Two queens, a boy wizard, and an old guy in red socks. Sort of sounds like an odd poker hand. But really it's just one way to describe a small part of the 2017 Foellinger Theatre Summer Concert/Movie Series.
A blend of perennial rocker favorites, nostalgia acts, tribute bands and popular films, the Foellinger series has itself become a perennial favorite, drawing tens of thousands of concert-goers each year from early May through late September. And why not? The theater, a beautiful wooden shell with great sound and excellent sight lines, undergoes continuous improvement each off-season in preparation for the busy on-season waiting in the wings.
Performers love it. Promoters love it. Fans love it. And in six short weeks, all that love will be reaffirmed.
The series kicks off with Chicago on Thursday, May 18, followed by Kansas the next night and ZZ Top on Tuesday, May 30. But that's just the beginning.
Two of the more highly anticipated shows this summer are undoubtedly the aforementioned queens. The first is Diana Ross, the Queen of Motown. And the second is Aretha Franklin, the Queen of Soul.
Landing both performers in the same year is a bit of a coup not only for Fort Wayne, but for promoter Peter Kernan of Pacific Coast Concerts as well.
Kernan said he has been working on getting both Ross and Franklin here for a few years. And this year the stars aligned, and in Franklin's case that alignment came none too soon.
"She doesn't tour that often," Kernan said of Franklin. "And she has already said this is probably going to be her last tour. For anyone who has not seen her, this could be their last chance."
The list of scheduled tour dates on Franklin's website ends on Saturday, August 12 with her performance at Foellinger. She does have an album coming out in September, but she has said she will not tour after its release, so it is likely that her Fort Wayne appearance could be if not her last, then close to it.
Now 75, Franklin is one of the top-selling performers of all time. She has won 18 Grammy Awards and has sold more than 75 million records. In 1987 she became the first woman inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. With hits such as "Respect," "(You Make Me Feel Like a) Natural Woman," "Think" and "I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You," she cemented her place in R&B, soul and pop music history before the end of the 1960s.
She performed at former President Barack Obama's 2009 inauguration and again at the White House in 2015. In Rolling Stone's list of the 100 greatest singers of all time, Aretha Franklin came in at No. 1.
Diana Ross didn't make that list. But not for lack of trying. Ross's work as the lead singer of the Supremes in the 1960s was enough to earn her the title of Queen of Motown. Her solo career, which she launched in 1970, saw her vie for queen of lots of stuff during the next 47 years. In addition to her stunning vocal talents, Ross had a not insubstantial acting career beginning with her Oscar-nominated turn as Billie Holiday in 1972's Lady Sings the Blues and ending with 1994's Golden Globe-nominated role in the television movie Out of Darkness.
Like Franklin, Ross has a list of hits that stretches beyond the horizon. As a Supreme and as a solo artist, Ross has sold more than 100 million records. With her Supremes bandmates Mary Wilson and Florence Ballard, Ross was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1988, a year after Franklin.
Ross performs at Foellinger on Sunday, July 16.
The Foellinger summer season is divided into three categories: there are the concerts promoted by Pacific Coast Concerts, concerts promoted by the Fort Wayne Parks Department and other local groups and a film series, also put on by the parks department.
In addition to Chicago, Kansas, ZZ Top, Aretha Franklin and Diana Ross, Pacific Coast Concerts is bringing Blue Oyster Cult w/special guest Mark Farner on Friday, July 7, The Beach Boys on Thursday, August 3, and The Happy Together Tour (Flo & Eddy of The Turtles; Chuck Negron, formerly of Three Dog Night; The Association; The Cowsills; The Box Tops; and The Archies' Ron Dante) on Wednesday, August 23.
Recently added was Garrison Keillor of A Prairie Home Companion fame.
Keillor (aka the man in the red socks) will bring his homespun humor to town on Tuesday, September 5.
Keillor spent 42 years as host of A Prairie Home Companion, the old-timey radio show on public radio that spun tales around the people of the fictional Lake Woebegone, where "all the women are strong, all the men are good looking and all the children are above average" and brought songs and sketches and good clean fun to millions of listeners each week. A prolific essayist, poet, columnist and songwriter, Keillor is a one-of-a-kind entertainer, a sort of modern-day Mark Twain.
The parks department side of the season is doing something special by presenting the Harry Potter movie series in its entirety. Mitch Sheppard, deputy director of community outreach with the Foellinger Theatre and the Foellinger-Freimann Botanical Conservatory, said the Harry Potter movies will showcase new projection equipment which will make showtimes more family-friendly.
"The Harry Potter series will be shown beginning at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, June 14," she said. "We have purchased a new projector that will allow us to begin the movies earlier than in the past. We don't have to wait until dark."
All eight of the Harry Potter movies will be shown free of charge.
In addition to the boy wizard films, the parks department side of the season is delving into new territory by bringing Christopher Cross and special guest Stephen Bishop to the theater on Saturday, June 10, and Barenaked Ladies on Sunday, July 23.
"Barenaked Ladies represents a little bit of a different demographic than the theater has been serving recently," Sheppard said.
In addition to those two shows, the rest of the lineup includes: Pink Droyd (sponsored by Science Central & WXKE) on Friday, June 16; former Journey frontman Steve Augeri on Saturday, June 17; The Spinners on Saturday, June 24; The Stranger featuring Mike Santoro (a Billy Joel tribute) on Saturday, July 1; The Lettermen on Saturday. July 8; Stayin' Alive (Bee Gees tribute) on Saturday, July 22; Hotel California: A Salute to the Eagles on Saturday, July 29; and BritBeat - 'A Multimedia Concert Journey Through Beatles Music History' on Saturday, August 19.
That's a jam-packed schedule, but Sheppard said there will be more to come. "We're still announcing acts," she said.
And Kernan is as well. The Foellinger Theatre has developed a solid reputation among performers. Bands talk to each other. They want to play places that look good and sound good and where they will have fun. Kernan said the main reason he was able to secure Ringo Starr for the concert series last year was because Ringo's manager called Steve Miller's manager.
"Steve gave the Foellinger a good report card," Kernan said. "He said the Foellinger looks good and sounds good and he had a good time. That was good enough for Ringo."