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FEATURE S June 2013 Volume 8, Issue 6
Bitterroot Band turns gear heist into motivation for musical rise.
Meet Eric Jones and Dale Haefner, who book some of the biggest bands in Mankato.
The Comeback Special
Shades of shimmer Raw Fusion shimmers in 2013.
Fiction submission from Mankato writer Colin Scharf.
About the Cover
The members of the VINE Garage Band pictured in banjo player Bruce Boerner’s garage. When the photo shoot concluded, the band broke into a rendition of “In Heaven There is No Beer.” For more about the band, see page 12. Photo by The Free Press Media photographer John Cross. MANKATO MAGAZINE • June 2013 • 3
6 From the Editor Music scene grows louder 8 Odds ‘n’ Ends 10 Introductions TJ and Lisa 12 The Gallery VINE Garage Band, Angela Korte 20 Coming Attractions Events to check out in June 28 Day Trip Destinations Bullhead Days in Waterville 30 That’s Life How a perfect stranger saved our marriage 32 Garden Chat Straw bale gardening? What the hay! 34 Then and Now Music festivals in Mankato 44 Remember When Regarding earworms and songs
I need not hear again
Coming in July The 2013 installment of the Best of Mankato awards. Over the last few months, magazine readers have submitted ballots for their favorites professionals and businesses in dozens of categories. In July, we’ll share the winners as well as some of the expertise and business perspective that have made them so successful.
32 4 • June 2013 • MANKATO MAGAZINE
Join us, and we’ll toast the best together.
Read us online!
MANKATO MAGAZINE • June 2013 • 5
From The Editor
June 2013 • VOLUME 8, ISSUE 6 PUBLISHER James P. Santori EDITOR Joe Spear ASSOCIATE Tanner Kent EDITOR CONTRIBUTING Nell Musolf WRITERS Pete Steiner Jean Lundquist Marie Wood Sarah Zenk Blossom Wess McConville Drew Lyon Colin Scharf Heidi Sampson Ann Rosenquist Fee Bryce O. Stenzel PHOTOGRAPHERS John Cross Pat Christman PAGE DESIGNER Christina Sankey ADVERTISING David Habrat MANAGER ADVERTISING Karla Marshall Sales ADVERTISING Barb Wass ASSISTANT ADVERTISING Sue Hammar DESIGNERS Christina Sankey
CIRCULATION Denise Zernechel DIRECTOR
Mankato Magazine is published by The Free Press Media monthly at 418 South Second St., Mankato MN 56001. To subscribe, call 1-800-657-4662 or 507-625-4451. $19.95 for 12 issues. For editorial inquiries, call Tanner Kent at 344-6354, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. For advertising, call 344-6336, or e-mail email@example.com.
6 • June 2013 • MANKATO MAGAZINE
By Joe Spear
Music scene grows louder
But there’ll be no smashing guitars with the 5-7 crowd
aybe it was an early 1980s economy still in recession when you’d often hear the lament about how sparse live music was in Mankato. I know there were exceptions. You could find City Mouse playing regularly and a few others here and there, but it seems like you always had to go to the old Cheers, the Caledonia or even Sneaky Pete’s to hear loud guitars and drummers on the edge of a three-beer buzz. What a difference 25 years make. Of course, live music started popping up again in Mankato establishments in the mid- to late 1990s with the opening of the River Hills Mall and the Mankato Civic Center. We became a regional center. More pubs opened and with competition for drinking dollars came the competition to have people come to your place. A live music scene helped. So this month we took a look at how the music scene is playing out through the eyes of local promoters and a local band. Dale Haefner has been booking blues and folk bands for years as the director of the Performance Series at Minnesota State University He brings renowned artists like Tab Benoit to a small 340-seat music hall at Minnesota State University for campus and community entertainment alike. For Eric Jones, marketing manager for the Verizon Wireless Center, the booking is a little more about business. Bands interested in a Mankato stop on the tour work with promoters who contact the venues to see what kind of business a band might generate. All bands have audiences, says Jones, but the show has to be priced right for the audience in the market. As the saying goes, there are not bad shows, only bad deals. Today, the local music scene seems to be catering to a more stable demographic – those with a positive checkbook balance. Sure, civic center
shows with the latest country or heavy metal act will draw, but the bread and butter of local music venues appear to be those genres that appeal to baby boomers. But there will be no smashing guitar performances with the 5-7 crowd. They’ve mellowed to places where you can talk and hear the music. Hence, you have dual music nights where the 5-7 p.m. shows draw those who aim to be home and close to bed by 10 p.m. And then you have the later shows that are actually “earlier” later shows, sometimes 8 p.m. to 10 p.m., sometimes up to 11 p.m. You have to do a little searching to find someone playing until 1 a.m. anymore. Maybe I just don’t know the right people. I’ve always had a lot of respect for the bands who play the bars and bistros. Most seem to have day jobs and families and do the night gigs mostly for drinks and the fun of doing it. I’ve heard preachers talk about the gifts we all have, and they point to their awe-inspiring choirs as those who have the gift of music. There’s something to that, but I wouldn’t discount the garage bands just yet. Not everyone can carry a tune or be courageous enough to unveil a little about themselves by the songs they sing and the way they do it. It’s revealing in a subtle sort of way, and hopefully, there will continue to be a market for it. M
Joe Spear is editor of Mankato Magazine. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 344-6382.
Come celebrate the 14th Anniversary of Primrose with a Family Carnival Date: Wednesday, June 19th from 4:00 p.m. - 6:00 p.m. Location: Primrose's Parking Lot & Front Yard (will be moved indoors if bad weather) Parking: Street parking available along Adams and Hope Street, and the NW corner of the Madison East Parking Lot (closest to the Moondogâ€™s field). Activities: Face Painting, carnival games & prizes, live entertainment, and much more!
Complimentary Carnival Fare & Refreshments! Help support our Relay for Life Team by purchasing Root Beer or Orange Floats at our â€œHope Floatsâ€? Booth!
