‘Perfect description of Madison’: Concerts on the Square returns to Capitol after pandemic forced changes

MADISON, Wis. — For the first time since 2019, the sound of a full concert orchestra filled the Capitol grounds Wednesday evening.

The return to its namesake location drew thousands of people eager to take in the full experience as it existed prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. During the pandemic, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra performed virtually for one year before moving the event to Breese Stevens Field with a smaller crowd.

Orchestra leaders said audience members started showing up to place blankets on the grounds at 10 a.m. for the 7 p.m. concert.

“First off, a pro is going to get here before 3:00 even though that’s technically when you’re supposed to,” Kat Lasater, who has been attending the concerts for 30 years, said.

Others experienced the music for the first time. The Billinghurst family from Fitchburg arrived early to get a good spot for their kids, one of whom was born during the pandemic.

“(There’s a lot of) space here, a lot of kids, so that’s also kind of the perks of coming here and having it at the Capitol, just a lot of room so the kids can run around,” Paul Billinghurst said.

When the orchestra knew the show would return to the Capitol Square, Maestro Andrew Sewell “wanted to go big,” Joe Loehnis, the CEO of the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, said.

“Spectrum out of Las Vegas — the group that’s here tonight — we wanted to have them come in 2018, but we just couldn’t get the dates down,” he said.

WATCH BELOW: Joe Loehnis talks about early turnout for the event

Wednesday’s performance featured Motown inspirations and music from Smokey Robinson, The Jackson 5 and The Temptations, among others, Sewell said.

New this year are large video screens on the East Washington Avenue and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard sides of the Capitol so concertgoers can see the orchestra from anywhere, he added.

WATCH BELOW: Maestro Andrew Sewell talks about the event’s return and Wednesday’s music lineup

Visitors consumed more than just fine music; vendors offered a little bit of everything to round out the experience.

Ultimately, concertgoers and performers alike were glad to have the show back in the heart of the city.

“This is a perfect description of Madison: people being friendly, sitting around having a great big picnic together and just enjoying the beautiful Capitol,” Lasater said.

Asked what he hoped people could take away from the event, Sewell said it’s “the sense of community and that music brings us all together.”

“It’s unspoken, it’s vibrations and it touches us in the soul where words don’t always, and no matter what sort of a day you’ve had, you can hear a song and it can trigger a very nice thought and emotion, and it can just calm you down as well as excite you,” he said.

WATCH BELOW: Joe Loehnis joins Live at Four to talk about Concerts on the Square’s return to the Capitol Square

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