For six glorious evenings every summer, Madison locals slow down to sip, savor, and soak up some of the most beautiful live orchestral music you’ve ever heard. This is the magic known as Concerts on the Square, put on by the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra and going strong since 1983.
If you could experience a slice of summertime perfection, this is it. As hundreds of chairs dot the lawn of the Wisconsin State Capitol building, the wind and the music wafts through the trees and friends enjoy gourmet eats and glasses of wine as they breathe it all in.
There is definitely a “culture” when it comes to Concerts on the Square, and there are some things to keep in mind if you’d like to make the most of your experience.
What should I bring for seating?
To give your evening a picnic feel, simply lay down a blanket and enjoy. But be forewarned that all that time on the ground might get to your back (ouch). It can be even comfier to bring along chairs to sit in. They should be foldable chairs so you can pack them up easily and carry them back to your car. And they should be low—like, really low, if possible. Lawn chairs that sit higher up are frowned upon, as they obstruct other people’s view.
Another pro tip? Many people claim their spots on the lawn hours in advance, making it an afternoon-into-evening event. You’re permitted to do so after 3 p.m., and you can wander around downtown to take in the sites before sitting down for the concert.
Chairs on the lawn should all be very low to the ground. Chairs and tables should not poke into the ground.
Do I need a ticket?
Nope! This is a totally free event. But you can reserve a table for your company or group to get super close up to the stage.
Concerts on the Square Schedule
Should I bring food?
The definitive answer to that is a resounding yes. To truly do it up right, you’ll need a picnic basket (for that Instagram-perfect scene you’re creating) and a cooler. Cheese boards tend to be the food of choice—you can either bring all the accoutrement from home or shop across the street at local cheese shop Fromagination offering cheese, of course, and fresh-made sandwiches. Fruits and veggies are also a must.
People are also known to bring bottles of wine, along with dimly-lit faux candles, small, foldable tables, and plastic wine glasses to fully set the scene. Not in the mood to pack a spread? There will be about 20 food trucks on site with a variety of options available.
What’s the parking situation?
There are parking garages located around the Capitol Square including Capitol Square North Garage (218 E. Mifflin), Capitol Square South (214 N. Carroll) and the Dane County Parking Ramp (113 S. Henry).
If you’d rather get to the concerts on two wheels, there are several BCycle locations downtown and near the Square. You should plan ahead for the time it’ll take to park. Be sure to wear good walking shoes!
How should I decide where to sit?
Different areas of the Capitol Square lawn have their own little mini cultures, if you will. If you sit closer to the stage, you’ll be among those who are all about the music and want to be quiet: that means being cool with those extra-large speakers pumping out melodies while also keeping convos to a minimum.
The further away you sit, the more “relaxed” the atmosphere gets. You’re free to talk to your heart’s content, play card games, toss a Frisbee and play with your kids.
If it’s the view of the stage you’re after, be sure to claim a spot near the King Street corner of the Square.
Should I bring bug spray?
It’s summertime in Wisconsin, so that’s an automatic yes.
Are Concerts held when it’s raining?
That depends. If it’s a light rain, the show will go on. But if it’s a torrential downpour, or more importantly, the threat of lightning is near, the show will be postponed.
Shows begin at 7 p.m. and are free to the public. Want to learn more about what to find Downtown? We've got you covered.