August 26, 2020 | By Lindsay Christians of The Capital Times

It’s been 20 (cough) years since my marching band days, but Concerts on the Square on Tuesday gave me flashbacks.

It wasn’t only the music — hits by the Beatles, Stevie Wonder and U2 were quite popular among band directors of the late ’90s, too — but the precision of the layout.

Some 35 Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra musicians, fronted by the cover band Jeans ‘n’ Classics, ranged across Breese Stevens Field in a meticulous drill design. From the highest camera angles, it looked like an elaborate obstacle course, or a clever way to teach a puppy to heel.

This, friends, was Concerts on the Square in the year 2020. Thanks to our old nemesis COVID-19, the 37th annual summer pops concerts couldn’t safely return to the Square. Neither could our picnic blankets, babies and beer.

But the Madison-based Chamber Orchestra — one of just three orchestras in the country to do so, they claim — wanted to find a way forward live, both for its musicians and the people who want to hear them play.

“They are hungry to play and get back,” new CEO Joe Loehnis said of his players.

In light of current gathering restrictions in Dane County, the amply laid out WCO played to a just few dozen donors seated at tables on the Breese field. Intellasound, the Verona-based sound company and unsung heroes of the night, mixed excellent audio that broadcast to a biggish screen at the Warner Park Duck Pond Drive-In. Listeners on 89.9 WORT FM got the show too, after about a three-second delay.

Aiming for mass appeal, Maestro Andrew Sewell chose a full program of pops and made his gestures as broad as a drum major’s. The WCO sold branded masks for $10 and, at the Duck Pond, $6 glasses of Wollersheim Prairie Fume. The ball park was about two-thirds full, with 77 of a possible 115 cars. Some may have stayed away due to the muggy heat, which dissipated as the night went on.

David Blamires, a lead singer of Jeans ‘n’ Classics, frequently referred to those watching live on the WCO website as being in “internetland.” That’s where we all live these days, right?

“I’m on my computer for eight to 10 hours a day at work, so this is nice to go see something at least somewhat in person,” said Mike Wilson, who with his fiancée, Allison Boreen, had set up chairs in the back of a pick-up truck.

Wilson, from Sun Prairie, and Boreen, from Madison, postponed their September wedding to 2021. Boreen’s mask had cartoon dogs on it. Both prefer pops to orchestral waltzes and were happy to be out on a weeknight.

“I’m personally excited they’re doing stuff from the ’60s and on,” said Boreen. “When you can identify a song being played, that’s always nice.”

Blamires and co-lead singer Gavin Hope did their groovy best to rock, belt and Carlton a collective way out of this strange pandemic summer. They crooned. They growled. They climbed up into the falsetto of A-ha’s “Take On Me” and sank back into “Oh! Darling.” They’ll never do us no harm.

One bonus from a live-cast Concerts on the Square? Better perspective. A camera panned from a marimba player to a violinist sliding masterfully up the scale in “Where the Streets Have No Name.” It zoomed in on a Jeans ‘n’ Classics guitarist recreating a Paul McCartney solo note for note. We could watch the string bassists follow the bass guitar, while one of the best percussionists working in Wisconsin gamely shook a tambourine.

Maya Robinson and her friends have been coming to Concerts on the Square for more than a decade. They were particularly impressed at how these Jeans ‘n’ Classics guys who’ve been jamming since long before their birth came to it like it was new.

“They play the music like they just met it,” Robinson said. “The love affair is fresh. I think that’s amazing.”

Robinson came to the show in her friend Angie Williams’ CR-V, stocked with gentleman friends (Dan Rose and Brandon Dodge) and plenty of sleeping bags, pillows, blankets and popcorn. Dodge was excited for the musical line-up, and all were impressed with the musicians’ voices.

Like Wilson and Boreen, the group had been to the Duck Pond Drive-In once before. The former came for “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix,” the latter for a “Guardians of the Galaxy” movie. The Duck Pond understandably discourages carry-ins and offers beer and wine for sale, but in the spirit of Concerts on the Square, this appeared to be loosely enforced.

Teresa Brooks, the WCO board member on site at the Duck Pond, said the chamber orchestra’s goal is to show how nimble and dynamic it can be.

“Of course we wanted to play. Of course, during this time, we wanted the audience to be able to hear these musicians,” Brooks said. “To survive this, we have to shift. We were already ready to shift.”

And while attendance at the Duck Pond was lower than hoped, the audience present seemed into it.

“Nothing is the way it used to be,” said Robinson. “We all like to invest in the culture of the community, and the one thing that’s still consistent is the people we love are still there for us. So we’re finding new ways to spend time with each other.”

To read the article via The Capital Times, visit here.

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