At performances at Dodge Nature Center in West St. Paul, nature sometimes joins in.
When Capital City Brass Quintet played “Star and Stripes Forever” there, the crowd started clapping along and then “this deer begins cavorting across the field,” said Charles Watt, a member of the ensemble, describing the deer as “prominent and showy.”
Along with deer, people who attend the outdoor summer performance series often see turkeys, chipmunks, songbirds, geese and ducks, said Kim Bauer, the center’s marketing and volunteer coordinator. The wildlife is part of the ambience for the series, which started six years ago, and sets up most acts in an amphitheater overlooking meadows and wetlands.
People often picnic during shows, and even the performers enjoy the low-key concert setting.
“We do have an opportunity to kind of let our hair down,” Watt said.
Even though Capital City Brass moved their June performance indoors due to threat of rain, Watt said the setting felt casual enough to play an eclectic mix of music that included some Mozart, Van Morrison’s “Brown Eyed Girl” and “When the Saints Go Marching In.”
“We can play any jolly thing we want,” he said.
Dodge Nature Center doesn’t pay the performers, so shows have been operating on “strictly a ‘pass the hat’ compensation,” Bauer said.
Groups generally play outside at the amphitheater near the Marie Avenue entrance. The performance of an operetta, which typically draws larger crowds, takes place in the farm area of the nature center. In case of rain, shows move to the center’s farm education building.
Visitors can walk on trails through forest and prairie, and stroll along a boardwalk that leads across the pond and through a wetland area. Near the amphitheater, they can view the resident red-tailed hawk, barred owl and an eagle in the raptor mews. Because of permanent injuries, the birds can’t be returned to the wild.
The shows typically run from 7 to 8:30 p.m. Volunteers serve ice cream during the shows with proceeds supporting the center’s environmental education programming. For more information, go to www.dodgenaturecenter.org.
Here’s the lineup for the rest of the summer:
The Eddies on the River
The Eddies on the River will perform in July 17. The group is named after currents and swirls in the river that run counter to the main stream.
“We like that image,” Chuck Lentz, one of the members, said. “We were all rebels once.”
The group started out as a book club in 1994.
“We drank beer, talked about books and, usually by the end of the evening, sang a song or two,” said Lentz. “After several years of this, we decided that it would be more fun to get together to sing and drink beer on a more regular basis.”
At first, their music was a cappella.
“We sang a lot of sea shanties because they were relatively easy [and] had rousing choruses,” Lentz said. “They fit well with a bunch of guys blowing off steam and having a good time.”
They now also play guitar, mandola and accordion on select songs.
Their show at Dodge Nature Center will feature sea shanties, covers of John Prine’s country and folk music, and a “blue eyes” medley of songs by the Carter family, Willie Nelson and Johnny Cash.
People often sing along, and the event is family friendly for the most part, Lentz said, adding, “That doesn’t mean that the performance would pass muster at Disney World.”
The songs may include mild swear words, sad and forlorn emotions, and a bit about drinking life, he said.
“You can’t really do sea shanties, country and John Prine songs otherwise,” Lentz said.
On Aug. 20, the operetta group Mixed Precipitation will perform “Escape from Alcina’s Island: A Picnic Operetta,” a retelling of the 1735 Handel opera “Alcina.”
The nature center performance will serve as opening night for the show, which will then go on tour to other parks and gardens in Minnesota.
While Handel’s opera features knights, this operetta “made the heroes men of freight,” said artistic director Scotty Reynolds.
In the show, Alcina, a truck stop waitress and sorceress, lures truckers to a diner truck stop and turns them into animals. She’s challenged when Bradamante, another woman, arrives to free her lover.
The group first performed a version of the show in 2011 and updated it for this season.
“We’re taking more advantage of the eighteen-wheeler road movie concept,” said Reynolds.
The atmosphere is a “souped-up, fiery Nashville,” he said. The arias and choruses of Italian baroque opera are complimented with 1960s and 1970s country songs. They’ve worked more George Jones into this version, so songs like “The Race is On” and “We’re Gonna Hold On,” a duet with Tammy Wynette, join trucker songs like Red Simpson’s “Diesel Smoke, Dangerous Curves,” Reynolds said.
The show is staged as a “picnic operetta” with music and tasting menu foods to celebrate the summer harvest.
The tasting menu includes treats like tomato and cheddar melt sandwiches, a watermelon canapé with feta and mint, Alcini’s antipasti, pepper jerky, dill pickles on squash chips and watermelon cocktails.
Make reservations in advance at www.brownpapertickets.com/event/1691367. The suggested donation for the operetta is $10-$20.
Liz Rolfsmeier is a Twin Cities-based freelance writer. Her e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org.