For more information, call Brooke or Rachel at 507-388-9292. Come see why we say,
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MANKATOâ€ˆMAGAZINE â€˘ June 2013 â€˘ 7
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Odds n’ Ends
By Tanner Kent
This Day in History
June 2, 1894: A fearful missive appeared in The Free Press on this day, nearly a month after the mysterious disappearance of Mrs. S. Hall, the mother of Mrs. Alex Bashaw. The letter detailed that Mrs. Hall had arrived in Mankato from Branden, Vt., to live with her daughter, “and like many old people, became childish and imagined she was not wanted.” When the 69-year-old woman left, she did so with only some underclothes. The family wrote to Vermont, but found no trace of her there. The family also did not think Hall had enough money to travel to California, where another of her children lived. June 14, 1901: The Free Press received word via a cable from St. James that A.D. Henderson, a popular young bartender at the Band Box Saloon, had left the city with Emma Lee, herself a “pretty little waitress” at the Park Hotel. The cable noted that the “departure of both is mourned by creditors” as it seemed the avaricious elopers stocked up heavily with “purple and fine linen” and had borrowed “much cash” before leaving. June 21, 1901: Those who turned out for an exhibition baseball game between the Minneapolis Millers and Waseca were disappointed when the former canceled. In a message announced to the large crowd who gathered, Captain The Minneapolis Millers in 1905 – four years after the team refused Wadsworth of the to meet Waseca’s in an exhibition game. Minneapolis squad wrote: “I understand Waseca has a strong team and that the pitcher is a … wonder, but I do not think any amateur team in the state has a chance with the Millers. And when I see $3,000 ready to be wagered that we cannot win from an amateur aggregation, I start to look for something. We might receive fair treatment in Waseca, but we cannot afford to mix in with any betting game.”
News to use: Tips for outdoor entertaining By Jura Koncius | The Washington Post
www.corpgraph.com 800-729-7575 8 • June 2013 • MANKATO MAGAZINE
Susan Spungen, author of “What’s a Hostess To Do?” joined Washington Post staff writer Jura Koncius for a chat about outdoor entertaining advice and tips: Q: Do you have any tricks for keeping ants/bugs away from an outdoor picnic? How about bugs away from a BBQ? A: It’s tricky, but the best thing to do is to have a small table (there are some great, lightweight roll-up or folding tables) that can still be low to the ground (coffee table height), or even a cooler, and keep all the food off the ground. Also, pack your food in containers with snap-on lids to keep things covered when possible. This should cut down on ant and bug activity.
Q: What’s the best way to keep cold dishes chilled? What’s a good rule of thumb for how long things can be left out? A: If you’re traveling with the food, keep them in coolers with ice packs which will keep things ice cold for a long time, so starting cold is a good idea. Keeping things in ceramic bowls rather than plastic helps too, and keep the bowl in the fridge, filled, to really chill it down before serving. Technically, food can sit out for 6 hours before spoiling, but I wouldn’t go that long, especially in hot weather. More like a couple of hours.
Ask the Expert: Ryan Lano Never too late for guitar
yan Lano of Park Street Guitars has been giving guitar lessons in southern Minnesota for 15 years. During that time, he’s taught 2,000 students how to play the guitar and currently maintains a roster of 40 current students. The oldest student he’s taught came to him with a Gibson SG made in 1977, the same year Lano was born. On the other end of the age spectrum, Lano teaches students as young as 6 years old. For beginners, Lano recommended finding a good teacher who will help students select the right guitar, learn how to tune it and play a song at the first lesson. “The best thing that you can do is start by signing up and then letting me show you how to select a good guitar, tune the guitar, and play a song at our first guitar lesson,” Lano advised. Park Street Guitars offers new students a beginner acoustic guitar package for $100 which includes a guitar, strap, three guitar picks, Park Street Guitar Lessons polishing cloth and a gig bag. Once a student is properly outfitted, Lano says they should plan on spending five minutes practicing warm-up exercises, five minutes studying their new songs and new materials and a final five minutes jamming out and having fun using the things they have learned cumulatively. After a few weeks, this routine should be doubled. “It is never too late to learn how to play the guitar,” Lano said. For more information about Park Street Guitars, go to www.ryanlano.com.
Ryan Lano is the owner of Park Street Guitar Lessons in Mankato.
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Photo by Tanner Kent
TJ and Lisa are on Minnesota 93.1 FM from 5:30-10 a.m. on weekdays.
On-air pair TJ and Lisa have been studio sidekicks since 2000
here’s no sense in fixing what isn’t broken. Perhaps that’s why TJ and Lisa have remained together in radio for more than a decade. During that time, they have developed a mutual respect and rapport that 10 • June 2013 • MANKATO MAGAZINE
is evident during their Minnesota Country 93.1 FM morning show. This month, we caught up with the morning show DJs for a few questions about their jobs, hobbies and secrets to on-air success.
Mankato Magazine: When did you come to Mankato? What drew you to radio? Lisa: I came to Mankato in January of 1997. I have been doing morning radio since I got here. While in college (I graduated from the University of Minnesota in 1995), I interned at a radio station in Minneapolis and was hooked. At first, of course, I loved the “fun” aspects of the job. The concerts, the events and promotions -- but I also grew to love that it is an always changing job. And now, mostly the fact that music has an emotional effect and connection with people. I see how happy or sad it makes them. I see how it can connect them to their past with memories of events in their lives. And I love to be able to make people smile and laugh and feel good. TJ: I moved to Mankato for a radio job in April of 1998. Radio kind of happened by accident for me. I was attending college without a good idea of what I really wanted to do. People kept telling me I’d figure it out. I lost hope in 1994 and hadn’t enrolled for school. Feeling like I needed to be pursuing something, I enrolled at Brown College in October of 1994 with the intent of getting a degree and selling advertising. Long story short, I fell in love with the on-air part of radio and have been doing it since. MM: You two have been on the air together since 2000 -- what has allowed you to remain successful together for so long? TJ: We really get each other. Oftentimes if one of us thinks something needs to change or something didn’t go well, the other was thinking the same thing and making the fix is easy. We don’t always agree on everything, but our sense of humor tends to mesh well. We can often finish each other’s sentences, and sometimes we do! Simply put, the combination of us getting along and proper marketing have given us longevity in this market. Lisa: Our work ethic is very similar. We both believe in coming in and doing our job the best we can. If we can give you the information you need to start your day in an entertaining way -- if we can make you smile and forget about your troubles for even a few minutes, if you feel like you are starting your day with friends -- then we have done our job. We joke that we are “just too lazy to find other jobs” when someone asks us how come we have been successful together for so long. But we really do get along as well as we sound like we do. MM: How do you spend your time off-air? Hobbies? Interests? TJ: My off-air time is divided up by seasons. In the fall, I am the public address announcer for the Minnesota State University football team at Blakeslee Stadium. In the winter months, I am the public address announcer for the MSU men’s hockey team at Verizon Wireless Center. In the spring, I am an assistant track and field coach for the boys and girls Mankato Loyola / Cleveland teams. Summers are usually filled with a very small amount of free time and plenty of summer community events that MN 93 is involved in.
