A Night Under the Stars – Big Top Chautauqua

I have volunteered for the Big Top in Bayfield, Wisconsin for more than a decade and this summer has been no exception. For those of you who are unaware, Wisconsin has an amazing outdoor venue (or more precisely a tent venue) on the shores of Lake Superior. I volunteer for the joy of listening to good music, meeting up with my “summer music” friends and spending a night under the stars.

Last night I went to see a new musical house show, The Mountains Call My Name : A musical portrait of environmentalist John Muir. Like all creatures of habit, I have my own ritual when I go to the Big Top. I leave my house early, meander up the highway, stop in Washburn for a mini blizzard at the Dairy Queen, slip into place at the Big Top, grab a bite to eat at the concessions, and then settle down to watch a magnificent show that has me singing along by the end.

I should have known that things were going to be slightly out of kilter this time when I got off to a late start from my house. The late start from my house was worsened by the amount of traffic heading north up Hwy 63. Totally ridiculous as far as I was concerned. Then there was  the construction at the intersection of Hwys 2 and 13 which appears to be the placement of a traffic roundabout. I am not a big fan of roundabouts and even less a fan of road construction, but I knew I was in for it when I reached Washburn and noticed that the Dairy Queen had been closed. Not closed for the day but permanently shuttered with the For Sale sign professionally placed on the grass in front. This was not a good omen. I got a cold chill as I reached the Big Top, fearful that the rest of the night was doomed. I started to breathe a bit easier when I found my typical parking spot just at the base of the hill behind the concession stand. I was feeling relaxed as I spoke with the other regulars and when the show started I was ready to sing.

Now this is where I am supposed to say that the show was amazing. That I enjoyed it so much that I went in search of the CD. But I can’t. I have seen every house show that the Big Top has produced over the years. I love the photos and the vignettes and the music. There is always at least one song that runs through my head all the way home. Although The Mountain Calls My Name has wonderful photography associated with it and I learned a ton of information, musically I was disappointed. There were wonderful moments. My favorite songs being those written or arranged by Severin Behnin – wonderful four part harmonies, reminding me of shape note singing. And I  loved the playing of the spoons during one of the songs. However on the flip side there were songs that just didn’t click, tones that seemed off  and most importantly there was a big hole, something missing … the song that grabs you, the one that makes your insides swell, the one that makes the 65 miles home seem like 10. It never happened. The show ended and I wanted to scream “wait a minute there has to be one more, haven’t you forgotten something.” But no, the show was over and the lights came up. I was bummed. I felt jipped. I had no song to sing on the long ride home. The evening had ended the way it had started, sadly.

Bottomline: I love the Big Top. I will miss the Dairy Queen in Washburn. I don’t think I will be back to see The Mountain Calls My Name. I’ll select a different house show instead when given the option. We’ll see what happens next week with Play Ball.

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