Imagine if there were high quality concerts here in Valparaiso. Imagine if you didn't have to travel to Chicago to have a great night out. Imagine if you didn't have to burn a hole in your pocket to do those things. Well, you don't have to imagine those things at all. The Imagine Music concert series at the Memorial Opera House brings excellent acts to Valparaiso in order for you to have a great concert experience that is available right here in our backyard.
Rob Harkel and Brad Koeppen got the idea for the Imagine Music Productions concert series rolling six years ago. Due to their love of music and live entertainment they decided that it was time to bring live acts here - instead to traveling miles to another venue.
"The idea just happened of come up at a party of Rob's in the spring of 2008," Koeppen stated. "He brought up that he'd be interested in hosting concerts here in Valparaiso and of course I said I'd help him out because we both love music, and we're both tired of traveling to Chicago to see live music. We both also love this old Opera House and the drive to have it here everything moved everything along."
The idea of hosting such nights was warmly received by the past director of the Memorial Opera House and from then on it wasn't hard to get the ideas in the heads of their friends and families.
"We went to everyone we know around here, which is a lot because we've both lived here for around 50 years. They seemed to welcome the idea of having local concerts, free parking, reasonable ticket prices and all that comes with a Saturday night here," Harkel explained.
Koeppen said that right out of the gate they had enough people to get a show going.
"We sell series tickets to these shows and from the beginning we had 190 people buy them straight away. With that happening it was guaranteed that this idea was going to actually happen," he said.
Once the first shows started and people heard the word of the Imagine Concert Series, regular ticket holders grew to approximately 260 people. Though the hard work and dedication these two men clearly have made most of it possible, they said that the concert series would not still be alive without the support of the community.
"There's been some demand for an adult kind of music for some time. We've had a lot of support for this, not only with our families and friends but from businesses, the city of Valpo, Mayor Costas, and more," Harkel explained. "The support has helped us out a lot and has enabled us to do it for so long."
Over the past eight years the Imagine concerts are held throughout the year by bringing a variety of acts to the landmark stage. The acts range from country, blues, folk, to contemporary and anything Harkel and Koeppen are passionate about bringing to Northwest Indiana.
"We're doing this so that people realize that the lesser known acts are just as good as the ones you pay tons of money for at bigger venues," Koeppen said. "You have to realize that we're not bringing Tom Petty out here, but we get some really good acts. You'd be really surprised that these people are just as great and they just maybe haven't gotten that break into the big time yet."
On Saturday night for the latest installment of the Imagine Music Series they brought out rising act, The Sena Ehrhardt Band; a four piece blues band that originated in Minnesota. Headed by singer Sena Ehrhardt, the band tours across the country and will soon be making their way around Europe. Stopping by the Memorial Opera House was one of the first places where they played, and she was thankful for both Harkel and Koeppen for picking the band to play in the series.
"They've been extremely kind and courteous to us; you can really tell that they put a lot of their heart and soul into this," Ehrhardt said. "It's humbling to hear that they only put on around five of these events each year and we were one of the bands that got to do it. We're really excited to be a part of it."
Local blues band Funky Mojo Daddy opened before the Sena Ehrhardt Band and gave the audience a taste of what was to come. Before and in between acts the audience mingled around, stopped by the cash bar, and created a warm and excited atmosphere that lasted throughout the night.
It's no wonder why the Imagine Music Series is still going strong after all of these years. With the combination of passion, community engagement, great live acts, and a hint of local flair, the Imagine Series will not just imagine its future - it will dare to keep its place firm in Valparaiso tradition.