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Big Top Chautauqua

Bayfield’s best music and entertainment is built on the foundation of a century-old American tradition.

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, an outdoor camp meeting and adult education movement that originated in New York on the banks of Lake Chautauqua swept the country. Concert, culture and lecture series, known simply as “Chautauquas,” were set up in communities around the country, providing opportunities for locals to gather, learn and enjoy musical performances.

Though the Chautauqua tradition has waned in other parts of the country, it remains strong in Bayfield, where the Lake Superior Big Top Chautauqua brings more than 50 nights of summer entertainment to the community. These concerts, lectures, plays and variety shows take place under a large canvas tent that seats 900 people and is outfitted with modern sound and lighting.

Most nights, Big Top Chautauqua features music performed by the Blue Canvas Orchestra, the organization’s house ensemble that is made up of professional musicians from around the region. The group performs a mix of regional folk music, bluegrass and blues and has been a part of Big Top Chautauqua for more than 25 years.

In addition to these regular performances, numerous Big Top dates throughout the year feature performances by nationally known musicians. The 2014 bill included such luminaries as Bonnie Raitt, Willie Nelson, America, the Oak Ridge Boys and the Preservation Hall Jazz Band.

Brian Jewell

Brian Jewell is the executive editor of The Group Travel Leader. In more than a decade of travel journalism he has visited 48 states and 25 foreign countries.