Cambridge Summer Concert Series

The Driftless, a band from the Cambridge area, performs during the 2018 Summer Concert Series. The Driftless returns this summer as one of five bands on stage Friday nights in Veterans Park.

Cambridge Summer Concert Series

Veterans Park

6:30-8:30 p.m.

Fridays, June 7, June 21, July 12, Aug. 2, Aug. 9

More information:

On five Friday nights this summer, upwards of 500 people will fill Veterans Park in downtown Cambridge to picnic and to enjoy two hours of music from Wisconsin bands.

The Cambridge Summer Concert Series is put on by the Cambridge Arts Council, a non-profit focused on promoting arts and local economic development.

Cambridge Arts Council President Laurie Struss recently talked about the 2019 concert series, how the concerts came to be and the vision for their future.

Q: What can concert-goers expect this summer?

A: We do five concerts a year. They’re always on Friday nights, they always start at 6:30 p.m. and they’re always free. People are invited to bring picnics. The only request we have is that they don’t bring anything in glass containers. The Lions will be grilling up their pizzas on three of those occasions. On the other two, there’s another organization grilling.

The concerts are an amazing moment. You can feel community being fostered. It's like a step back in time. Kids going from family to family playing, and neighbors connecting. We have contingencies of people that come every year and they sit in the same places.

I love Veterans Park because it's so centrally located and so accessible; it’s flat. I watch as people stream in from every corner. They’re walking with their lawn chairs or pulling their kids in wagons. I've seen people hike up Main Street pushing their mom in a wheelchair.

I love when I see people celebrating anniversaries or birthdays, and I'll see balloons and cakes. It’s just the best that we are. It makes me pretty proud to be part of that.

Q: Tell us about this year's bands.

A: I call this our “Close to Home” season, because we have lots of local bands.

Our first concert is June 7 and it’s The Tooles. We’re starting off with their Irish Pub music.

We have Milkhouse Radio on June 21, which is the blues. We have Gomers & Friends on July 12. They’re doing a tribute of fifties and sixties music.

We have American Feedbag on Aug. 2. I found them when I went to a bluegrass festival in La Farge, Wis. They’re a young group, up-and-coming. I'm really excited to bring them to Cambridge.

And then we round it off, always, with our hometown favorites, The Driftless. They’re all from Cambridge. It’s what people want to see that last concert, on Aug. 9

Q: There’s a new stage for the performers this season. Tell us about that.

A: I’m pretty excited about our new stage. We have raised one dollar at a time with donations from people who come to the concerts. Somebody walked around with that bucket every concert for the last two years. The end of last season, someone comes up to me and says “What do you need to make that that happen?” and I said, “I think in another year, we'll have it. About another $2,000.” And she goes “I'll write that check tomorrow.” It’s people like that, who see value in what we’re doing. That was a big wide-open moment for me.

The stage is going to be mobile, so we can use it in Veterans Park, as well as at Midwest Fire Fest. The base is a trailer house frame, stripped down. So, we can move it from one park to the other. Jana Funk, an architect here in town, and Steve, my husband, who is an engineer, are working together to design it. I’m looking forward to seeing how that comes out.

Q: How did you choose the bands and the mix of genres, and how are the concerts funded?

A: We do try to keep it eclectic. I try to always have one nostalgic feel, so that’s the fifties and sixties this year. At our Gala, which was in February, we do an auction of the concerts and that’s how we pay for these. People were very generous this year and covered our entire series.

Q: How long have the concerts been around? How have they evolved? And what is the vision for their future?

A: 2012 was the first year, so this is our seventh year. I've been coordinating it for five. At first, they were getting about 150 people. Now, we get between 500 and 750. It’s really become a staple of summers in Cambridge.

The Cambridge Foundation, a couple years ago, dropped power for us in the park, so that’s nice. So, we can use the whole park now.

I don’t know that we’re going to grow out of Veterans Park in the next two or three years. We’ll just take it one step at a time. What I do know is that it will always be downtown, and the same goes for Midwest Fire Fest. My committee will only be involved if it stays downtown.

Q: What are the broader community impacts of the summer concerts?

A: In a town like Cambridge, where our roots are deep in the arts, it’s really a powerful kind of thing. Any time we can expose people to a different genre of music than they maybe would listen to is a good thing. It makes us more open human beings.

Anything we can do to foster community and foster the arts, is also a no-brainer for us. We believe in this community. Everything we do is not because we benefit from it at all. That’s where our heart is.

-To hear portions of the original interview for this article, check out the 2019 Summer Arts Guide podcasts on our website:

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