The Cambridge Arts Council is giving its Summer Concert Series a new look this year, by building a stage for the outdoor shows.
The council hosts five concerts in Veterans Park every summer featuring local musical talent. The concerts kicked off June 7 with The Tooles, a local Irish-Americana band. The next concert is June 21 from 6:30-8:30 p.m. Blues band Milkhouse Radio will perform.
This spring, the group set out to construct a mobile stage for the series, using a trailer home frame for a base, decking, aluminum scaffolding and an awning.
Laurie Struss, the president of the Cambridge Arts Council, said this stage has been in the works for about two years. Volunteers from the council began building on May 18.
The council plans to use the stage for the summer concert series and Midwest Fire Fest, a weekend fire-themed art festival in Westside Park July 27 and 28. Struss said the stage was designed to be mobile, to be used for both events.
“I’m pretty stoked about this whole thing,” Struss said. “It’s going to look fabulous.”
Since the summer concert series began in 2012, Struss said the Cambridge Arts Council has used a 25-year-old platform stage with a tent over the top, that has to be assembled and taken down every concert night. Struss said volunteers also spend about eight hours setting up a temporary stage for Midwest Fire Fest every year.
The stage is pretty much complete, Struss said, but needs to be approved for use by the Cambridge Village Board. The board will discuss it on June 11. Struss hopes to use the stage for the June 21 concert if it’s approved.
The Cambridge Arts Council funded the stage through donations, collected at their February fundraising gala and past summer concerts. Struss said they raised $6,000, with a sizeable donation from a community
member to reach their goal.
“This stage was raised $1 at a time,” Struss said. “Our community owns this stage.”
The Arts Council is still under budget, Struss said. As of May 19, they had spent $5,800 on the stage, but still had to build stairs.
Struss purchased the base of the stage, a stripped-down trailer home frame, from Illinois for $450 in April. She hoped that by putting it on wheels, it could move with the concerts and Midwest Fire Fest, should the events ever outgrow their current parks.
“What if we do grow out of this, and we put $6,000 into a permanent stage?” Struss said.
The stage is 20 feet long and 16 feet wide, with two four-foot wings attached with hinges to the front and back, to double the width of the stage and fold up for transportation. It’s about 32 inches tall.
During several weekends in May, volunteers secured joists across the width of the trailer, added face boards, attached the wings and covered it with wooden decking from London Lumber.
They also created aluminum scaffolding to hold an awning the council is commissioning from Gallagher Tent and Awning in Madison. Volunteers started working on the scaffolding June 1.
One of the volunteers building the stage May 19 was Huck Gent, a local resident and member of the Arts Council. He also plays the mandolin in The Driftless, a Cambridge band that will play the final summer concert on Aug. 9.
Gent said the previous stage was “cozy to say the least” for the seven-member band.
“It was always a challenge for us to squeeze onto that stage,” Gent said. “It’s going to give a really nice look to an already great event.”
Struss said that her husband Steve Struss, an engineer, designed the stage with the help of local architect Jana Funk.
“Steve’s been working pretty endless hours since I found the base,” Struss said. “He’s probably spent 100 hours designing it.”
“I get ideas and he makes it happen,” she added.
Volunteers like Gent have turned out on weekends, avoiding rainstorms, to help build the structure.
“It’s fun to have a project like this. This is the fun part,” Gent said, who used to work as a cabinet maker and woodworker. “From an old mobile home cut in half to a stage in a few days, it’s super cool.”