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Warren Gerds/Critic at Large: Usetabe the Packers ruled Green Bay stages

But more and more performances run opposite games these days.

PHOTO: Mannheim Steamroller, pictured in a previous concert, drew a big crowd Dec. 15 opposite a Green Bay Packers game.

GREEN BAY, Wis., (WFRV) – For some people, many things usetabe – Used to be.

“Usetabe I’d walk to school three miles to school and back in all kinds of weather.”

“Usetabe we could catch fish here without even having to bait our hook.”

“Usetabe it snowed more… usetabe colder… usetabe hotter… usetabe gas was 33 cents a gallon… usetabe the Packers didn’t win much… usetabe the Packers didn’t lose much…”

Speaking of the Packers, it usetabe the town shut down around Packers games.

Usetabe a no-no to do much when the Packers played.

Green Bay area performance groups and show promoters would quake at the thought of putting on a performance opposite a Packers game. That was particularly true when the games were at home.

The national TV folks would have camera shots of a Green Bay street, and not much traffic could be seen.

Usetabe.

We don’t see such shots much anymore. There is traffic. The area has grown, and interests are more diverse. That’s not to say interest in the Packers has slacked off by any means. It’s just that there are more people, and some of them like other things. Some people take advantage of Packers games to go shopping when the game is on because they know stores won’t be crowded.

In recent years, Evergreen Theatre, Green Bay Community Theatre and St. Norbert College Theatre have put on Sunday matinee performances opposite Packers games. Some theatergoers don’t like to drive at night. Some people have busy night schedules. Some people like theater when they can get it. Also, the arts-inclined people are less crazed about the Packers. And, yes, some grumble about the dominance of the team on the Green Bay life style – not that the grumbling does any good.

In recent weeks, two concerts at 2,021-seat Green Bay’s Cofrin Family Hall of the Weidner Center for the Performing Arts impressed me. They achieved something once unheard of – attracting large audiences at the same time a Green Bay Packers game was being played, one of which was in town.

Country music’s Oak Ridge Boys had two shows booked Dec. 22 as part of the Weidner subscription season. It was known all along that one would fall in the afternoon of a Packers game. That performance attracted somewhere around 75 percent capacity. Top ticket: $47. A lot more than pocket change.

More impressive was a Mannheim Steamroller concert the weekend prior, Dec. 15. After the announced evening show sold out, a second show was added in the afternoon – smack up against a Packers game. Top ticket: $79, with $100 VIP package. Serious money. The add-on concert played to approximately 90 percent capacity.

That the Oak Ridge Boys and Mannheim Steamroller were able to attract substantial audiences says something about their drawing power. The Oak Ridge Boys have been together for 40 years. The Mannheim Steamroller brand has produced Christmas tours for 28 years. Even so, they operated in territory few show folks dared venture into in the past.

Both groups were well aware of a Packers presence. The leader of the Mannheim Steamroller contingent mentioned Chicago – and he was talking about the team not the city – to get an audience reaction. Joe Bonsall of the Oak Ridge Boys teased the audience about the halftime score, without saying what it was other than “close.” One of the stage reindeer wore a cheesehead. A prop Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer wore a Packers hat.

In the distant past, I recall attending a country music show opposite a Packers game. Mostly, the Packers have owned Sunday afternoon. Mostly, they will continue to do so – Mannheim Steamroller and the Oak Ridge Boys aside – and usetabe will still be usetabe.

You may email me at warren.gerds@wearegreenbay.com. Watch for my on-air features on WFRV at 6:45 p.m. Thursdays and every other Sunday between 6 and 8 a.m. (usually around 7:45 a.m.)

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