Future uncertainty regarding COVID-19 prompts Big Top Board to cancel 2020 Summer Season
May 4, 2020 — WASHBURN, WI With what would be Lake Superior Big Top Chautauqua's 34th year of operating as a nonprofit performing arts organization, the decision was made last week to cancel all traditional programs at the tent for the 2020 season. The evolving health crisis and the uncertainty surrounding the safety of large gatherings, led to the board's very difficult decision. "We are deeply saddened to have to cancel the Big Top summer season but due to the seriousness of the COVID-19 pandemic and variability of what to expect this summer, we felt it was the ethical and right thing to do” said Kim Ogle, President of the Big Top Board of Directors and a physician at Essentia Health, Ashland Clinic.
After weighing countless scenarios, the Board unanimously felt that this was the only viable and responsible path forward in the wake of this pandemic and the uncertainty that it creates. "We are heartbroken to have to make this decision. Our musicians and crew rely on income from our summer shows and the greater Ashland/Bayfield area relies on the economic impact of our events. Our patrons rely on us to find inspiration, entertainment and fellowship. We are painfully aware of the ripples that will proceed from not being able to produce our season” said Terry Matier, Big Top’s Executive Director. Matier says that the entire live events industry has been gravely impacted by the pandemic, with many touring artists cancelling their summer tours.
But even with no concerts under the tent, Big Top’s Blue Canvas Orchestra musicians will continue to create new material for 2021 as well as produce a new online program, Tiny Tent Show, which can be found on Facebook and YouTube. Fans gather on Friday evenings at 7PM to be together until the tent can open its flaps to the public again. And as always, one can relive summer nights under the Big Top via Tent Show Radio, broadcast on WPR and other stations.
All ticket holders will receive an email in the coming week which states the option to make a tax-deductible contribution to the nonprofit performing arts organization, apply their money toward future Big Top Chautauqua shows, or receive a refund. Information regarding this process can be found at www.bigtop.org.
"We are beyond grateful to our generous donors, dedicated volunteers and long-time patrons. Their support is deeply appreciated during this challenging time. As our stage may sit empty through the summer, we recognize even more now the value and power of experiencing music together. We are calling this a ‘Long Intermission’ until we can gather again. We look forward to welcoming everyone back to Bayfield under the Big Blue Tent," said Kate Barido, Advancement Director.
Lake Superior Big Top Chautauqua provides entertaining and educational cultural activities with an emphasis on performances that celebrate history and the environment. For more information about Lake Superior Big Top Chautauqua, a nonprofit performing arts organization since 1986, visit www.bigtop.org or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Michelle Jensen email@example.com Ashland Daily Press, 4/6/2020
Musician T. Bruce Bowers and his wife, Hope McLeod, embrace at Big Top Chautauqua in July 2016 at a benefit held in his honor after he endured six months of chemotherapy. Over the past four years Bowers continued to perform but lost his battle to prostate cancer in March. Photo Contributed by Hope McLeod
“Great Wizard Fiddler” T. Bruce Bowers has taken his final bow on the Big Top stage after succumbing to cancer in March, and during his 69 years, his passion for his craft inspired fellow musicians, entertained audiences and helped elevate Bayfield’s iconic tent show to the pinnacles of the country’s music scene.
A founding member of Big Top’s house band, Blue Canvas Orchestra, Bowers followed a circuitous route from his native Texas to the Bayfield Peninsula. At each stop along the way he demonstrated unflagging devotion to music while performing on stage and working off stage as a sound technician, composer, arranger and bandleader.
Along his journey, Bowers met his singer/songwriter wife, Hope McLeod, in the San Francisco Bay area as she recorded her first solo CD. It was the beginning of the digital recording age, and with a past as an electronics engineer and designer of digital equipment, he became her producer.
“He was right on the cutting edge,” McLeod said.
Love blossomed between the two, and they moved to Washburn as Bowers had been on the ground level in musical productions that led to the founding of the Big Top and its Blue Canvas Orchestra, the heart of the organization.
As he took on multiple roles at the Big Top — from fiddler to bandleader to sound engineer — Bowers’ intensity and passion drew out the best in the performers surrounding him and helped make the tent show a must-visit destination for music lovers.
