Humanity has been at its worst of late, with all sorts of examples of bad behavior and unsavory suspects that can make a body want to throw the toxic baby out with the bathwater. But thanks to that sometimes ineffable thing called the Minneapolis music community, last week I was reminded of how many good people I know, how many strong musicians and artists and creative souls I have the privilege of regularly bumping into and how good all that gathered collective music energy can feel in this, as MGMT sings it, “little dark age.”
I too often take the homegrown music embarrassment of riches for granted, but not today. As all sorts of unsavory-to-positively horrific headlines oozed through the rest of the world, I was lucky to escape to rooms filled with good-natured people gathered together in song and whose main bond is through music and nights spent together in dark bars, listening to music that lifts a body out of the ugly and ordinary into the extraordinary.
More than once was the word “family” invoked when I mentioned my amazement to fellow club-goers, for the good reason that we’ve been through a lot together: Lives and deaths and so many nights like the ones we had last week, tonight, this week. Together and alone, as they say, because even if you didn’t make it out last week, even if the hygge hibernation got the best of you, you know what I’m talking about because you’ve been there, and you’ll be there again.
Sunday night I stood in the 7th Street Entry with my friend John Swardson. “I really can’t believe this,” I said to him, awestruck by the sight of all the familiar beatific faces and thinking about how long we’ve been practicing this ritual, while at the same time wondering about other places in the world that might foster a similar scene.
Chris Riemenschneider was behind us, chatting with fans and signing copies of his new book, “First Avenue: Minnesota’s Mainroom.” Curtiss A was on stage, ripping through his old friend Slim Dunlap’s “Rocking Here Tonight.” Steve McClellan was haunting the room he helped launch; Prairie Fire Lady Choir was getting ready to slay the Replacements’ “Can’t Hardly Wait” and more, and musicians from every scene you can name were present and accounted for, celebrating a great book about a great club and a living legacy.
This all came on the heels of ridiculously exuberant events celebrating the publication of Andrea Swensson’s new book, “Got To Be Something Here: The Rise of the Minneapolis Sound,” the long-awaited release of the Husker Du retrospective “Savage Young Du,” a sold-out Sarah Morris CD release party at the Hook & Ladder and a fantastic feel-good benefit at the Turf Club for Jason Nagel, a longtime local music champion and deejay who’s successfully fighting cancer. Provincialism be damned, it was a special week in a special town, and this Wilco week promises yet another, as Jeff Tweedy and crew have always felt deeply rooted and connected to the scenes they helped nourish.
“Live music is good for the soul,” as the late great Sue McLean put it, and around these parts it’s an export to be proud of, although a relatively new one. I searched the term “local music” in the new Star Tribune archives and found the first usage was just once in the 1800s, a smattering of “local music lovers” from 1900–1915 and the odd “local music” drop throughout the ’30s–’60s, mostly about opera singers. The term gets more traction in the early ’80s and into the ’90s, followed by a surge of references to “local music” in the 2000s.
We’re living through history, in other words, though all the magic isn’t done by magic. It takes organizing, practice, people, energy, discipline, ideas, creativity and money — which is where the average local music supporter comes in.
The annual nonprofit fundraising feast Give To The Max Day (givemn.org) happens Thursday, Nov. 16, and to help keep the foundation of the mother-ship scene and all her orbiting scenes healthy, music venues and musicians are asking for help. Donors can make contributions to their favorite causes all day Thursday, but where’s the local music lover to start? One man’s suggestions:
- Hook and Ladder/Firehouse Performing Arts Center: The cities’ best new non-profit music club. (givemn.org/organization/firehouse-performing-arts-center)
- She Rock She Rock: Encouraging women and girls to play and perform music. (givemn.org/organization/She-Rock-She-Rock)
- Hopewell Music Cooperative-North: Making it happen with up-and-coming Northside musicians and students. (givemn.org/organization/460547282-7946405)
- DEMO: Music business education, support, shows, workshops. (givemn.org/project/support-local-music-in-minnesota582db68fb91c5)
- The Minnesota Music Coalition: Bringing musicians together for gigs, workshops, education, more. (givemn.org/organization/Minnesota-Music-Coalition)
- Dissonance: Essential education and support around the issues of sobriety and health. (givemn.org/organization/dissonance)
- Foothold Twin Cities: Not a music charity, per se, but a housing fund co-founded by a musician (my brother Terry). (givemn.org/organization/foothold-twin-cities-20151109111639)
- The Warming House: The best little listening room in South Minneapolis. (givemn.org/organization/warming-house-20151109111631)
- Summit Music Series: A swingin’ and diverse party, as curated by the super supportive arts advocacy organization Springboard For The Arts. (givemn.org/fundraiser/summit-music-series59b017d3befb6)
- Make Music Twin Cities: Along with Porchfest, the most DIY music-making event in the twin towns. (givemn.org/project/make-music-twin-cities57275f74e4a05)
- Minnesota Music Educators Association: Because music teachers are pretty much the best people on the planet. (givemn.org/organization/416047295-30344)
Give if you can, every little bit helps. Now put down the newspaper, turn off the TV, shut off your phone and go hear some live music tonight. As Jon Batiste put it, “With so many ways to communicate at our disposal, we must not forget the transformative power of a live music experience and genuine human exchange.”
Jim Walsh lives and grew up in South Minneapolis. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org