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What Parking?

April 18, 2010

Mae West was once quoted as saying, “Too much of a good thing can be wonderful.” Clearly, she wasn’t talking about April Saturday evenings in Madison, Wis., at least not when parking is involved.

This originally was going to be a review of the Madison Symphony Orchestra’s last concert of the season. It was an all-Russian program, with music by Rimsky-Korsakov, Mussorgsky and Rachmaninoff as performed by some very special guest stars. It also was to be the last program in which concertmaster Tyrone Grieve would be participating prior to his retirement. Having enjoyed Mr. Grieve’s work for the last 15 years, we were eager to give him his final and much-deserved round of applause.

We were looking forward to the night; however, we didn’t anticipate the parking nightmare that downtown Madison would quickly become. And since we couldn’t find a parking space, we wound up heading home without seeing the performance.

MSO wasn’t the only show in town. It had been a lovely Saturday which had hosted the first Dane County Farmer’s Market of the season and the annual UW spring football game (free and fun for the whole family.) While these events were over by evening, chances are some of their participants lingered, adding the considerable foot traffic on the streets.

In addition to MSO, Saturday was also the last night of the three-night UW Varsity Band Concert run, which almost always sells out the Kohl Center. And it was the shank of the Wisconsin Film Festival, guaranteed to pack multiple venues, including the Orpheum, adjacent to Overture Center. In truth, the 2,000 or so concertgoers may have been in the minority that evening.

We circled the usual blocks three times, as if a space would magically appear. By 7:30 – a full half-hour before curtain – the public ramps on either side of Overture had the “Full” lights lit, with lines of idling cars waiting at the entryways. Circling the square, I was cut off by a young woman whose passenger, a young man in a bowtie, may well have been one of the musicians also desperately seeking parking. At least a collision would have solved our parking challenges for the night.

In the end, we went home, frustrated and angry at the ensuing motorized chaos. Could we have looked a little harder and walked a little farther? Perhaps, but after a half hour of fruitless search, we’d lost our enthusiasm for the evening. I am sure we weren’t the only ones.

I have no recommendations as to what can be done, only regrets that we hadn’t made the performance. It was the first time in more than 15 years of covering the arts that we bailed out, but I fear it won’t be the last time.

After all, Concerts on the Square season is just around the corner.

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