As for hobbies and interests, I love to run. I fell in love with it about seven years ago when my weight topped out at 250 pounds. Since then, I have lost 60 pounds and run everything from 5Ks to a full marathon. It’s a great getaway and stress-reliever for me. I also like to golf, go boating, camping and spend those rare free moments with my wife and two kids. Lisa: Time off air ... I am happily married to Kevin (nearly 13 years) and we have 4 kids -- 3 sons and a daughter (Jacob-11, Ryan-9, Nico-8 and Maya-3). So off-air, I am a mom first. All my kids are in all sorts of sports, which I love to watch. My husband and I sneak off to movies. I love to cook and weight training and running are part of my daily life. I also love to read all sorts of books and am always trying to learn something. MM: What has been your most memorable local music event, and why? Lisa: I love all the country concerts that come through Mankato and we are lucky to be a part of their promotions. It’s hard to pick one. One of my most memorable single events was when Dierks Bentley was coming for his concert at the Verizon Wireless Center and we invited him to a friendly pick-up hockey game at All Seasons Arena -and he agreed! I found myself watching Dierks Bentley playing hockey with my husband. There he was, sitting on the bench next to him chatting away about hockey. It was really a neat experience! TJ: During a phone interview with Dierks Bentley for an upcoming show in Mankato, I mentioned his love of hockey and the fact that I could perhaps line up some ice time when he was in town. He gave me his personal number and told me to set it up. ... I was there taking photos wishing I would have learned to skate when I was a kid. Still a pretty cool event though. Rib Fest is one of my other memorable music events ... I’ve been at every one of them. Always a great variety of music and ribs -- and beer. MM: What do you get from radio that you don’t get anywhere else? What do you enjoy most about the job? TJ: I don’t think I would have said this at the beginning of my radio career, but radio has given me a great sense of community. Radio can be kind of selfish and arrogant some times, but as I’ve matured as a person and a broadcaster, I realized that I have the ability to help people inside and outside our community by passing along their message on our show. There’s a time and place for fun and games, but you can also use your time to educate and inform, and I’ve grown to really enjoy that. Lisa: Confucius says, “Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.” I can’t agree more. It has never felt like “work.” There has never been a day that I wake up and think, “I just can’t do this.” That is the best reward. I come in, turn on a microphone and talk to friends. Best job ever. M MANKATO MAGAZINE • June 2013 • 11
By Tanner Kent
Photo by John Cross
Ken Schweim (seated, center) started the VINE Garage Band with the intent of playing free, old-time music concerts.
Play it again!
VINE Garage Band launches mission to play free ‘old-time’ concerts
en Schweim has assembled a polka band full of topnotch musicians – and he plans to never charge a cent to see them in concert. “We just want to have fun and play,” said the goodhumored, semi-retired founder of the VINE Garage Band, a seven-piece ensemble with a mission to bring free music performances to anyone who wants to host them. “I always tell people, ‘All our shows are free, and audiences always get their money’s worth.” Schweim and his wife, Renee, are musicians who, in addition to other projects, play a handful of polka church services a year. Recognizing a nostalgia for what Schweim affectionately calls “old-time” music, they decided to form a not-for-profit band. They found drummer Dave Kröells after a polka church service in Elysian when Schweim casually remarked to a neighbor in the pew that his new band could use a drummer as good as the one on stage. That neighbor proved to be Kröell’s wife, who helped cement her husband’s commitment. “After we got him, I couldn’t believe he was coming to play with us,” Schweim said. They recruited Bruce Boerner, a bass player in the Mankato Symphony Orchestra who plays banjo in the VINE band, and Butch Herrmann, a concertina player Schweim met through the Czech Area Concertina Club. They also found Don Sieberg, a multi-instrumentalist who 12 • June 2013 • MANKATO MAGAZINE
has traveled in polka circles for e i g h t decades. “You just give him the music and he Photo by John Cross plays it,” Residents of Oak Terrace Senior Retirement Community S c h w e i m in North Mankato enjoy a performance by the VINE said of Garage Band in May. Sieburg. “He’s incredible.” The band added its last member when Mary Foley visited a rehearsal sessions at VINE’s Summit Center. When Schweim discovered she was a musician, “I told her to go get her guitar.” The band has already played a handful of concerts, mostly daytime performances at assisted-living facilities and senior groups. Their music is carefully chosen to be easily recognized by the audience and reflect the band’s feel-good charisma. The VINE Garage Band is hosting Polka in the Park, a free performance at 7 p.m. on June 12 at Sibley Park. The band is also looking for additional musicians. Those interested may contact Schweim at 507-243-4020. M
Launching LoveFuzz Local artist spreads her goods far and wide By Nell Musolf
rtist Angela Korte has found a home for herself on Etsy, the website where craft-minded types are able to open their own stores and sell their homemade items around the globe. “Everything on Etsy is homemade,” Korte said. At her online store, Etsy.com/ shop/LoveFuzz, Korte sells crocheted hats, gloves, beans and jewelry. Korte started selling on Etsy in 2008 after a friend told her about the website and has gained more than 2,000 admirers while building up her business. She has sold her items to such far-flung places as Norway, Japan, Ireland and the Netherlands. Korte named her shop Lovefuzz after her oldest daughter, Rian. “I started selling crocheted items after Rian was born because I wanted to find a way to work but also be at home with her,” Korte explained. “When Rian was a baby, she was bald and we nicknamed her Fuzzy. The name for my store came from that.” Korte’s crocheted and knitted goods are created to fit what her customer wants. Customers have sent her designs such as trees and snowflakes that she incorporates into gloves or hats. She recently branched out into selling jewelry. “I learned how to make jewelry when I was 10 yearsm old and in the Girl Scouts,” Korte said.
Jewelry that she now makes includes earrings fashioned out of recycled guitar strings. Korte came up with the idea of turning the guitar strings into dangling earrings after playing with them one day and coming up with the looped shape. “My fiancé used to be the drummer in the band Useful Jenkins,” Korte said. “He’s not in the band anymore, but I get their old guitar strings.” Korte grew up in Fairmont and attended Minnesota State University, graduating in 2006 with a degree in art. Since her oldest daughter was born, she has been a stay-at-home mom. The family added a second daughter two years ago. Selling her artwork on Etsy has been Korte’s other job along with taking care of her family. She is participating in the upcoming Art Splash in North Mankato as well as other art fairs over the summer. “I really like the handmade aspect of my work,” Korte said. “I’m constantly thinking of new things to do and new things to make.” M Photos by John Cross
Angela Korte sells a variety of handmade items through Etsy.
