There is a musical crisis in Winona.
A community of music enthusiasts is banding together to save the annual Concerts on the Green that will take place during the Great River Shakespeare Festival this summer. Theater du Mississippi in Winona, Minn., regularly plans and organizes the series of free outdoor concerts on the Winona State University campus that prelude the Friday and Saturday night GRSF performances.
And over the past seven years, the GRSF has funded the concerts. This year, the money stopped.
Diane Stevens, member of the Theater du Mississippi Music Committee, said the organization booked 13 regional bands during the month of February for the 2011 GRSF season, yet it wasn’t until March when they found out the GFSF had to withdraw its financial support from the concerts due to budget cuts.
The committee now has to come up with $9,000 to cover the cost of artist fees and sound technicians in order for the shows to go on.
Stevens, along with others on the committee, immediately contacted the bands and informed them of the situation.
“We asked them in spite of it all, could you hold the date for us?” said Stevens. “All but one band agreed to save the date.”
Stevens said the committee decided to embark on old-fashioned “grassroots community fundraising.” The committee members began an email campaign with friends and neighbors, speading the information by word of mouth at local coffee houses and offices, and even knocking on doors.
“We’re beginning to see some results,” said Stevens, optimistically. “We’re probably about halfway there and we’ve only been doing it for three weeks.”
Kathy Peterson worked with Stevens during the past several years booking bands for the Concerts on the Green.
“Any time you put great summer weather, food and good music together,” said Peterson, “that’s like my favorite thing in the whole world.”
Young mother, Heather Bach, has also made many memories with her two-year-old son, Xander listening to music on the freshly-cut grass. Bach brought Xander to his first concert when he was seven months old. She noticed he reacted differently to live music.
“I would bring a blanket and lay him down on it and he would kind of pop himself up and he’d start to move when he really liked the song,” said Bach. “So that just amplified how much fun it was for me.”
Retired Winona State University sociology professor, Jim Reynolds, reflected on the many concerts he attended in the past. He said the concerts bring a variety of community members and visitors to the area together.
“Differences dissolve when you sit on the green,” said Reynolds. “I get this sense of collective well-being.”
Reynolds said he would be devastated if the tradition of the prelude concerts came to an end during the upcoming GRSF season.
Stevens and Peterson said the festival would be missing that community spirit without the concerts.
“It would lose energy," said Stevens. "I think the energy that is created is such a positive thing. It includes everybody.”
The Theater du Mississippi is currently accepting minimum contributions of $500 to sponsor one concert. Concerts on the Green are scheduled to begin during the opening weekend of GRSF, June 24 at Winona State University.