The Ferro Pavilion, where Music by the Lake performances are held, offers sheltered and unsheltered seating.

Music by the Lake: New Season, New Attractions in Lake Geneva

This summer concert series brings a lineup of tributes and multigenerational fun, all within more intimate seating. Learn why tickets are going fast for this year’s shows.

The Ferro Pavilion, where Music by the Lake performances are held, offers sheltered and unsheltered seating.
The Ferro Pavilion, where Music by the Lake performances are held, offers sheltered and unsheltered seating.

It’s time for the sounds of summer to hit the shores of Lake Geneva. For the past 15 years, those sounds have included the rhythms of big-name acts like The Ramsey Lewis Trio, Kenny Loggins and The Beach Boys, all playing at the Music by the Lake summer showcase, hosted by Aurora University at George Williams College (GWC) in Williams Bay, Wis.

“We have a really nice blend of intergenerational programming,” says Sarah Russe, vice president of community relations for Aurora Univerity. “We go from Sinatra to kids’ programming to ABBA. We provide nicely for all music lovers. Grandparents can take their kids and know that all will enjoy the programming.”

Music by the Lake hosts summer performances at the college’s Ferro Pavilion, which is located right on the lakeshore. Much like Chicago’s Ravinia, this intimate venue provides a variety of seating under shelter and on the lawn. An additional section of seating, unprotected by a shelter, lies between the stage and the lawn. Saturday performances begin at 7:30 p.m., Sundays performances at 4 p.m.

“I know there are a lot of music fests everywhere you go, but this one is a more intimate family environment, where people can enjoy a concert right on the shores of Geneva Lake,” says Russe.

Mainstage Entertainment

This summer’s lineup kicked off June 27 with a tribute to Frank Sinatra, when Michael Feinstein shared some of Old Blue Eyes’ most beloved tunes. The multi-platinum selling Feinstein has been nominated for both Emmy and Grammy awards for his work with American popular songs, including his album “The Sinatra Project” and his television special “Michael Feinstein – The Sinatra Legacy.” Music enthusiasts may also recognize his nationally syndicated public radio program, “Song Travels.”

The classic sounds continue on July 12 when jazz guitarist, singer and bandleader John Pizzarelli brings his quartet and their unique sound to the stage. Best known for cool jazz, Pizzarelli performs a variety of classic pop, jazz and swing tunes. His sound echoes Nat “King” Cole. Pizzarelli has performed with many modern legends as well, including Sir Paul McCartney, James Taylor and Natalie Cole.

For as much as this year’s lineup includes classical acts, it also pays tribute to popular chart-toppers. First up, Waukesha, Wis., natives BoDeans appear on July 18. The group best known for tunes such as “Closer to Free,” “Idaho,” and “Fadeaway” just released its 12th album this spring. Its tours have put it on stage with artists including U2, Bob Dylan, Paul Simon, Tom Petty and David Bowie.

Parents and children especially will enjoy this year’s family feature on July 26. Returning to the stage is Doktor Kaboom, a fun-loving scientist whose one-man interactive show makes science and math fun and approachable for youngsters. The mostly improvisational show means no two appearances are ever quite the same, as he uses scientific discovery and comedy to wow audiences and draw them into scientific principles.

The popular music hits continue into August with dynamic tributes to artists of the 1970s. Arrival from Sweden: The Music of ABBA takes the stage Aug. 1, delivering what’s considered one of the world’s most popular and best-selling ABBA tributes, with one of the closest adaptations of the Swedish import. With a flair as wild as the original, Arrival from Sweden sports the voices, costumes, sights and sounds that come with hits such as “Dancing Queen,” “Mamma Mia,” and “Take a Chance on Me.”

The season closes with a bang on Aug. 8, with Creedence Clearwater Revisited. Led by Stu Cook and Doug “Cosmo” Clifford, the original bassist and drummer for Creedence Clearwater Revival, this classic rock group shares its predecessor’s hits, including “Fortunate Son,” “Bad Moon Rising” and “Who’ll Stop the Rain.”

New Attractions

Tickets sell out fast for these shows, and this year, they’re likely to sell even faster, as lawn seating is adjusted to improve the viewing experience. Whereas the typical show offers nearly 2,300 seats, this year’s concerts are likely to hold just 1,800.

Because dining options on the GWC campus are fairly limited, many visitors bring their own picnic dinners. Guests sitting on the lawn set up well before the show, enjoying their picnic with lawn chairs, blankets and small roll-up tables.

A la carte items are sold inside The College Inn and for a classy picnic, guests can advance-order a ready-made basket of food and supplies from the college’s Dining Club, located in the Beasley Center.
“You can also eat there, but it’s very limited in space,” says Russe. “We have seating for maybe just 50 or 60 people inside.”

For the second year now, concession stands will be set up close to the pavilion, and will serve a variety of picnic food such as popcorn, lemonade, hamburgers, hot dogs and brats.

This year brings a longer season for Music by the Lake, with the launch of a concert series that runs through the school year. The new Sundays at Four series delivers a combination of classical music performances and educational lectures on Sunday afternoons.

“Many of our Music by the Lake programs are already on Sundays at 4 p.m., so we’ve been doing programming around that time,” says Russe. “It works especially well for families, we’ve found. For our continuing series, we’re trying to get some more classically trained artists and some authors.”

Recent events included the music of George Gershwin, a lecture on Marie Curie and a talk by Fabien Cousteau, grandson of ocean explorer Jacques. This fall, expect a talk by political commentator David Brooks in September and classical music performances in October and November.

“We’re trying to catch lake residents before their winter travels begin, and draw them into the life of our local college,” says Russe. “Programming is being planned for September, October and November, and then our spring schedule runs through February, March, April and May.”

Nearly 10,000 people are expected to visit this year’s outdoor performances, come rain or shine. For many, it’s a chance to enjoy a night of music on the lakeshore with friends and family. For others, it’s a chance to enjoy quality music without the traffic.

“You don’t have to drive to Chicago or Milwaukee – you’re close to home,” says Russe. “You won’t be sitting in the parking lot for an hour, waiting for the traffic to clear. Our campus is a lovely college town, and we hope the community continues to see it that way.”