Riverfront Park lineup announced
his year’s concert lineup for the Vetter Stone Amphitheater has been announced. This year’s performances include: • June 8: Arts by the River, featuring the Gear Daddies • June 19: Jagermeister Country Tour with Aaron Lewis, Brian Davis and Rick Monroe • June 29: Blues Traveler • July 3: Buckcherry • July 24: Merle Haggard • Aug. 1-4: RibFest, featuring Blackhawk, Everclear and Loverboy • Aug. 15: Ratt, with Sebastian Bach, Dokken and Lita Ford • Sept. 14: Buddy Guy For more information, visit www.verizonwirelesscentermn.com. M MANKATO MAGAZINE • June 2013 • 13
Photo by Pat Christman
Ryan Acker, Vinnie Donatelle and Lee Henke are the Bitterroot Band, a Mankato three-piece gaining a fast and loyal following for crafty musicianship and high-energy live shows.
Uprooted Bitterroot Band turns gear heist into motivation for musical rise By Drew Lyon
14 • June 2013 • MANKATO MAGAZINE
n New Year’s Eve morning, bassist/fiddler Vinnie Donatelle walked to his car in the driveway of his parents’ Eden Prairie home. When he stepped inside his Mercury Mountaineer, Donatelle was dismayed to discover most of the band’s instruments, gear and merchandise were gone, stolen in the late December night. Only Donatelle’s standup bass was spared in the theft -presumably because the burglars figured its bulky frame was too large to hassle with. It was a crushing financial and emotional blow to the upstart trio, which had just returned from a show in Brainerd. Their worst nightmare had materialized, and the future of the young Bitterroot Band lay in grave peril. “It was tough,” guitarist/banjoist/singer Ryan Acker said. “All of January (2013) was a pretty shaky time. That was like the busiest month (of shows) we’d had.” “Devastating,” added Donatelle. “I thought I was no longer in the band for getting everything robbed, but we learned a lot of lessons.” Only weeks earlier, multiinstrumentalist and chief songwriter Lee Henke had finalized plans to inscribe a tattoo of the headstock from his beloved 1940 tenor banjo. After learning of the heist, a despondent Henke accelerated the grieving process. “Those stages (of grief) really are true,” he said. “I just skipped a few of the steps. I went from really pissed off to completely liberated. It was a low point, but a turning point. It was basically: I’m gonna quit the band or it’s going to be the most important thing in my life.” Henke settled on the latter. With their instrumental arsenal depleted, the Bitterroot Band found a silver lining amid the hardship and frustration. Friendships and band morale remained intact, song arrangements were tweaked on account of the absent tenor banjo and each member took stock of the role music plays in their lives. Post-burglary, the stakes have been raised; no longer will the Bitterroot Band serve as a mere hobby. “You go through something like that and it makes you think, ‘This is real,’” Acker said. “Honestly, I feel like we grew up after that. If we’re willing to stay this devoted, that’s got to be a good thing.” “We can still make this band work without almost 10-grand worth of gear,” Henke said. “It just simplified things even more.” Wiser and seasoned, the Bitterroot Band has an ambitious outlook for 2013. Their touring parameters continue to expand, and their rabid local following is underscored with each packed headline performance. “Our music is nichey enough that it’s different,” Henke said. “For me, it’s a conscious step back from staring at a computer screen. You can’t get much more bare bones than a banjo. You can’t dress it up too much.”
On the heels of its debut EP, “Mason Jar,” the trio has recorded demos and continues to flesh out new songs before departing in August to Acker’s parents’ cabin on the shores of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula to record a full-length album tentatively set for release later this year. “That place has a certain energy that’s ripe for creativity,” Henke said. “I thought if we’re going to do a full-length, let’s do it at a spot where it fits.” It’s been a winding road traveled for the band. Henke and Acker, both 24 and Wisconsin natives, struck up a friendship and musical partnership during their freshman year at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh. In summer 2008, both moved to Mankato and later started an electric rock and roll band, Dr. Lee and the Terminally Chill, ostensibly to fulfill a class project Henke was assigned as part of his music industry major. “With a name like that, we couldn’t take ourselves too seriously,” Henke said. “It was a blast in college, but it just wasn’t working. We wanted to take it more seriously.” Henke and Acker had written most of their earlier songs on acoustic guitars and transformed them into Kings of Leon-style blues-rock workouts. Conversely, the Bitterroot Band was born out of simplicity in the folk music tradition where instruments, along with perhaps a jug of liquor, are passed around and old-time songs reinvented. Label Bitterroot’s music as you wish -- front porch Americana, streamlined folk, progressive bluegrass. How about just plain good music? No matter, the band only requests that dancing is involved in the aural experience. “We figured we’d just stick with what we were originally playing,” Acker said. “There’s no frills or effects. It all comes down to songwriting and energy, the ability to play instruments and making a connection with the audience.” “We don’t write anything we’re not comfortable playing,” Henke said. “We really enjoy what we’re doing and I think the audience can tell that. They get drawn in, and I think that’s a big part of it. We feed off it, too. It works both ways.” “I think we’re a fun band,” Donatelle said. “We’ve got some profound stuff, but it’s still fun music to go out and see.” A trained violinist in high school, Donatelle was influenced by his older brother’s collection of punk and psychobilly music. After moving in 2010 to Mankato to attend Minnesota State, where he’s due to graduate in December with a degree in French, he met Henke through the local music scene. They initially bonded over their mutual love of another musician reluctant to box himself into a specific idiom, Tom Waits. “The first day I met Vinnie, he had a foot-high mohawk,” Henke said. “I gave him a Tom Waits book, and from that point on he remembered me.” When the Bitterroot Band was in its embryonic stage, Henke asked Donatelle if he could play bass. Donatelle was
“It was a crushing financial and emotional blow to the upstart trio, which had just returned from a show in Brainerd. Their worst nightmare had materialized, and the future of the young Bitterroot Band lay in grave peril.“
MANKATO MAGAZINE • June 2013 • 15
wary of the instrument after heeding warnings from upright bass players complaining of sore hands from the slapping technique often associated with rockabilly and psychobilly bassists. But free bass rentals and lessons from an MSU music faculty member changed his mind. When Henke offered him a spot in the new band, Donatelle stretched the truth. “I actually didn’t know how to play bass when he asked me,” Donatelle, 21, said. “It wasn’t a week later until I picked up the bass. Then I found out why all my friends were complaining about how much their hands hurt. It was rough.” “I thought he already knew how to play bass,” Henke said. “But Vinnie’s a really talented guy, and he pulled it off.” In September 2011, the Bitterroot Band began appearing weekly at open-mic nights at Savoy in downtown Mankato. Though their debut performances were essentially glorified rehearsals, the band noticed people were coming just to see them. When the music moved some patrons to dance on the bar’s tables one night, the Bitterroot Band concluded they had stumbled onto something good. “We started looking at it like, ‘Holy crap, we’re catching on.
