Arts & Entertainment

Music by the Lake Returns for 19th Season

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Every year, the Music by the Lake concert series showcases a variety of musical acts. See what’s on the lineup for this summer.

Six eclectic performances are on the lineup for Music by the Lake’s 19th season. The summer series takes place at the Ferro Pavilion in Williams Bay, Wis. (MBTL photo)

With a musical lineup as varied as the stars shining above it, Music by the Lake’s latest season promises yet another summer of fun.

Held on the shore of Geneva Lake, on the campus of Aurora University’s George Williams College (GWC), Music by the Lake has been a cultural staple in Williams Bay, Wis., as far back as the 1950s. Its present revival, which has become a tradition in its own right, now enters its 19th season.

Each summer brings with it a wide mix of performances, and this year doesn’t disappoint. Beginning on June 23 and wrapping up on Aug. 10, Music by the Lake features four Saturday performances and two Sunday performances.

“Our season opener on June 23 celebrates the music of Disney, which will be performed by the Lake Geneva Symphony. Specifically, the symphony will play along with scenes from the 1940 film classic ‘Fantasia,’” says Sarah Russe, vice president for communications at Aurora University. “We’ve partnered with the Lake Geneva Symphony for several years, and I think this will be a great concert for both children and families.”

The Grammy award-winning Oak Ridge Boys make their debut at Music by the Lake a week later, on June 29. The band is known for their classic country songs.

Dennis DeYoung, lead vocalist for the late-’70s/early ’80s rock band Styx, is Music by the Lake’s featured performer on July 6. The Chicago native will perform hits from Styx as well as his solo career.

Celebrating her 50-year career in music, eclectic singer-songwriter Judy Collins graces the stage on July 13. Then, it’s time for another dive into music history.

“We featured the music of Swedish rock band ABBA a few years ago, and it was so popular that we are bringing that back on a Sunday afternoon,” Russe says. “The band is called Arrival from Sweden: The Music of ABBA, and they will perform on July 28. We have had repeated requests to bring them back to Music by the Lake.”

The summer season closes with an Aug. 10 performance by the Chicago Philharmonic featuring the United Kingdom’s top classical tenor, Russell Watson.

Russe describes Watson as a “cross-over opera/pop singer” who has played Royal Albert Hall in London and Carnegie Hall in New York. Watson will perform both Broadway tunes and operatic pieces in his Midwestern debut.

“We always like to have a classical music act, and then we mix in some country, some folk and a bit of rock music,” says Russe. “We started adding country acts about two years ago, and people seem to like that. Sometimes our lineup is a little bit eclectic, but we have found that most people attending Music by the Lake seem to like music from the ’60s and ’70s.”

Musical acts for each season are chosen partly based on suggestions from patrons and the availability of performers.

Music by the Lake traces its roots back to the 1950s, but it’s just one chapter in a longstanding tradition of musical performances along Williams Bay.

From its construction in 1890, the towering Victorian-style pavilion known as the Tabernacle, later Lewis Auditorium, welcomed decades of summer gatherings along the lake.

Then, starting in 1951, Music by the Lake was established as a summer concert series. From then until 1969, performers such as Isaac Stern, John Denver, Carl “Doc” Severinsen and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra performed on the auditorium stage and established Music by the Lake as a premier summer destination.

Due to a lack of funding and rising costs, Music by the Lake took a hiatus, until it was resurrected 32 years later, in 2001. At that time, the aging auditorium was replaced by the Allyn Pavilion. The reinstatement of Music by the Lake was a direct result of new university leadership and a renewed commitment to the arts, says Russe.

“Dr. Rebecca Sherrick became president of Aurora University in 2000, and she really rejuvenated the arts on both campuses in Wisconsin and Illinois,” Russe adds. “She wanted to re-create Music by the Lake as a special summer concert series that would be great for Walworth County and surrounding communities.”

The growing popularity of the new Music by the Lake meant that its new pavilion was quickly outgrown. In 2008, after a fundraising campaign and a leadership gift from the Ferro Family Foundation, the new Ferro Pavilion was dedicated as a permanent home for Music by the Lake.

And, just like its predecessor, the rejuvenated concert series has attracted a wide array of musical guests. Recent headliners include The Beach Boys, Maureen McGovern, Peter Frampton and Lee Greenwood.

In recent years, annual attendance has been about 7,500 patrons, with about 2,000 at each performance, drawing audiences from all around the region.

“Most of our patrons come from Walworth County – both those who are year-round residents and those who have summer homes in the area,” Russe says. “We also draw people from as far away as northern Illinois, up to the Kenosha area and, of course, from southern Wisconsin.”

Seating is available in four sections: dress circle, orchestra, terrace and lawn. Dress circle and orchestra seating for 600 guests is reserved and located underneath the pavilion, directly in front of the stage.

Terrace seating accommodates 400 guests in physical seats surrounding the pavilion, located in the open air. Further out, the lawn has seating for about 1,000 general admission tickets. Guests typically bring their own blankets and chairs when sitting on the lawn.

Food and alcohol may be brought in to Music by the Lake, but food is also available for purchase at the on-campus dining club and from various on-site vendors.

Those who want may consider reserving boat parking at Music by the Lake. It’s available for patrons starting at the Virtuoso ($10,000) donor level.
Given its estimated $10 million economic impact on Walworth County, Music by the Lake strives to bring popular musical acts to the greater Lake Geneva area, year after year.

“Our goal is to build up the cultural resources of our county so that permanent and seasonal residents don’t have to travel to Madison, Milwaukee or Chicago to see a headlining performer or band,” Russe says. “We truly have a gem of a jewel in Music by the Lake.”

Music by the Lake 2019

Disney Fantasia Live in Concert
Featuring the Lake Geneva Symphony Orchestra
(Live orchestra concert with film)
June 23, 4 p.m.

The Oak Ridge Boys
June 29, 7:30 p.m.

Dennis DeYoung and The Music of Styx
July 6, 7:30 p.m.

An Evening with Judy Collins
July 13, 7:30 p.m.

Arrival From Sweden: The Music of ABBA
July 28, 4 p.m.

A Special Evening with Russell Watson and the Chicago Philharmonic
Aug. 10, 7:30 p.m.


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