Taking Entertainment Outdoors

Music floating on a summer breeze, ice clinking in glasses, the smell of earth and grass, dancing under the stars. In Door County, the outdoor performance is not only a summer staple; it is a manifestation of the carefree, comfortable spirit of the county. As a people who appreciate and work hard to preserve both the stunning natural resources and the rich artistic history of the area, Door County residents have found a way combine nature and art into a unique form of entertainment.

The outdoor concert is the most common example of the fusing of nature and art. The concerts themselves vary from the adventurous string quartet to swinging jazz and everything in between. I found that both of the concerts I attended offered something unique.

They say location is everything, and Fred and Fuzzy’s is proof of that. Patrons enjoy Tuesday evening concerts as the sun sets on Lake Michigan in a myriad of reds and oranges. Music mingles with the summer breeze, punctuated with snatches of conversation and laughter. The hulking silhouettes of boats and people skipping stones on the lake’s surface stand in stark contrast to the brilliant evening sky.

Every Tuesday The Nicks, a local band that has gained a loyal following, plays underneath a tent adjoining Fred and Fuzzy’s.

At a recent concert cases and instruments were strewn unceremoniously about as band members Nick Hoover, Nick Steingart, Kalen Keir, Matthew Burress and Jamey Clark provided a lengthy musical set that metamorphosed from genre to genre throughout the night.

With a mix of covers and originals the band shifted styles, starting with a smooth, mellow sound, interlaced with Simon and Garfunkel-esque harmonies and progressing to bluegrass, reggae, folk and jazz.

The Concert in the Park Series in Egg Harbor combines the outdoor elements of Fred and Fuzzy’s with the amenities of a small village. Businesses keep their doors open until 9 pm, so there are things to do even after the concert has ended. Concerts start at 5 pm, an ideal time for families with young children.

Dr. Freeze and the Cool Cats were playing on a recent Thursday. The trio consists of veteran musicians Bryan Koenig, Pete Thelen and Jay Whitney, a warm, laid-back group of musicians with an unglamorous start.

“I was booked to do the gig [concert in the park] with another fellow and at the last minute, he called me and said he couldn’t do it. So I called Jay and Bryan and the rest is history,” said Thelen.

Their music is nothing to laugh at, however. Thelen’s powerhouse vocals could be heard down the street. Whitney provided a driving rhythm on guitar, though his skill shone even more when he soloed. Koenig played the harmonica deftly, creating complex counter-melodies, and both instrumentalists also contributed vocals.

For the more theatrically inclined, outdoor theatre is a Door County tradition, including the ever-popular American Folklore Theatre (AFT) in Peninsula State Park.

With trees towering on the sides of the stage, AFT almost looks like a part of the scenery. Nestled comfortably in a clearing, the stage looks as if it just sprung up in the middle of the woods.

AFT offers family-friendly shows throughout the summer and I recently saw Fishing for the Moon.

The set was simple, but tidy and effective. The designer had the foresight to work with nature instead of trying to compete with it. In fact, the set seemed to extend into the night sky. Trees became curtains and stars became stage lights as the sky darkened to a cobalt blue.

The show captured the understated nature of Wisconsinites and provided accessible entertainment for people of various ages and backgrounds. Filled with local humor, one-liners and happy endings, the simplicity and campiness of the plot made for a charming experience.

Outdoor entertainment combines two very signature peninsula elements – nature and art. It serves not only to provide an escape from the walls and structures that box people in all too often, but also fosters a love and respect for nature and art, one that is already in the hearts of Door County residents.