Let’s book some gigs,’” Henke said. “There seemed to be a lot of people in Mankato who were grabbing onto it.” “It’s great the city has been super supportive,” Acker said. “We are infinitely grateful.” Their inaugural headline slots at the Coffee Hag, Red Sky Lounge and the Wine Cafe found warm receptions. By spring 2012, the band had ventured to Iowa City for its first series of out-of-state gigs. “That was a defining weekend for us,” Acker said. “We realized the potential, that we can go on the road and not hate each other afterwards. … We like to play often and in as many different types of venues as we can. Over time, that’s helped us, given us a leg up. “ The band signed with a Duluth-based booking agency, and by summer 2012, had scheduled shows in various locales in the Midwest. Taking cues from artists like Charlie Parr and Trampled by Turtles -- and fully aware there are rarely overnight sensations in Americana music -- the Bitterroot Band is slowly dipping its toes in the regional touring waters. “With this type of music, no band really blows up really quickly,” Acker said. “It’s an organic process. For the most part, that’s the approach we take. We’ve got to meet the people and entertain them. That’s what it’s all about.” On June 22, the band will play one its favorite Mankato venues, the Vetter Stone Amphitheater at Riverfront Park, on a bill with the Mankato Symphony Orchestra. “It’s a funny pairing,” Donatelle said. “I don’t know how songs about alcohol and women will go over. But I love that park, and it’s an awesome sound system, which we’re not used to all the time.” For Acker, a 2012 MSU graduate with a degree in zoology, playing music for a living is a dream realized. “I’ve been waiting for a moment like this my whole life,” he said. “I don’t have many distractions. I got the degree. If I don’t give this an honest shot, I’d always wonder, ‘What if?’ I can’t imagine doing anything else right now.” Donatelle says he’s relieved the infamous burglary is now a distant, if still painful, memory; just another tribulation in the life of a do-it-yourself acoustic trio. Next time, he vows, he’ll bring all the band’s gear inside. “Since then, it’s been smooth sailing,” he said. “Knock on wood ...” “I told Vinnie, ‘Now you know that we trust you in the band and need you,” Henke said. “It brought us together when you would think it would tear us apart.”
Photo courtesy of Bitterroot Band
16 • June 2013 • MANKATO MAGAZINE
Local dates for the Bitterroot Band in June include: June 6 at Songs on the Lawn in Mankato, June 14 at the NaKato Bar in North Mankato, June 22 at Rockin’ By the River in Riverfront Park and later that night at Patrick’s in St. Peter.
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Dale Haefner, director of MSU’s Performance Series, taliing with a student in Halling Recital Hall.
Music makers Meet two of the people who book the bands in Mankato By Nell Musolf
he Mankato area is fortunate to have several venues where live music can be found on a regular basis -Minnesota State University, Verizon Wireless Center, Riverfront Park as well as a variety of restaurants and bars where bands display their talents. So the question arises, just how is all that music found? Who books the bands for the local arenas and is it a dream job or can it be a nightmare? Dale Haefner is the director of Performance Series at Minnesota State University and part of his job involves lining up the talent that entertains students and community members throughout the year. Haefner says that there are several different things are considered when booking talent such as the amount of money that MSU has to spend as well as what kind of audience the Performing Series is hoping to entertain. 18 • June 2013 • MANKATO MAGAZINE
It also makes a difference if a band is local or not. “If the band is in the area already, it is an easier task to route the band to Mankato,” Haefner says. “When this occurs, the band’s asking price is lower.” Demographics also plays a role in Haefner’s decision-making process. Since MSU’s music department hopes to attract the general public to the Performance Series events, Haefner has found that blues and folk artists tend to be the most popular with the Mankato community and he tries to book a minimum of five or six blues or folks artists out of a possible 18 acts each year. To help with the budget, the Performance Series takes advantage of several grants and endowments. When this happens, acts are chosen according to the guidelines and wishes of the funding partners. One grant Haefner has won for
MSU funds only Minnesota artists and another endowment funds a piano festival. “In this case, I have to bring pianists to campus for festival events,” Haefner says. Working with different musical groups can be a challenge. For Haefner, a dream band consists of a group that sticks to the presenter’s day-of-show schedule, shows up on time, finishes the sound check on time and starts and ends the set on time. He also prefers to work with a band that is grounded and doesn’t ask for an abundance of hospitality items and who engages and entertains the audience. “It’s also important that acoustically the band ‘plays’ the room,” Haefner notes. “(Halling Recital Hall) only seats 340, so it is on the small side. It is easy for a band to overplay the room and play too loud. I love artists that are acoustically sensitive to the hall.” Bands who have met Haefner’s criteria include The Marcia Ball Band, Lucy Kaplansky, Tab Benoit and Beat the Donkey among others. “All of these artists came to Mankato and performed at the Halling Recital Hall and were genuinely grateful and gracious performers,” Haefner says. “They were easy to work with and kept their egos in check.” Eric Jones is the marketing manager for the Verizon Wireless Center and booking the bands falls under his job description. He says that there are many factors that go into securing a band for the center. “When booking agents are building and routing tours, they put calls out to promoters asking them to solicit offers from venues and markets appropriate for the tour,” Jones says. “We then build an estimate that takes care of our internal expenses yet is aggressive enough to compete with similar-sized buildings in the region that are also in competition for the show. The agents then awards the show to building that puts forth the best offers and are geographically logical along with the tour cycle.” From Jones point of view, a good band is one that has the ability to sell tickets. He says that every band has an audience but it is the center’s job to find an act at a price that the local market will bear. “There is a saying in the industry,” Jones says, “’No bad shows, only bad deals.’” When it comes to picking the shows that appear at the Verizon Wireless Center, Jones says his office will make calls to certain artists if they feel strongly about coming to Mankato, but otherwise it is agents and promoters approaching them. The center also hears from people in the community. “It is always great to hear what people are listening to and enjoying and possibly getting things on our radar that we might not be aware of,” Jones says. “If a suggestion is not a possibility due to the act being too high priced or our proximity to the Twin Cities, then we get the chance to help educate the public on the booking process.” Among the many shows that have played at the Verizon Wireless Center during his tenure, Jones has many favorite moments. “The crowd singing along louder than the PA at Tom Petty. Allison Krauss turning the arena into the most intimate of space. Brandi Carlile’s emotional reaction to headlining her first hockey arena. Rob Zombie’s brutally over-the-top stage show. The overwhelming community love and support for Trampled by Turtles last summer in the park. And of course, everything about Elton John.”
