Worth the Wait: Soaking up Wisconsin's Outdoor Music Venues  
Andy Erdman

clickable map of Wisconsin outdoor music venuesMy take on outdoor music morphed in September 2005, after I crammed all my worldly possessions into the red, rusted-out '89 Chevy Cavalier that cast me more than 2,000 miles away—from Wisconsin and its tyrannical winter to what would be my squatting ground for the next 12 months: California’s utopian central coast.

The central coast, or “the 805,” offered treasures I had only seen in movies and magazines: countless vineyards, vast strawberry fields, barking sea lions, daredevil surfers, ever-present palm trees and a seemingly unalterable and picturesque climate.

I barely finished unpacking my car before what I presumed to be one of the major benefits of such a climate subconsciously caused my head to bob: outdoor music, 365 days a year. The sound of Monty Mills and the Lucky Horseshoe Band boomed throughout the neighborhood from Ramona Garden Park, just two blocks from my new Grover Beach apartment, where the town’s Sizzlin’ Summer Concert Series was in full swing.

In such a climate, where the major weather impediments are light fog and a weak drizzle, outdoor music is omnipresent. So while my music-junkie friends back in Wisconsin were forced indoors for their winter-music fill, I was under no such constraints. I could, and did, spend much of my free time in the late fall and winter months that year soaking up rays while delighting in the soothing sound of music—on golf courses, beaches, park grounds and even vineyards.

But after a while, this sort of ever-available social outing began to lose its appeal. I would have given my vital organs to attend an outdoor show back in the Badger State, but the longer I stayed in California, the less such an event became a priority.

But what made jamming to an outdoor concert so much better in Wisconsin? Why did I find California’s limitless outdoor music scene less appealing? The answer: yin and yang. The yin and yang concept, very generally, asserts that good cannot exist without bad, and vice versa. For instance, food would not taste as satisfying without hunger; health would not be appreciated without sickness; and the Green Bay Packers would not be as praised without the Chicago Bears.

Photo courtesy of Summerfest photo archives
Thousands of music lovers flock to Milwaukee’s Marcus Amphitheater every year where legendary musicians and up-and-coming stars gather for Summerfest, “The World’s Largest Music Festival.”

In California, outdoor music had no such yin and yang relationship. Wisconsin’s yin—the bitter winters, the months spent cooped up inside—make the yang—the rejuvenation ushered in by the spring and summer months—that much more attractive, especially in regard to outdoor music. In Wisconsin, the start of spring has a seemingly tangible, electric feel—one of energy and enthusiasm for the months ahead. On the other hand, in the 805, little to no shift in feeling occurs with the changing seasons. For the most part, everything is the same, day to day, season to season, 365 days a year. The central coast’s bad is a lingering haze with an almost polite, apologetic precipitation. Heck, a Wisconsin tornado is a more frequent phenomenon than a central coast thunderstorm. No kidding.

When I returned to the Badger State after my brief hiatus, winter was again knocking at the door—just as it had been when I left 12 months earlier. But my perspective had changed. I no longer had the option of outdoor music at my disposal. It was too cold. The “season” was over. But I now found joy in this fact and came to appreciate Wisconsin’s yin and yang. Besides, I knew I could still get my music fix indoors if need be. But while indoor venues such as The Rave in Milwaukee or the Kohl Center in Madison provide artists with a Wisconsin tour stop even during the winter months, nothing beats the yang: finding the perfect patch of grass to spread a blanket on and listen to great tunes while watching the sun drop and the stars capture the night sky. Because fresh air, open country and vegetation can’t be found even in the best indoor venues.

Fortunately, Wisconsin’s music-junkies have no shortage of outdoor venues to visit during the Midwest music season. And generally, every season the most prominent venues host dozens of concerts and music festivals with the knowledge that here, unlike places such as California, time is of the essence.

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