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West Central Concert Series faces financial jeopardy as ticket sales wane

For nearly six decades the West Central Concert Series has brought high-quality professional entertainment to the stage of the Willmar Education and Arts Center. With waning tickets sales of seasonal memberships and stiff competition for entertainment dollars, the board of directors hopes the 2021-22 season isn't the last.

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Gary Lagerstedt, president of the board of directors for the West Central Concert Series, poses for a photo at the Willmar Education and Arts Center theater June 21, 2021, in Willmar. Erica Dischino / West Central Tribne

WILLMAR — This year marks the 56th season that professional musicians, magicians and other entertainers from around the world will take the stage at the Willmar Education and Arts Center as part of the West Central Concert Series.

Organizers hope it’s not the last.

Sales of the annual season tickets — $60 for adults and $10 for K-12 students — have been slowly declining over the years, as have sponsorships from area businesses and individuals.

Canceling the season last year because of the COVID-19 pandemic didn’t help either.

There’s a “lot of competition” for people’s entertainment dollars, said Gary Lagerstedt, president of the board of directors for the concert series. “We can’t fill the seats like we hoped we would.”

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The WEAC auditorium holds about 750 people.

In the early years of the concert series there used to be a waiting list of people seeking tickets for the popular shows, said Lagerstedt.

Currently there are about 250 individual season memberships sold.

At $60 for each adult membership — which amounts to $15 for each of the four shows typically held in a year — the concert series isn’t breaking even, said Lagerstedt.

Plans are currently in place for the 2021-22 season, with shows scheduled for October and November of 2021 and March and May of 2022.

A bonus performance this September by an R&B/soul/pop a cappella group called “Ball in the House” is a carry-over from the spring 2020 series that was canceled because of the pandemic.

The board agreed to use its remaining savings to fund the upcoming season, with a push also being made to revive season tickets sales and sponsorships in hopes of keeping the series alive.

Lagerstedt said, without a big financial boost, future series could be in serious jeopardy.

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The thought of not having high-caliber, world-class entertainers performing in Willmar is not something Lagerstedt wants to envision.

“It would be another little piece of fabric in our lives that gets torn or gets lost,” said Lagerstedt.

Music lovers

Harold and Mary Jo Larson, of Willmar, have held season tickets to the West Central Concert Series since it first began nearly six decades ago.

At the same time, they also had season tickets to the Minnesota Orchestra and made regular day-long trips to the Twin Cities to hear concerts.

They like being able to make a short drive across town to see professional performers in Willmar.

It’s good to have “such good entertainment so close to home,” said Mary Jo Larson. “We have been faithful goers of it since it started.”

The West Central Concert Series is a “great asset to Willmar,” said Harold Larson, who had served on the board of directors in the past.

Mary Jo, who is 87, and Harold, who is 90, both use walkers but “we both manage to get there,” said Mary Jo Larson. “We get our tickets right away and it’s been a good experience.”

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The both intend to be at every show in the upcoming season and hope the series is able to continue well into the future.

Harold said he doesn’t understand why people don’t give the concert series a try and open themselves up to new entertainment experiences.

“You need a little something beyond the usual to spark up a person’s life,” he said. Not having the concert series continue in Willmar would be a “great loss.”

Series future

The local board of directors for the concert series works with Allied Concert Services of Plymouth to select the lineup of performers for each season.

The board typically meets in November with a company representative to review short clips of potential performers from a wide entertainment perspective, such as classical, Broadway and popular music and specialty acts that aren’t musical.

The upcoming shows include:

Sept. 26, 3 p.m. Ball in the House

Oct. 23, 7:30 p.m., Veritas

Nov. 14, 3 p.m. Vieness Duo

March 10, 7:30 p.m. Kassia Ensemble

May 9, 7:30 p.m. Josh Young & Emily Padget

Besides purchasing season tickets, there are sustaining memberships available for the series.

Gold level is $325, which includes four season memberships and recognition in the program.

Silver Level is $250, which includes three season memberships and recognition in the program.

Bronze level is $175, which includes two season memberships and recognition in the program.

For a $500 donation, a sponsoring business or individual receives four season memberships, a half-page ad in the program and mention from the stage, said Lagerstedt.

Tickets are also available at the door for each performance, $20 for adults and $5 for students.

For more information and to purchase tickets or sponsorships, watch for the ad and order form in the West Central Tribune, email WCConcertS@gmail.com or call 320-894-4126.

The 2021-2022 performance lineup includes:

Ball in the House

Ball in the House is an a cappella group that has been performing R&B, soul and pop music for over 18 years with classics like "My Girl," "Stayin' Alive" and "Signed Sealed Delivered." Show: Sept. 26, 3 p.m.

Veritas

Veritas is described as a powerful crossover male vocal quintet that bridges the gap between classical precision and popular culture with music from Broadway to sacred, pop to classical and opera to rock n’ roll. Show: Oct. 23, 7:30 p.m.

Vieness Duo

Vieness Duo, is a piano duo based in Los Angeles comprised of Eva Schaumkell and Vijay Venkatesh who perform classical selections on one piano in a performance billed as a “very stylish program which is fun to watch as well as listen to.” Show: Nov. 14, 3 p.m.

Kassia Ensemble

Kassia Ensemble, featuring Mary Elizabeth Bowden on trumpet and four string players, including two violins, viola and cello, will play classical favorites. Show: March 10, 7:30 p.m.

Josh Young & Emily Padget

Josh Young & Emily Padget, two young Broadway stars, will perform Broadway music. Show: May 9, 7:30 p.m.

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Gary Lagerstedt, president of the board of directors for the West Central Concert Series, sits in the seats of the Willmar Education and Arts Center theater June 21, 2021, in Willmar. Erica Dischino / West Central Tribne

Carolyn Lange is a features writer at the West Central Tribune. She can be reached at clange@wctrib.com or 320-894-9750
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