Eric Jones is the marketing manager for the Verizon Wireless Center. There have been a few less than wonderful experiences along the way too. “I guess the closest we have come to a nightmare would be this past October during the Marilyn Manson-Rob Zombie concert,” Jones says. Midway through the Manson set, the barricade along the front of the arena began to give out. Although efforts were made to repair it during the concert, it soon became clear that the show was going to have to be stopped and that the crowd was going to have to be moved back so the barricade could be properly repaired. “The show was down for 20 minutes, we made the repairs and started it back up again,” Jones says. “We made it through the show successfully, but I was really happy to see the house lights come up after the last encore.” M
MANKATO MAGAZINE • June 2013 • 19
Coming Attractions: June 1 • LIVESTOCK: A Celebration of Giving, Music and 5K Run/Walk 10 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. • Minnesota Square Park, St. Peter • free • www.livestockmn.com 1 • Victorian Lawn Party 1-4 p.m. • Hubbard House • free • www.bechshistory.com 5 • Life and Death Planning Workshop 7 p.m. •Old Main Village • Free, but RSVP is required • 507-388-4200
By Wes McConville
22 • Rockin by the River 5:30 p.m. • Vetter Stone Amphitheater • free • www.mankatosymphony.com • 387-1008 28 • “Heaven is for Real” Live 7:30 p.m. • Taylor Center, MSU • $15 • www.ticketmaster.com • 1-800-745-3000 29 • Blues Traveler 7 p.m. • Vetter Stone Amphitheater • $25 • www.vetterstoneamphotheater.com
29 • Baltics Baseball Festival 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. • Erlandson Park • free • www.bechshistory.com
8-9 • Arts by the River noon to midnight, June 8; noon to 5 p.m., June 9 • Riverfront Park • www.artsbytheriver.com
19 • Jagermeister Country Tour 7 p.m. • Vetter Stone Amphitheater • $30 • www.vetterstoneamphotheater.com 22 • Turtles in the Arboretum 10-11:30 a.m. • Melva Lind Interpretive Center, Linnaeus Arboretum, Gustavus Adolphus College • free-will donations • www.gustavus.edu/events
Enjoy live music by area bands, food sold by a variety of vendors and fun. Thursdays in June • 11 a.m. - 1 p.m. • Civic Center Plaza
(in front of the Intergovernmental Center)
FREE ADMISSION • FREE PARKING IN THE CIVIC CENTER AND CHERRY STREET RAMPS
The Bitterroot Band
june 13 The DW3 june 20 The Pickup Boys june 27 The Frye An event of:
MEMBERS OF RADIO MANKATO
15-16 • Solstice Music begins at 1 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday • Riverfront Park • $15 for Sat., $10 for Sun. or $20 weekend pass • www.mankatosolstice.com
15 • ArtSplash Art Fair 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. • North Mankato Taylor Library • free • www.greatermankatoevents.com
8 • Drop & Shop Outdoor Mini Marketplace 1-7 p.m. • Wow! Zone • free • www.greatermankatoevents.com
Angie’s Kettle Corn Buffalo Wild Wings Culver’s Frozen Custard Dino’s Gourmet Pizzeria Hy-Vee The Neighbor’s Italian Bistro Number 4 American Bar & Kitchen Olives Pub 500 Sodexo Tavern on the Avenue The Loose Moose Saloon
Special thanks to: City of Mankato, Verizon Wireless Center, City of North Mankato, Mankato Family YMCA, Children’s Museum of Southern MN, Red Door Creative and Waste Management of SM.
OLD MAIN VILLAGE EQUAL HOUSING
20 • June 2013 • MANKATO MAGAZINE
The specialists at the Mankato Clinic provide the most comprehensive eye care in the area. From glaucoma evaluations, routine eye exams and glasses, to specialty care for corneal disease and cataracts, your needs will be met here.
Eye care for every stage of life.
