A popular camping and tubing park along the Apple River near Somerset, Wis., plans to host large outdoor concerts in the coming weeks that could generate a lot of noise over COVID-19 safety concerns.
River’s Edge Apple River Campground in Star Prairie intends to host up to 2,500 people per show at its newly rebuilt amphitheater. Organizers said masks and social-distancing areas will be “offered but not required” — as is permissible under Wisconsin’s comparably loose coronavirus guidelines.
Happening just 13 miles across the Minnesota border from Stillwater, the concerts will run Labor Day weekend through at least the end of September and will include two of the hard-rock bands that performed this past week at the Sturgis biker rally in South Dakota: Buckcherry and Twin Cities-based tribute group Hairball.
Camping will also be offered adjacent to the amphitheater, which has a capacity of more than 25,000 people.
“It’s time to get the concert business up and running again and bring back some semblance of normalcy,” said Scott Gates, events director at River’s Edge.
Soul Asylum, the Chris Hawkey Band, Hinder, Yam Haus and Johnny Holm also are set to perform. Gates said some of the bands had safety concerns that are being addressed but are otherwise “eager to get back out and play.”
River’s Edge was recently bought and refurbished by Steve Kaufman, who also owns and has hosted large events in recent weeks at the Cedar Lake Speedway in nearby New Richmond, Wis.
This summer, River’s Edge has hosted drive-in events with “vehicle separation,” such as the Somerset High School graduation and pre-filmed concerts with Garth Brooks and Blake Shelton. (Another one is showing Aug. 29 with Metallica, which played to 30,000 fans at River’s Edge in 1994.)
For these September concerts, the bands will perform in person on the venue’s newly rebuilt stage, and fans will not be asked to stay at their vehicles. Painted parking spaces will instead be used to mark distancing areas for fans to set up lawn chairs.
A large video screen will allow attendees to view from afar and “sit 50 feet away from the next person if they want,” the venue’s new owner said. However, those who wish to congregate nearer the stage “won’t be tied down,” he added.
“I’m concerned about [the virus] and all the risks,” Kaufman said, “but I’m also concerned about people not having any fun in their lives.”
Local officials said there is likely no legal means to stop the concerts. Thanks to a 1980s-era lawsuit settlement with the campground’s prior owners, River’s Edge has permits with St. Croix County to host 10 concerts a year.
Rita Keating, president of the village of Star Prairie, said “this will be really disturbing to the citizens that live” near the concert site, including relatives of hers.
“I do not support them at all,” she said. “The concerns are many with this pandemic.”
St. Croix County public health officer Kelli Engen said her department has “too much else to focus on and too little resources” to get heavily involved with these concerts.
“We’re dealing with contingency plans for our schools and other possible outbreak scenarios, and this certainly adds to our concerns,” she said. The best she can do for now, she said, is to “plead with everyone to wear masks and remain cautious.”
Fresh off a two-night stand at the Iron Horse Saloon in Sturgis, the band and crew members of Hairball are remaining careful but optimistic as they face big crowds for the first time in six months, said manager Mike Findling, who did not want the group to “get stuck in the debate” over COVID-era concerts.
“We’re just trying to get out and make a living again,” Findling said.
Chris Riemenschneider • 612-673-4658 Twitter: @ChrisRstrib