestra on Saturday, June 25. The orchestra will perform songs by popular American composers of the 20th century, from Broadway hits to classical, jazz and patriotic tunes.
The classic rock band America takes the stage on Saturday, July 8, performing hits of the 1970s and ’80s such as “Horse with No Name,” “Ventura Highway,” “Sister Golden Hair” and “You Can Do Magic.”
The Preservation Hall Jazz Band arrives on Sunday, July 16, to share the art form of New Orleans-style jazz. The group’s name is derived from the famous music venue located in the heart of New Orleans’ French Quarter.
On Saturday, July 22, The Tenors perform a blend of classical music and contemporary pop that showcases their charm, diverse vocal styles and outstanding harmonies. The Tenors have won multiple awards and achieved multi-platinum hit status, performing for the past four American presidents and the Queen of England.
July 30 brings The Berenstain Bears LIVE, a musical production that promotes important life lessons to fans young and old, adapted from The Berenstain Bears’ most beloved books. Children age 3 and under are admitted free to this performance, which takes the audience on an adventure expressed through song and dance.
Singer, composer and actor Lyle Lovett brings His Large Band to perform at the pavilion stage on Saturday, Aug. 5. The Texas-based musician has broadened the definition of American music with his gift for storytelling and his ability to fuse elements of country, swing, jazz, folk, gospel and blues together in a manner that breaks down barriers.
The Chicago Philharmonic returns to Music By the Lake on Saturday, Aug. 12, with guest celebrity vocalists. The Philharmonic will perform music by Irving Berlin and George Gershwin, complemented by pianists and vocalists. “Rhapsody in Blue” is among the pieces it will perform with pianist Joseph Joubert.
In addition to the above outstanding musical performances, Music by the Lake will host some highly regarded speakers throughout the summer, free of charge to audiences. Best-selling author Richard Louv, whose books “Last Child in the Woods” and “Vitamin N” focus on the importance of nature in all of our lives, speaks on Sunday, July 23.
“The future will belong to the nature-smart – those individuals, families, businesses and political leaders who develop a deeper understanding of the transformative power of the natural world and who balance the virtual with the real,” Louv states. “The more high-tech we become, the more nature we need.”
On Sunday, Aug. 13, former U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, who also served in Congress, presents his personal perspective about tumultuous political times. His remarks will be based upon his book “Seeking Bipartisanship: My Life in Politics.”
The original GWC performing arts center, known as the Tabernacle, was built in 1890 and renamed Lewis Auditorium. From the start, it was the place where community members gathered to enjoy live performances every summer.
In 1950, community leaders formed the GWC Summer Music Association. In 1951, Music by the Lake was introduced and ran for 19 seasons, featuring some of the world’s most prominent performers. But Music by the Lake fell silent after the 1969 season.
On the strength of a gift from the Allyn Foundation, Music by the Lake was revived in 2001 with construction of a new pavilion in place of the Lewis Auditorium. For several years, the Allyn Pavilion showcased popular artists including the Irish Tenors, the 5th Dimension, the Glenn Miller Orchestra, the Ramsey Lewis Trio and Duke Ellington. By the fifth season, Music by the Lake was drawing crowds of more than 6,500 people.
The greater Geneva Lake community responded to this demand with a campaign to build a new performance facility. With a leadership gift from the Ferro Family Foundation plus donations from more than 130 other sources, more than $1.5 million was raised. The striking new Ferro Pavilion was built and dedicated in 2008. Today’s Music by the Lake experience combines excellent music with an open-air atmosphere and the natural beauty of Geneva Lake.
In recent years, Music by the Lake has hosted Kenny Loggins, Michael Bolton, Peter Frampton, Cheap Trick, the Doobie Brothers, Straight No Chaser, the Chicago Philharmonic and Chicago Symphony orchestras, among many other top artists.
“Much of the GWC campus has been renovated, with older buildings being torn down and replaced with modern facilities,” Russe says. “It remains a wonderful place to not only enjoy good music and stimulating lectures, but also to gather with family and friends, taking advantage of all that the Lake Geneva area has to offer.”
Visit musicbythelake.com for more information or to purchase tickets.