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Routine Eye Exams • Yearly Diabetic Exams • Glaucoma Evaluations Dry Eye Problems • Red Eyes • Eye Infections • Foreign Bodies
Call for same-day availability • 385-4070
Wickersham Health Campus • 1421 Premier Drive, Mankato www.mankatoclinic.com
MANKATO MAGAZINE • June 2013 • 21
By John Cross
There was a time when, besides offering the opportunity to earn a little money, June marked the beginning of weight training for aspiring high school football players hoping to get in shape for the fall season. Strapping youth on most every farm would wrestle the fragrant, rectangular bales of hay being spit out by a thumping baler and fit them neatly together on a bucking hay rack, eventually to be stacked in the barn hay loft. Nowadays, not too many farmers cut and bale hay anymore. Those who still do prefer putting the forage up in the large, round bales easily handled by machinery rather than youthful crews. So no one probably misses the old way of baling. The new way is more efficient for the farmer and serious athletes probably are involved in year-round, organized weight-training programs to prepare them for their sports, anyway. But besides conditioning, it might be argued that tossing a few hundred bales on a steamy summer day had the added bonus of teaching an important life’s lesson: To make hay when the sun shines. M
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MANKATO MAGAZINE • June 2013 • 23
tio c i F
The Comeback Special
BY COLIN SCHARF
oday my van’s radio is tuned to the only station in Buffalo that still rotates my father’s band. The DJ must be an associate from the old days, honoring some agreement forged in a dark room full of men with guns and cigars. Back when my father’s band was a big deal. I catch “Strangers” on my monthly drive into the hilly Western New York countryside to visit Dad. Buffalo’s own Suspicious Minds, the DJ barks. The only song to see daylight from that ill-fated recording session. What that DJ doesn’t know, though, is that nestled amongst the cases of beer I’m bringing my father, I have the long-lost reel-to-reel tapes from the “Strangers” sessions. I discovered them while working at Buffalo’s Wide Right Studios. Four silver canisters magic-markered with Suspicious Minds — 1994. My throat swelled as the instrumentals blared over the studio’s speakers. You see, my father only managed to sing “Strangers” before launching a bender that effectively dissolved our family. I avoid his music for that reason. But hearing those songs opened a portal back to April 1994. I was 11 years old. Kurt Cobain was dead, and my father had sobered up enough to get Suspicious Minds into Carmine Valenti’s Delaware Avenue mansion, recording what should’ve been their comeback album. Mom, my older brother Presley, and I stayed at the mansion along with my uncles — Uncle Bobby, Dad’s lead guitarist; Uncle Vinnie The Rat, the producer; Uncle Carmine, the manager, and dozens more men with slicked hair and pistols hidden inside expensive suits. I liked Uncle Bobby best. He spent more time with us than my father, who was absent while the band recorded. I hung around the studio, hoping Dad would come back. One afternoon, I found my brother Presley in the billiards room. Hazy light shone down on two red-carpeted pool tables. Posters of Elvis, the Rat Pack, Roy Orbison and others covered the walls. My brother hunched over Dad’s acoustic on the floor. His marble notebook lay open beside his Walkman and wrinkled Rolling Stone, the one with Nirvana on the cover. Presley carried those everywhere. I turned on my hand-held tape recorder and interviewed him. “Jackson Reynolds for Rolling Stone here with singer Presley Reynolds. Tell us, Presley, about touring with Bob Dylan.” This was our game. I hoped to cheer him up. His fingers squeaked over the guitar strings. “Dylan’s washed up.” “This song you’re playing — your next hit single?” I grabbed his notebook. A tacky, reddish substance stained the page. “Is that blood?” 24 • June 2013 • MANKATO MAGAZINE
“Dude.” He snatched the book from me and whipped it across the room. It bounced off a dusty upright piano. “Get lost.” I held a pool cue like a mic stand and wiggled my hips. “Uh-uh-huh,” I sang. “You’re a loser,” Presley said. But he smiled. “Think Dad’ll star in another movie?” Uncle Carmine had friends in Hollywood. Dad had acted in a handful of B-movies in the ‘80s. Rum Runner, Towards the Sun, Long Gone. They weren’t terrible. “Not if he won’t record his vocals.” Presley pulled a halfsmoked cigarette from his flannel shirt pocket, struck a match and lit up. He was too cool for 13, with long sandy hair and ripped jeans. His dark eyes slitted as smoke curled from the glowing cherry. I held my recorder near the guitar while he played, studying his fingers’ clawed shapes on the fretboard, the chipped black polish on his nails. Mom wouldn’t let me grow my hair or paint my nails. “So,” I said. “You think Dad’ll do another movie?” “Dude.” Smoke drained out Presley’s nose. “Dad’s washed up.” I swung at my brother. He sprang up, grabbed my wrist, held it over my head. My recorder clattered to the floor. In our struggle, the joint squashed between his palm and my wrist, burning us both. “Take it back,” I cried, swinging my free fist. Presley shoved me down. Pain shot through my body. My eyes welled with tears. Presley spit on his burned palm. “Sorry, dude.” I brushed the ash from my wrist. A burn bubbled over the veins. “Whatever.” Presley showed me the blister on his palm. “We’ll be scarred for life.” “Cool.” Voices echoed in the hallway. Presley waved his arm to clear the smoke. Uncle Bobby and our mother stepped into the room. Mom sniffed us out. “What’s going on here?” “Band practice,” Uncle Bobby said. “Right?” “Uh,” Presley said. Uncle Bobby’s leather jacket squeaked as he stooped for Presley’s Rolling Stone. He wore a pompadour and sideburns just like Elvis. Just like my father. “Too bad about that Cobain kid,” he said. “Music is a killer.” Mom discovered Presley’s joint on the floor and yanked him into the hallway. I overheard her say something about our father. Uncle Bobby strummed a bluesy number on the acoustic, drowning their voices. “Been stealin’ from a friend of
mine,” he sang. “He don’t know yet, but he’ll find out in time.” Too nervous for Uncle Bobby, I ripped the new lyrics from Presley’s notebook and pocketed the page. “Come here,” Uncle Bobby said. “I’ll teach you something.” He showed me string bends. The taut steel cut into my soft fingers. The guitar honked like a tone-deaf duck. “I suck,” I said. “It’ll come,” he said. “Trust me. With your blood, it’ll come soon enough.” “That’s what scares me,” Mom said. She smoked in the doorway. Her blond bangs draped her darkened eyes. Her jeans and blouse hung around her body. She’d gotten thin. Presley paged through his notebook. I played the guitar. Uncle Bobby suggested they record one of my mom’s songs. “You know, if Johnny ain’t around.” “He won’t like that.” “He doesn’t have to know,” Uncle Bobby said, his hand around her waist. He turned to us. “You boys keep practicing.” They left us alone. Presley stood over me. “Where are my lyrics?” I shrugged, studying the deep guitar string trenches in my fingers. He whacked me with his notebook. “Where are my lyrics?” “Lyrics?” I said. I’d never heard the word. Presley dug a cigarette from his pocket and smoked. “Dad’s drinking again,” he said. “It’s all over. He’s washed up. This is a waste of time.” “No it’s not,” I whispered, my voice breaking. “You’re mad because stupid Kurt Cobain died.” “You’re right, dude.” Presley stood over me. His knees poked through the frayed holes of his jeans. Lines of blood crossed the skin where he’d given himself paper cuts. “Know