The daffodils are making an appearance, lawns are greening. A friend of mine told me how excited she was to go out into her back yard two weeks ago and find the Creeping Charlie showing its hardy greenness through the dirty remnants of the March snow (it was a long winter). And as the anticipation grows for summer weather and Mother Nature’s stage show, so does our anticipation for the stage shows we’ve come to associate with summer in Winona’s river valley.
But according to a letter I received, one of the best of those events needs our help to make its summer appearance. For the last seven years, there have been free concerts on the green in front of the Winona State University Performing Arts Center prior to the Great River Shakespeare Festival plays.
On sultry summer nights great musical acts from all over performed on a stage set up on the WSU green, surrounded by lush landscaping, gurgling fountains, the university library, student union, classroom buildings and the performing arts center.
Winonans and visitors parked around campus, some popping their trunks to get folding chairs, others prepared to sit on a blanket on the grass. Some were dressed for the air-conditioned theater and a night of Shakespeare, while others were in shorts and flip-flops, all come to hear the music and maybe partake of the picnic food offered by Mugby Junction. Some in the audience were intent upon the music, some swaying and tapping feet. Others couldn’t help visiting with neighbors or friends they spied who had come from Rochester, La Crosse, points between, or from as far away as the Twin Cities. Kids chased each other around the green, grandmas fanned themselves in the shade, Shakespeare Festival actors and directors came out to hear the music before going on stage themselves. When the music ended, the GRSF audience wandered towards the theater and others carried their chairs back to their cars, all smiling at the memory of a summer night of music — free.
In the past, musical acts were imported from all over the country by Theatre du Mississippi (TdM), the same folks who bring you the Frozen River Film Festival and other concerts and plays during the year. The Great River Shakespeare Festival underwrote the cost of the musicians. But budget constraints at GRSF, and the addition of a musical — The Fantasticks — to the GRSF lineup for this summer, have left the concerts’ funding to the responsibility of Theatre du Mississippi.
Some of the musical acts have been contracted for many months, well before the change in funding became apparent, but TdM is hoping that the generosity of the community will enable them to stage their entire Concert on the Green series this summer. So far, according to Diane Stevens of TdM, the response from their fundraising letter to a limited number of people has been very successful. But there is still a way to go to fund the entire series of concerts.
Here’s the proposed lineup:
June 24, Rusty Swing Set (local band)
June 25, Café Accordion Trio (regional)
June 26, Mike Munson (local)
July 1, DitchLilies (regional)
July 2, Beet Root Stew (local)
July 8, Mr. Rowles (Greg Wolfe local connection)
July 9, Dan and Maureen Sherman (Winona connection)
July 15, Poor Benny’s (regional)
July 16, Rachael Ryan (local)
July 22, Stacy Hughes & The Not Just Jazz Quartet (local)
July 23, Al Townsend Band (regional)
July 29, Hot Sauce (local)
July 30, Pam McNeill (Winona connection)
According to Diane and TdM, any donation, large or small, will help fund the concert series. So if you were there in the shade in your shorts and flip-flops, or stopped on your way to a Shakespeare play, and want to see the Concerts on the Green again this summer, you are invited to donate. You can donate to a specific artist or band, or let TdM use the donation where it is most needed. Your donation will be publicly acknowledged or you may remain anonymous. You may also honor an individual with your donation.
Make your checks payable to TdM Concerts on the Green and mail by May 20 to TdM, P.O. Box 647, Winona, MN 55987. They will send you a receipt.