Dave Simonett, First Avenue, Gear Daddies, Martin Zellar, Minneapolis, Minnesota, music, New York Times, Soul Asylum, St. Paul, Thomas Friedman, Trampled by Turtles, Trip Shakespeare
It’s no secret that I love Minnesota (see also here and here).
But last week Minnesota wooed me anew, like a lover concerned that I was losing interest.
Here are the ways in which I fell in love with my home state all over again.
Tuesday, April 30: Dave Simonett of Trampled by Turtles and Dead Man Winter came to MSU-Mankato for our Minnesota Storytellers series. He spent time with our songwriting and media writing students and performed a concert/storytelling event on Tuesday evening. I’ve done loads of thinking about what makes Minnesota/Upper Midwest songwriting unique, and I’m proud that Simonett’s talent came out of this place.
(^^I didn’t get a picture from my class, but here’s Simonett with Dr. Michael Olson’s class.)
Wednesday, May 1. New York Times columnist and St. Louis Park native Thomas Friedman spoke at Gustavus Adolphus College for its annual MAYDAY! peace conference. The Pulitzer Prize winner spoke with passion and sensibility about the state of the world today. He credits Minnesota values with shaping his views, and anywhere in the world he’s gone he compares it to Minnesota. “I was always looking for Minnesota,” he said. After Friedman’s lecture and luncheon keynote, I went to my class where Simonett did a Q&A with my students.
Saturday, May 4. Where do I start? This day needs to be broken down.
- My friend Jen and I attended the opening of the First Avenue exhibit at the Minnesota History Center. First Avenue has a national reputation as one of the best, longstanding music venues in the nation. Bands from all over want to play there. Jen came of musical age in New Jersey, and even out there she knew that she had to see shows at First Ave one day. She’s done plenty of that by now! At the event we talked to DJ Jake Rudh (a Minnesotan well-known for spinning great sets) and I got my First Avenue book signed by StarTribune music critic Chris Riemenschneider. And I bought a Trip Shakespeare shirt! I’ve wanted one for a long time and some were made special in conjunction with the exhibit.
- Then Jen and I went to Barely Brothers Records on Raymond Avenue in St. Paul. When we got there, a little stage was set up in back and a guy was reading poetry. A band was getting ready to take the stage. Jen discovered that it was a party for a guy’s 50th birthday, and there was beer, wine, and cake in the parking lot for anyone. We spent more than an hour there talking to people. They’d ask us, “How do you know Glen?” and we’d say, “We don’t! We just came here to buy records!” This is the second time in less than two months where Jen and I have stumbled into people’s 50th birthday parties and got cake and drinks 🙂
- Then it was time to go to Minneapolis for the Gear Daddies show at First Avenue. The Gear Daddies are a quintessential Minnesota band, playing that distinct Minnesota/Upper Midwest music I referred to earlier. The lead singer, Martin Zeller, was the first Minnesota Storyteller at MSU-Mankato in March, so he put us on the guest list. We hung out in the backstage parking garage with the band and other guests. I feel like I’ve really made it as a Minnesota now that I’ve been backstage at First Avenue.
All in all, it was a week in which Minnesota showed me its brilliance. So many great words and stories come out of those born here. We are not flyover country — a place like First Avenue makes us a destination. We don’t need the flash of L.A. or New York, or even Chicago for that matter. We are happy to be here, thank you very much.
It’s a small state in which you can get to know people briefly and before you know it, they are inviting you backstage at First Avenue. It’s a state that celebrates its venerated institutions and recognizes their importance. It’s a state in which you enter a record shop and the people partying there invite you to party with them. It’s a state in which the lieutenant governor steps onstage to sing a song with a Minnesota band, because of course she would. It’s a state in which you have a conversation about cigarettes with a kindly stranger and discover you were talking to the woman who helped make First Avenue the place to be.