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Shipshewana on the national stage with big-name concerts


It has been building for over a decade to this point.

What started as a small theater in a little barn across from the first Blue Gate Restaurant is now an attraction that is drawing in some very big names to Shipshewana.

While the Blue Gate Theater has always brought in top-notch entertainers, this year the theater has upped the level of performers with several nationally and internationally known acts, beginning this Friday with 14-time Grammy Award winner Ricky Skaggs, followed Saturday by the band Sawyer Brown.

The concerts, being held at the Shipshewana Town Center, will see crowds of 1,200 fans each night. In September, the Blue Gate will play host to four big acts in a row, starting with contemporary Christian music star Amy Grant, followed by Guy Penrod, Ray Stevens, and Diamond Rio.

“Over the last couple of years, we’ve been reaching out to a broader audience,” noted Ryan Riegsecker from the Blue Gate. What started off as a comfortable niche with gospel and bluegrass has expanded to include contemporary Christian, country artists, musicals and comedians, Riegsecker said. Gospel and bluegrass remain a core part of the theater’s offerings, though, he added.

Bringing in the big names has taken time as the theater has worked hard to build up its reputation with performers. The word gets around from agent to agent, Riegsecker said, which makes it easier to make the calls to bring in the bigger acts.

Then there is the actual process of bringing in performers with 1,200 fans. On one hand, selling tickets for shows that have great name recognition is easier in the long run, Riegsecker said. The tricky part is hosting such a large show in town.

“We group the concerts together,” Riegsecker said. That way, they can split the costs of setting up at the town center between concerts. There is the staging, lights, sound, generator, setup, personnel, and more, totaling nearly $45,000 in infrastructure, most of which comes from the surrounding area.

Riegsecker noted that having concerts of this size in Shipshewana has benefitted the area, as many fans spend the night after the concert, or arrive early to eat and shop. “What we have here is perfect,” he said.

The performers, too, have found the area to their liking. It’s not unusual for the performers to get a tour of the area and to tell their hosts that it reminds them of home. For many, their tours take them to mainly large cities and venues. “They’re not used to the small community. They are all humble folks and all have said they have to come back sometime,” Riegsecker stated.

Future plans include continuing to bring in the large acts and to perhaps host a week-long music festival, with multiple stages and dozens of performers.

For now, this week is going to be pretty packed as they prepare for the first big pair of concerts of the year at the Town Center.