A big tent with big names at Big Top

Offerings include national and local favorites from Charlie Parr to Charlie Berens

This summer’s lineup at Bayfield’s Big Top Chautauqua features big names like Graham Nash and Lyle Lovett, as well as more eclectic fare such as Irish tunes nearly lost to history and a world-class ukulele player Jake Shimabukuro. Photo courtesy Big Top Chautauqua

Big Top Chautauqua in Bayfield is the region’s premier musical showcase, featuring national acts as well as local performers, often on stage at the same time.

One of those regulars is Molly Otis of Hayward, who hit the country music charts in the 1990s as Molly and the Heymakers. She now performs as Molly and the Danger Band and also with Big Top’s Blue Canvas Orchestra.

The event started last week and performances go through the end of September.

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Otis, along with Big Top’s marketing director, Seth Meierotto, joined WPR’s “Morning Edition” to talk about this summer’s lineup, including some more eclectic offerings.

The following interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

Robin Washington: You’ve got some big names this season but also local and more eclectic fare.

Seth Meierotto: The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band perform this coming Sunday as part of their farewell tour. Coming up, Lorrie Morgan is really big in the country community. We have Arrival from Sweden, one of the biggest ABBA Tribute bands in the world. Lyle Lovett and his band will be here. Ricky Skaggs, Graham Nash. And one that people may not know of is Jake Shimabukuro. He’s considered one of the best ukulele players in the world.

Molly Otis: You can’t believe the noise he makes from a ukulele. It’s amazing. 

SM: Then there’s the Blue Canvas Orchestra, our resident house band that Molly is a member of. One new show this year is Chief O’Neill and the Lost Tunes of Ireland. A police chief in Chicago was a music collector who collected all this music from Ireland back in the early 1900s. He basically ended up building the biggest collection of traditional Irish music that exists. 

MO: I just returned from a month in Ireland and would go into pubs and sit in on sessions. These are the tunes they play. It’ll be a mix of history and music, but we’re also going to take some of this traditional stuff and put a modern twist on it.

The summer season at Big Top Chautauqua in Bayfield began earlier this month and runs through September. Photo courtesy Big Top Chautauqua

RW: One of the local favorites is Michael Laughing Fox Charrette.

SM: Yes, he has two shows. Laughing Fox will be doing one called songs and stories of the Anishinaabe and then that same day later in the evening it’ll be Laughing Fox and Friends with the Blue Campus Orchestra.

Other local favorites are Corey Carlson and the Big City Band, Charlie Parr. And Mary Mack and Charlie Berens are Wisconsin comedians. So there are quite a few.

MO: One of my shows is Pickin’ on Rock. We take rock ‘n’ roll classics and we put that music to an eight-piece bluegrass band and we reinvent the songs. And we always add surprises.

RW:  What would you tell a first-time attendee?

SM: It’s live music under a big tent in the Northwoods, and you’re up on the top of the ski hill overlooking Lake Superior and Bayfield. There’s something about being there in the woods under this tent with the acoustics and the sound and the quality of the talent that is very unique and it’s very special and most people will come back to.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to clarify the day of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s performance.

If you have an idea about something in northern Wisconsin you think we should talk about on Morning Edition, send it to us at northern@wpr.org.