Sing a song of the summer solstice on Make Music Day June 21

Terry Walsh and Joe Baumgart of the Belfast Cowboys bringing joy to the world and destroying the Lake Harriet Band Shell June 9 in Minneapolis. Photo by Scott Burns
Terry Walsh and Joe Baumgart of the Belfast Cowboys bringing joy to the world and destroying the Lake Harriet Band Shell June 9 in Minneapolis. Photo by Scott Burns

Strolling through Kingfield on a perfect summer evening last Thursday, every other block, house or storefront was a-happening with free live music as hundreds of musicians, bands, songwriters and other various pickers, grinners and drinkers took to front yards and porches for the third-annual Kingfield Porchfest, in which absolutely everyone and anyone is encouraged to pick up an instrument and fill the neighborhood with song.

It was an old-timey lovefest for real, with talk of gratitude and white privilege and politics mixing in with the music and an overall vibe that suggested a blast to a past before music was recorded or sold. There was no cover charge or hype, just an extremely organic and groovy party brought together by word of mouth, social media and organizers the Kingfield Neighborhood Association (kingfield.org/porchfest) and lots of happy people stumbling upon (and to) the sounds of their neighbors playing music, sweet music. So easy, so chill, so heartening, so good.

Porchfest was followed the next night by the Beloved Belfast Cowboys’ third-annual party at the Lake Harriet Band Shell Friday night, in which thousands danced to the town’s best big band under another perfect summer night with a cherry-on-top strawberry moon. “It doesn’t get any better than this,” was the refrain in the crowd throughout the night, as a cool breeze pushed sailboats on the lake and sea gulls in the air, all of which danced to songs like “Looking For The Northern Lights,” “Harriet,” “Bright Side Of The Road” and “Into The Mystic.” So heart-ripping, so soul-filling, so super sweet, so good.

“Lucky us,” said my brother and head Cowboy Terry Walsh, and ain’t it the truth: Given the chaotic and sometimes downright mean world we live in, we are fortunate indeed to be living in this town and in these times, when free live outdoor and/or indoor music and singing has the power to feed the soul like nothing else. (Speaking of which, here’s another reminder that the Belfast Cowboys/St. Dominic’s Trio play every Tuesday at the Driftwood Char Bar along with John Eller’s swinging piano bar, a Nye’s Polonaise Room-launched sing-along that invites singers of all stripes to croon a tune, cut loose at the end of the work day and harmonize with friends and strangers).

It all got this live music junkie’s juices flowing and wanting more of the good tribal aural goodness. Wish granted, fair warning, let’s do this: Make Music Day — or “Fête de la Musique,” as it was christened when it launched in 1982 in France — happens June 21. From makemusicday.org:

“In 1982, Jack Lang and his staff at the Ministry of Culture dreamed up an idea for a new kind of musical holiday. They imagined a day where free live music would be everywhere: street corners and parks, rooftops and gardens, store fronts and mountaintops. And, unlike a typical music festival, anyone and everyone would be invited to join and play music, or host performances. The event would take place on the summer solstice, June 21, and would be called Fête de la Musique. (In French, the name means both ‘festival of music’ and ‘make music’).

“Amazingly enough, this dream has come true. The Fête has turned into a true national holiday: France shuts down on the summer solstice and musicians take over. Almost 8 percent of the country (5 million people) have played an instrument or sung in public for the Fête de la Musique. Three decades later, the holiday has spread throughout the world and is now celebrated in more than 120 countries.”

Minneapolis and St. Paul participated for the first time last year, along with over 750 cities around the world, but it’s been relatively under the radar in the twin towns. Not this year. Thanks to the local organizing chapter Make Music Day Twin Cities (makemusicday.org/twincities), homegrown singers and songwriters and bands are gearing up to play in homes and yards and at presenting venues such as The Warming House, McNally Smith College, Studio 2 Café, Northern Vineyards Winery, Valley Bookseller, the Landmark Center, the Commons by U.S. Bank Stadium, Rice Park, the state capitol and more.

“Jack Lang started it on June 21st because that’s the day with the most light,” said Caitlin Marlotte, who organized last year’s local edition of Make Music Day with her friend Andrienne Hovland, who discovered the fête while living in Paris. “The idea was a day to encourage people to play music — not necessarily professionals, but amateurs and just to create a culture to sit on your stoop or porch and play music or go to a coffee shop or a library or car wash parking lot — you can go anywhere and play music. Of course, every day is Play Music Day in the Twin Cities. I could be biased, like, ‘Do we really need a day for making music?’ Because it happens all the time.”

True enough, and I speak from personal experience that playing live music with/for friends and strangers is one of the best things in life and shouldn’t be relegated to singing in church, the shower or the car. It’s an embarrassment of riches in this burg, and in that spirit, for Make Music Day Twin Cities, Marlotte suggests South Minneapolitans sign up for the Warming House’s open mic, take to Studio 2 Café’s open stage or grow some funk of their own. Groth Music in Bloomington will host an open stage, and events in Hastings and Stillwater go all day starting at 7:30 a.m.

“It really took off last year, with several places hosting music,” said Marlotte, a fiddle player and executive director of Vega, a non-profit music education program whose mission is to provide elementary and high school students with musical instruments. “We had some surprise guests at the events, including [local music luminaries] Dan Israel and Julius Collins, and we’re hoping for more musicians everywhere this year — and good weather.

“I look forward to seeing people playing music where they might not otherwise be, and also to seeing people just happening upon music. I think it really underscores how important it is to our community and our culture for people to go place-to-place seeing and playing music. I’ve seen what can happen when we get to put a musical instrument in a student’s hand.

“What we saw happen at the first Make Music Day last year is that it connects people in a way that people otherwise wouldn’t connect. It’s almost like words aren’t enough. That ability to collaborate and work together and create a song or sound and for other people to be part of it — it’s like a new level of connection.”

 

Jim Walsh lives and grew up in South Minneaopolis. He can be reached at jimwalsh086@gmail.com

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