Photo: VISIT MILWAUKEE
Ever notice how music sounds best when it’s heard outside? How theater is even more magical when witnessed among towering trees or under twinkling stars? The way art is just that much more moving when viewed in the fresh air? Somehow it’s true, and summer is the perfect time to experience all kinds of art in the out-of-doors.
The Big Tickets
Head to Eau Claire for the Blue Ox Music Festival, a four-year-old fest that attracts the nation’s ﬁ nest acoustic, bluegrass, Americana and folk acts. The Devil Makes Three, the Del McCoury Band, Margo Price, Horseshoes and Hand Grenades, and Charlie Parr all perform this year.
Known as the world’s largest music festival, Milwaukee’s Summerfest brings together more than 800 bands and 900,000 fans for 11 days of live music, food and brews. A big summer bash 51 years in the making, the fest this time around brings James Taylor and Bonnie Rait, Florida Georgia Line, Dave Matthews Band, Halsey and Logic, Journey and Def Leppard and others to the shores of Lake Michigan.
June 27-July 1, July 3-8
The cool new kid on the summer festival block, Eaux Claires is musician Justin Veron’s thank-you gift to his hometown of Eau Claire. Popular, indie-spirited and ever-changing since its inception four years ago, the festival mixes live music, performance art, literature readings and visual art in a combination carefully crafted by Vernon of Bon Iver and Aaron Dessner of The National. Camp out overnight to get the full experience.
Eau Claire’s also headquarters for country music at Country Jam USA. The festival began back in 1990 and has consistently brought in the hottest stars and longtime favorites, not to mention fans ready to rock. This year, Blake Shelton, Alabama and Billy Currington are among the headliners.
Appleton’s Mile of Music also boasts some great numbers: 900 live music sets take place at 70 venues along one mile of the easily-walkable College Avenue. The downtown Americana music festival—with bands ranging from roots to country, indie rock to folk, soul to jazz—is now in its sixth year, and as always, it’s free and open to everyone.
All the State’s a Stage
If Shakespeare was producing plays today, he’d likely be a fan of American Players Theatre and its delightful outdoor amphitheater surrounded by woods in Spring Green. But while the Bard is always celebrated here (this summer, choose between “As You Like It” and “Measure for Measure”), the professional theater also incorporates American classics into its nine-play repertory each season.
June 9-October 7 (outdoor season)
In Fish Creek, Northern Sky Theater stages family-friendly musicals—often hilarious Wisconsin originals—in the open air within beautiful Peninsula State Park. “Boxcar,” “Dairy Heirs” and “Lumberjacks in Love” are this summer’s selections.
June 13-August 25
It’s (almost) all Shakespeare, (nearly) all the time at Door Shakespeare. This Door County theater company specializes in classical theater, focusing primarily on Shakespeare, but with some Jean Baptiste Moliere, Oscar Wilde and a few other playwrights worked in. Performances take place in the grand Björklunden estate alongside Lake Michigan in Baileys Harbor. June 28-August 18
Strike Up the Band Jazz, funk, blues, R&B, reggae and more combine for Jazz in the Park, a concert series held Thursday evenings in Milwaukee’s Cathedral Square Park. The concerts spotlight local talent as well as national acts. Come for happy hour at 5 p.m. and stay for the music, which starts at 6.
May 31-August 30
Wausau’s Concerts on the Square lineup is decidedly eclectic, with rock, country, zydeco, bluegrass or jazz bands taking the stage each Wednesday night. Pick up a food-truck dinner and settle in for some live music, and maybe a little dancing, as the sun begins to set.
June 13-August 22
With a breathtaking backdrop of Lake Superior, Bayﬁeld’s Concerts by the Lake couldn’t be more picturesque. But the music’s great too! Talented local and regional musicians hold court each Tuesday night in Memorial Park for free performances of rock, pop, indie, bluegrass and more.
June 19-September 4
Lovely Lake Geneva is the setting for Music by the Lake, a ticketed concert series on select Saturdays and Sundays with seating in the open-air Ferro Pavilion or surrounding lawn perfect for picnicking. Perched along the shores of Geneva Lake on the campus of George Williams College of Aurora University, the performances range from big band to classical to musical theater and beyond.
June 24-August 11
The State Capitol lawn transforms into a picnic-blanket-spotted concert grounds each Wednesday evening with Concerts on the Square. The Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra plays a mix of classical and pops music, with a few guest artists worked in. Attending a concert has been a Madison must-do since 1984.
June 27-August 1
Located on the stunning grounds of the Milwaukee Art Museum, the Lakefront Festival of Art highlights the paintings, metalwork, ceramics, ﬁber art, jewelry and more by 170 jury-selected artists from across the country. A tradition since 1963, this arts extravaganza also features interactive events, children’s activities, live music, food, a beer garden and a wine garden. June 15-17
Set on the streets surrounding the State Capitol, Madison’s Art Fair on the Square celebrates its 60th year this summer. Nearly 500 artists from around the country exhibit paintings, prints, sculpture, photography and jewelry along the Capitol Square, while the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art also reserves a block of State Street for a dozen “emerging” artists.
Over at the John Michael Kohler Arts Center in Sheboygan, the Midsummer Festival of the Arts is a juried showcase of 135 artists who present their prints, photography, paintings, ceramics, glass art, leather and ﬁber work, woodwork and more. Live music, food, workshops and activities round out this event, now in its 48th year.
A Scenic Stroll
The only thing better than wandering through a beautiful park is when that green space is dotted with striking works of art. At the Lynden Sculpture Garden in Milwaukee, more than 50 large-scale pieces sit alongside trees and a lake on 40 lush acres resembling an English country garden. Pick up a map or sign up for a Sunday walking tour, and then pause to contemplate one of Deborah Butterfield’s iconic bronze horses, Tony Smith’s geometric Wandering Rocks and two gracefully abstracted figures by Henry Moore, among many other artistic delights.
This article originally appeared in the 2018 spring/summer issue of Experience Wisconsin magazine. The contents of this article were checked for accuracy when it was published; however, it’s possible some of the information has changed. We recommend you call first if you have specific questions for the destinations, attractions or restaurants mentioned in this article.
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