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State spotlight: Wisconsin

Whether you’re soaking in the culture of the state’s large cities or enjoying the quiet beauty of its remote scenic areas, you’ll find plenty of ways to entertain your group during a tour of Wisconsin.

Live music, theater and other performing arts take place in venues large and small across the state. Groups can join the crowds to see nationally known acts play at large-scale festivals or see shows at intimate venues in Wisconsin’s smaller communities.

In Milwaukee, Summerfest brings 11 days of music and entertainment during June and July. Country music takes center stage in Oshkosh during Country USA, another music festival. In Door County, the Birch Creek Music Performance center hosts a summer music school by day and a summer concert series by night.

Eclectic Madison boasts the Majestic Theatre, a century-old venue with a vaudeville heritage and a modern lineup of first-class performing arts. And the Mabel Tainter Memorial Center for the Arts in Menomonie is a gorgeous historic theater that stands as a tribute to a young local girl who was a great lover of the arts.


Milwaukee Summerfest

Milwaukee prides itself on the series of large-scale festivals and events that take place downtown throughout the warm-weather months. Among the favorite events for locals is Summerfest, which organizers bill as the world’s largest music festival.

The festival takes place in the Henry Maier Festival Park on the shores of Lake Michigan and attracts some of the top entertainers in the country. The events go on for 11 days, with concerts taking place on 13 different stages in the park. This year’s headliners include nationally renowned acts Lady Gaga and the Zac Brown Band, but nearly 1,000 other artists will participate as well. Organizers expect nearly 900,000 attendees over the course of the festival.

In addition to the concerts, Summerfest includes comedy performances, interactive exhibits and demonstrations, and a wide variety of Wisconsin’s favorite food and beverages. The 2014 festival runs June 25-29 and July 1-6.


Country USA

Many music festivals throw country fans a bone with one or two country artists on the docket. But at Country USA in Oshkosh, country music is the star of the show and has been now for 19 years.

This summer festival features a five-day menu of some of the top entertainers in contemporary country music. Each day’s performance lineup highlights up-and-coming country stars and major touring acts. Headliners signed on for 2014 include Florida Georgia Line, Luke Bryan, Gary Allan and Carrie Underwood.

Many festivalgoers make a vacation of it and camp at the fairgrounds, but there are numerous other amenities available to guests who would rather not rough it. The event has special VIP and reserved seating available for groups, as well as a marketplace area and concessions. This year’s festival runs June 24-28.


Majestic Theatre

Madison is Wisconsin’s capital city and quintessential college town, and it enjoys an eclectic, progressive vibe unique among the state’s destinations. That spirit thrives at the century-old Majestic Theatre, one of Madison’s premier music and entertainment venues.

The Majestic started as a vaudeville house in 1906, making it one of the oldest theaters in the state. As vaudeville faded, all sorts of other types of performances graced its stage, from silent movies to magic shows by the likes of Harry Houdini. The venue fell out of use in the late 20th century but was revived in 2007 by a former touring musician and a former booking agent; their goal was to offer great entertainment to the people of Madison while also treating guest artists well.

Today, the Majestic is one of the city’s most popular live music venues, offering several shows a week with both local and national talent in a wide array of musical styles. Visitors can also find live stand-up comedy, themed dance parties and other entertainment throughout the year.


Mabel Tainter Center for the Arts

Even before you enter the Mabel Tainter theater in the small town of Menomonie, you can tell that you’re about to see something special. The stately Victorian exterior of the building, which looks more like a castle than a 19th-century theater, prepares guests for the grandeur of the architecture and the decor inside.

The lavish 269-seat “crown jewel” Victorian theater features luxurious touches, including intricate hand stenciling, hand-carved archways, leaded glass windows and a rare pipe organ. All of these special details were ordered in 1889 by Capt. Andrew Tainter, a local lumber baron, as a tribute to his daughter, Mabel, a lover of the performing arts who died at the age of 19.

Today, in addition to standing as a tribute to Mabel, the Tainter Performing Arts Center is a magnet for great music and entertainment in northwest Wisconsin. In addition to offering tours of the historic building, the company mounts its own productions of beloved shows and welcomes touring performances.


Birch Creek Music Performance Center

The rocky shorelines and quiet woods of Wisconsin’s Door County peninsula have long attracted artists and tourists. The two groups come into contact at Birch Creek Music Performance Center, a venue a few miles outside the town of Egg Harbor.

The center was founded in 1976 as a place for talented young teenage musicians to come for summer training. By day, the students learn and rehearse new sym phony, percussion, and big-band jazz music; each night, they give a concert to showcase the work they’ve done. Those nightly concerts give Door County visitors a wonderful way to enjoy an evening of entertainment and support the young musicians.

More than 30 concerts take place at Birch Creek between June and August. Performances take place in such rustic surroundings as the Dutton Concert Barn and the outdoor gazebo and at other scenic locations on the campus.

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.