If you build it … they will find that it’s the perfect venue for outdoor entertainment all summer long.
That seems to be the case at The Edgewater hotel in Madison, where the outdoor Plaza on Lake Mendota is becoming a place to be for live music and more. The hotel’s calendar is chock-full of events on the Plaza throughout July and August, including a Fourth of July celebration on Saturday. Admission to everything is free.
All of the activity is just what was envisioned for The Edgewater when it was undergoing its recent $100 million renovation spearheaded by developer Bob Dunn, said Jessica Arendas, the hotel’s marketing and public relations manager.
“Bob Dunn has a vision for the Plaza and the property overall to be somewhere for people to go to to see live music,” Arendas said. “It seems to be catching on.”
The summer schedule is heavy on live music, with not one but three regular live music series — Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights.
There’s also an outdoor movie series every Tuesday and once-a-month Festivals on the Plaza, including a Fourth of July celebration this weekend.
It’s worth noting that there was a Fourth of July festival at The Edgewater last year too, Arendas said, but that was just a glimmer of things to come.
“Last year was different because the pier wasn’t quite in place,” she said. “We were not operating at full-tilt.”
The public pier is now fully open, with spots for 40 boats, and the dust has settled from all of the construction at the property that dates to 1948. That makes outdoors at The Edgewater a good place to be.
“This year, obviously things are moving and shaking,” Arendas said. “We are open and rolling.”
While the venue is still working out a few details for presenting live music, this year has been largely about showing what’s possible at the venue, Arendas said.
“It’s a little bit of ‘if you build it, they will come.’ For next year, once we demonstrate the value and that people are showing up, we’d love to have more of a permanent band structure and a regular setup,” she said. “The investment this year had been in the bands and getting them here.”
Given the lineup, getting bands on board doesn’t seem to have been too much of a problem for The Edgewater. The various live music series already have included Mark Croft, the Red Hot Horn Dawgs and Primitive Culture, and even the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra got into the act with a performance during The Edgewater’s summer solstice event on June 18.
The list of upcoming performers includes prominent local names such as Natty Nation, the Kissers, the Gomers, Wheelhouse, Ryan McGrath Band, the Beat Chefs, Pat McCurdy, Lucas Cates and more.
Arendas credits The Edgewater’s special events staff, including director Melanie Gautreau and coordinator Olivia Ougheltree, for the success in scheduling this summer.
“They’ve been working very hard on this for months, booking all the acts and just getting everyone lined up,” Arendas said, adding that bands have been very receptive to the idea of playing at the Plaza.
“We really try to keep it as ‘local favorite’ as possible,” she said. “The response from the bands has been great. They’re wanting to play here.”
Given the location on Lake Mendota, comparisons to UW-Madison’s nearby Memorial Union Terrace are inevitable. But The Edgewater looks at it not so much as competition but addition, Arendas said.
“It adds to it,” she said of the local entertainment scene. “That’s kind of the vision for here as well, making it another place that Madison can go for live music.”
The Tuesday night movie series is another free offering that is quickly catching on, Arendas said. When “Finding Nemo” was shown in mid-June, “it was packed, and that was even on our rain date. It was just our second week of it.”
She said organizers are already hearing buzz about an upcoming movie, “Best in Show,” to be screened on July 19. The Edgewater is partnering with the Dane County Humane Society that night to donate part of the proceeds from beverage sales.
“People have been asking over the last month can they bring their dogs?” she said. “They definitely can.”
As for attendance, about 3,000 to 5,000 people were at last year’s Fourth of July festival at any given time, Arendas said, and as many or more are expected for this year’s event on Saturday. Some of the more popular upcoming performers also will be big draws.
“We have a garage on site and plenty of garages around, and there is on-street parking,” she said of accommodating the crowds. A water taxi that ran last year is out of service this year, but on certain Tuesdays, the hotel joins with Skipper Buds of Madison to offer free boat rides.
Food and beverages can be purchased on site from The Edgewater’s Boathouse restaurant or its Icehouse concession stand during performances, and there is free popcorn for movie nights. The Brewgrass Fridays music series offers a classic fish fry for sale and beers from Door County Brewing Co.
And with every event, enjoying the lakeside setting of The Edgewater is free, Arendas said: “It can’t be beat.”