Waterfest 33 is here!


After another long Wisconsin winter, ending in a freak blizzard with record heavy snowfall totals in mid-April, the time is ripe for some awesome musical entertainment at the Leach Amphitheater! The 33rd season of Waterfest begins on Thursday, June 21st and runs for 8 weeks. Music lovers are ready to ROCK ‘N’ ROLL!

Waterfest President Mike Dempsey recently offered some details about the 2018 version of this wildly popular outdoor event.

Jane Spietz: Hi Mike. The first concert of Waterfest 33 is upon us and the excitement is skyrocketing! I have heard so many music lovers say they can’t wait until this summer’s season starts. The most frequent question that comes up lately is how will the current construction activity in the area near the Leach Amphitheater affect concert goers’ ability to get to and from the venue?

Mike Dempsey: Hi Jane. 33 it is. A third of a century.

Construction is cleared. The City worked hard to finish those improvements in time for festival season. As always, there is plenty of on street parking that is free and within a few minute walk. Waterfest parking lot fees are modest and very convenient. Boat docking is free on the river walk in our park.

JS: It looks like another amazing lineup is in store for Waterfest fans. A number of fantastic first timers are headed this way. Talk about some of the great headlining acts that will appear this year.

MD: The variety is wide and rich. Country rock in the form of Blackberry Smoke, ‘80s Arena rock with Loverboy, Blues Rock with George Thorogood and The Destroyers-Rock Party Tour, Classic ‘70s & ‘80s with Michael McDonald and Boz Scaggs, Alternative Arena Rock with Manchester Orchestra and great singer- songwriter rock with Lukas Nelson Promise of The Real and Bob Schneider.
What is great about this diversity is it is all accessible fun summertime sets. Enjoy it!

JS: Waterfest is famous for its “nuggets.” Which “nuggets” do we need to be on the lookout for in 2018?

MD: Bob Schneider is appearing on June 28. Playing Wisconsin is a rare treat. This Austin fixture is bringing a full concert band and his set is designed to be recorded and available for sale immediately after his set.

Alex Ortega, July 12, is on loan from The Refuge and is coming in from New York. His musicianship is praised by peers and he is a known quantity throughout New York City.

Brett Newski, July 19, is a Wisconsin-based musician who tours internationally and has some of the most entertaining tunes and videos on the web. He plans on filming his set, so get up front and be famous.

Nick Schnebelen, August 2, is a Kansas City-based award winning blues rocker with searing guitar work and full throttle vocals.

Lao Tazer Quartet, August 12, is a world renowned contemporary jazz keyboardist from Los Angeles. Lao performs at all the major jazz festivals.

Davis Rogan, August 12, is a classic rollicking New Orleans Club keyboardist. His songs are laced with high and low brow humor and are full of upbeat, jaunty funhouse expression. Davis is the featured character in the HBO series Treme.

JJ Grey and Mofro, Aug 19, is actually the co-headliner making a rare Wisconsin appearance. Expect great swamp rock fueled by tight R&B and harp from the Florida-based major festival entertainer.

Thomas Wynn and The Believers, Aug 19.This outfit sports both a male and female lead vocalist and great R&B. The set will have ‘revival tent’ energy and highs. Cool.

The Producers, Aug 23. They were pretty hot stuff on MTV in the early-mid ‘80s with a string of power pop nuggets. The band is fully intact and in great form. The Atlanta-based band was America’s answer to The Police in some circles. A fun set to be sure.

Fans are encouraged to get online and do some homework! Meet a new favorite band!

JS: Which local acts will be appearing?

MD: It wouldn’t be Waterfest without Road Trip. The band brings its best at every show. We have them in pole position kicking off 33 on June 21. Copper Box is holding court August 2 and they know how to properly open the dance floor. The song stylings of The Pocket Kings come to enrich our lounge tendencies on August 23. Expect some silly and uninhibited forms of dancing.

JS: There are eight Waterfest shows on the schedule, all taking place on Thursday nights. Will there be any weeks without Waterfest concerts?

MD: We are off on both sides of Independence Day. Our volunteers have families to enjoy. We are also off during EAA week. The area treats it like a holiday as well and there is plenty going on to enjoy. We did not fill the final Thursday in August as it too bumps up to the Labor Day holiday. So concentrating our resources on 8 evenings makes for a stronger set of offerings. Know that our budget for artist fees was increased by 15% with the help of our sponsors.

JS: Let’s hear about this year’s pricing and admission policies.

MD: $10 before 7pm in June! Veterans are free anytime at all shows. Kids under 12 are admitted free with a responsible adult. Teachers are free on opening night.
General Admission Season Passes are $100. Reserved Area Access (VIP) is $150.
If you do the math, it brings Admission down to $17.75 for VIP and the price of a theater ticket for General Admission. You also can come and go at any time. Enjoy the Season Pass Fast Line, etc. Get one!

Please refer your readers to our website for more details regarding VIP, General Admission and other offers.

JS: Are there any updates about the Leach Amphitheater that Waterfest goers need to be aware of?

MD: She should be good to go!

JS: How about the tasty food and beverages that we can look forward to sampling?

MD: Craft beer is back. So is the wine bar. Macro Brews are ample, as are wine coolers. Soft drink selections are good and water is available. As for the menu, expect good quality picnic fare including brats, burgers, pulled pork, chicken and pizza!

JS: The Waterfest Facebook page currently has 8,322 friends and counting! What a great way for diehard concert goers and new Waterfest fans to connect and share ideas and feedback.

MD: Yes, and they can be “fanatic” at times. Which we encourage. The fans are the owners of Waterfest and that also includes our sponsors, volunteers and donors. All are our fans. We take comments, suggestions and concerns seriously. Our relevance and sustainable evolution are shaped by them. A number of our artist selections are fan recommended. I even caught holy hell from a friendly fan for opening an umbrella on the patio one night. Guilty too. “On the grass only!” Oops.

JS: Looking ahead, what are your thoughts on next year’s Waterfest?

MD: Next year is built upon the momentum we create this year. It is determined in part by how well we exceed fan, sponsor and volunteer expectations. We make our adjustments based upon those responses. We stay close to the attendance numbers and those comments.

The diversity of the lineup this season has risks. The considerable investment in the 8 evenings has risk. That is somewhat of a change.
We know anyone who chooses to come will enjoy themselves at what is arguably the best value in live music in one of the finest boutique venues anywhere. We really believe in achieving recognition as Wisconsin’s Best Concert Series. So we need to stay on our toes.

JS: Any last words of advice for Waterfest fans?

MD: Get a Season Pass. It is not only the best value, but it helps us cash flow the heavy deposit requirements of these ever more expensive artist fees. The Season Pass is also transferable. It will make you feel good!

Re-entry is permissible. Really. Nowhere else is that part of the offer. Come early, pay less, and get more. Also, always keep extra layers of clothing in the car in case you need them. You can fetch them anytime.

Umbrellas are ok on the grass only. Please look behind you before popping them open and step aside if you obstruct the view of someone less fortunate. Better yet, stash a few ponchos in your car. Be popular, share them.

Tip and be nice to your volunteer servers. They take a night off of their precious summer to make yours better.

Please patronize and thank our sponsors. They reduce the price of admission by $10-20 per attendee. That is worth saying thank you.

Be nice, have fun and rock on!

For more information, including the complete Waterfest schedule, go to http://waterfest.org/

Leach Amphitheater photo courtesy of Don Stolley.

Boz Scaggs photo courtesy of the artist.

Michael McDonald photo courtesy of the artist.


About Author

Jane Spietz

Jane is a resident of Oshkosh. She has been covering large scale music acts for over 10 years.

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