“Working with Bruce was a joy for a number of reasons,” guitarist Ric Gilman said. “It was also a struggle for a number of reasons.”
Bowers’ self-assurance and reliability as a rock-solid performer was like having a safety net, said Gilman, who performed with him as part of the duo Barefoot Wonder. Whenever they played together, Gilman knew they’d put on a good show.
“He had that kind of confidence and prowess,” Gilman said.
But Bowers also demanded much of himself and the musicians he worked with. Although Bowers didn’t expect perfection, Gilman said, he expected hard work.
Big Top cellist, composer and arranger, and current co-bandleader Ed Willett echoed Gilman’s assessment.
He said Bowers’ incredible passion and intensity inspired other musicians to step up their game and Willett learned a lot from him as they worked side-by-side in the string section for decades.
“I admired the purity of his commitment to music,” Willett said. “It didn’t matter if he played for three or 3,000, he gave his all every time.”
Big Top Executive Director Terry Matier said Bowers, who played many instruments but was best known for the fiddle and violin, not only played energetic, powerful and exciting music, his personality brightened the stage as well.
“He brought a lot of spice to the stage,” Matier said. “His charisma really connected with a lot of people in the audience.”
Bowers also took the show on the road during Big Top’s off season, and it was during one of his gigs with Gilman in Iowa that his travels took on a grim note: He was diagnosed with stage 4 advanced prostate cancer. Facing an expected average life expectancy of nine months, Bowers began a grueling six-month chemotherapy regime beginning in February 2016. In the end Bowers emerged in remission and he, his wife and daughter, community and bands from all over the country came to celebrate with a huge benefit at the Big Top.
“It was all that love, all that music,” McLeod said.
Afterward Bowers worked as hard as ever and toured all over the country and Cuba, where his daughter, Yazmin Bowers, had been attending the Instituto Superior de Arte for dance and music until returning to Washburn upon his diagnosis.
Yazmin Bowers, who has followed in her father’s footsteps as a professional musician, recalls playing with his broken instruments from a young age and made her Big Top debut at the age of 3.
“I grew up at the Big Top,” she said.
But Bowers’ reprieve began to end in August when his kidneys failed and doctors informed him his cancer was back in full force.
McLeod watched with grief as the once powerful musician nicknamed the Great Wizard Fiddler and who had played with so many bands and ensembles declined in health until he and his music died March 19.
Memorials can be sent to the Bowers/McLeod family or Lake Superior Big Top Chautauqua.
For the family, make checks out to Hope McLeod and mail to Bremer Bank, P.O. Box 278, Washburn, WI 54891.
For Big Top, make checks out to LSBTC and mail to Lake Superior Big Top Chautauqua, Attn: T. Bruce Bowers Memorial, P.O. Box 455, Washburn, WI 54891.
Canvas Orchestra offers a great Yule show
The Blue Canvas Orchestra drew a true crowd to the Volm Theater Sunday afternoon for an unusual, and tremendous Christmas concert.
“It was great to see a full house for the concert,” Nick Salm, who spearheaded the project, explained after the theater had cleared.
Salm explained that he and his wife Jeanette drew “positive comments from everyone attending this really special Christmas concert.” He added that some in the crowd asked if Blue Canvas can return for a 2019 show and expressed willingness to be sponsors if there is a decision to do it again.
Those familiar with the orchestra and the Big Top Chautauqua knew well that it wasn't going to be a traditional Christmas concert.
The performers reflected the well-known talent that exists among the orchestra members and the free-wheeling spirit of the Big Top Chautauqua at Washburn/Bayfield, where some of the Upper Midwest's finest music is performed every summer season under a big blue and white canvas tent.
In fact, some of that spirit was on display with Bruce Bowers, a violin artist, who was shoeless during the performance.
The were standouts across the stage, including Randy Sabien, who performed with the violin, mandolin and keyboard in addition to doing vocals. He came to the show wearing his traditional red smoking jacket.
Salm said that Music in the Park and Antigo Music Association will benefit because the concert was so well attended, suggesting that it was a win-win setup for the hundreds of people who filled the seats and organizations that will benefit from it.
The program closed with “Silent Night,” done in a little different style, but beautifully.
The crowd sang with the closing song and with the voices of a full house joining, it was moving, and a signal that this will be an excellent Christmas season.