a funny thing about the future?” he said, his voice low and cryptic. “It doesn’t care about you.” After he left, I pulled his lyrics from my pocket. Blood smeared some lines. I rolled up my pant leg, but the paper was too wrinkled to cut me. So I strained at the scratchy writing. Some phrases belonged to Nirvana; some were Presley’s. One verse unnerved me: I’ve seen into the future / Seen the world end I watched the sun die / I know we’re all condemned Music played from the studio. I followed. ••• In the control room, Presley smoked on the couch and wrote in his notebook. Music played over the speakers. The Rat and Uncle Carmine chewed cigars and watched the band in the live room. The Rat resembled his namesake: a squat man with beady eyes, pointy nose and thin moustache. Constantly he licked his palm and slicked his wispy black hair. “Don’t touch that,” he yelled at me. I put up my hands. “I didn’t touch anything.” He pressed a stubby finger to his temple. “I hear your thoughts.” “Jackson, my boy.” Uncle Carmine’s hardened face brightened. He bent down, gave me a hug, kissed my cheeks. His trademark rose boutonniere decorated his jacket. Many years later I’d learn the details of Dad’s relationship with Carmine Valenti. Suspicious Minds had played money-maker for the Valenti crime family throughout the ‘70s and ‘80s. They’d released three albums, played Johnny Carson, toured Europe. Nirvana’s “Nevermind” rendered Dad’s music too oldfashioned for MTV and Rolling Stone. Dad drifted until ’94, when Uncle Carmine agreed to finance an album to help my
father pay debts. “When we gonna make your album?” Uncle Carmine asked me. I blushed. “I can’t play anything.” “Give it time.” I started my tape recorder and watched the band. Uncle Bobby strummed his Stratocaster; horn players with shiny trumpets, trombones, and saxophones layered their rich brassiness. My mother played the piano and sang. I noticed, then, the spinning reel-to-reel. They were recording. “Why aren’t we doing her album?” Uncle Carmine said. “Who says we’re not?” said the Rat. “She’s better than Dad,” Presley said. The Rat whipped around. “Watch your mouth, kid. Your old man’s still the champ.” “Nice knowing someone still likes me.” My father shuffled in, favoring one leg, clutching a whiskey bottle. Gray stubble covered his normally shaved face. His unkempt hair fell across his eyes. I hardly recognized him. “Johnny,” Uncle Carmine said. They embraced. “My friend. You look awful.” Dad braced himself against the mixing board, watching the band. “What’s all this?” Uncle Carmine puffed his cigar. “The Rat says you’re in absentia. He needs your vocals. I’ve got journalists and DJs lined up across the East Coast. Suspicious Minds. The ’94 Comeback Special. All you gotta do is sing.” Dad pointed to the band. They’d stopped playing and now listened to my mother explain the song. “You’re taping this?” The Rat whacked the tape machine. It whirred to a stop. “Nobody’s recording nothing,” he said. “They’re warming up for you.” “I was under the impression that we were making my album.” “Mom’s good,” Presley said. “She’s been working hard.” Dad swigged whiskey and turned to Uncle Carmine. “You signed off on this?” Uncle Carmine stared into the glowing end of his cigar. “Your debts won’t pay themselves. Somebody has to sell a record.” “Dad?” I said. “When are you gonna sing?” “Soon,” he said. “I’ll knock ’em dead soon.” He planted a boozy kiss on my forehead, then smashed his bottle over the reel-to-reel. Glittering shards rained on the mixing board. The band kept playing — they didn’t know. Dad left the studio and didn’t come back. Many years passed before I understood his fear. He felt his music had become worthless. He’d been eclipsed not just by the new generation, but his own wife, too. He was a fraud, and everyone was just humoring him. So he crawled back to his one true love. In that washed-out world he felt no pressure. Drunk, he dreamed a child’s dreams, extraordinary fantasies sober men could realize. Swaddled inside alcohol’s warm womb, his dreams were reality. ••• A day passed. Dad still hadn’t returned. My uncles combed the city. Uncle Carmine had a new reel-to-reel delivered. I wandered into the studio where Mom played piano. Something slow, nostalgic, hymn-like. I turned on my tape recorder and thought back on what Presley had said about our father. Mom stopped playing. “How’d you burn your hand, Jackson?” “What hand?” She sighed and patted the piano bench. “Come. Sit. What’s MANKATO MAGAZINE • June 2013 • 25
up?” I slumped beside her. “Is Dad washed up?” “No,” she said. “He’s just — lost, I guess.” “When’s he coming back?” “Soon,” she said. “He’ll be back soon.” “I don’t believe you.” “Oh, honey.” She pressed a heavy, melancholy chord. Through her veil of straight blond hair I saw her lip quivering, her eyes watering. I thought to hug her, but picked the burn on my wrist instead. We didn’t hug in my family. We didn’t say I love you. Only music bore our sadness. Mom wiped her eyes, then took my hands and shaped them into piano chords. “C major, A minor, F. Just like that.” She counted off a delicate tempo. I pressed the chords, and her fingers filled the room with a mournful melody. Strange images flooded my mind. Gauzy curtains quivering in tall windows. Pale horses on a cold beach. A man and woman walking separate directions along the shore. Past life memories awakened by our song. Surely, they didn’t belong to me. Later I played back my tape recorder. Nothing was there but tape hiss. I felt robbed. That spare melody haunts my dreams. I’ve tried playing it on every instrument I know. But it’s gone now. ••• My father returned the next day with a bandaged head. A blotch of red stained the dressing. Dirt covered his clothes. Mom ignored him, smoking cigarette after cigarette in the control room because she didn’t have anywhere else to go. Nobody asked where he’d been. “I’m ready to sing,” he said. “Johnny,” the Rat said. “You just crawled outta the gutter.” “I was born in the gutter,” Dad said. “I’m ready to sing.” The Rat fired up the new reel-to-reel. My red-eyed father bellowed into a silver microphone, clutching a whiskey bottle, his whole body shaking like the music would shatter him. I watched, convinced my captive audience would help. Dad kept botching lyrics, missing entrances, singing out of tune. The Rat stopped recording. “Johnny,” he said. “The lyric is ‘Strangers become lovers in the night.’” “I changed it.” Dad sang the new lyric. “’Lovers become strangers in the night.’” “That don’t make sense with the other lyrics.” “I changed them all,” Dad said. “What do you think I was doing yesterday?” The Rat rewound the tape, pressed record. Dad still garbled words, missed cues. “He’s wasted,” Mom said. “Talk to him,” the Rat said “Support him.” “All I’ve ever done,” she said, lighting a new cigarette off the last, “is support him.” The sound of whiskey sloshing against glass carried over the speakers. “What’s it matter if I’m half in the bag?” Dad said. “Nobody’s gonna listen to this stupid song. They don’t want my music. They want something else. So get off your high horse.” The Rat pressed record. My father delivered the entire song in a single take. “Strangers” spent a week on the Hot 100 in the spring of 1994, then drowned in the grungy stew of Nirvana imitators. My parents separated that same year. Dad moved out; Uncle Bobby moved in. Suspicious Minds dissolved. They never finished the album. 26 • June 2013 • MANKATO MAGAZINE
••• Today my father lives in a tin-roof garage standing like a mausoleum on a country road cul-de-sac. Abandoned railroad tracks run parallel to the road. A dried cornfield spreads in the shade of the hillside. My father has countless stories explaining this residence, his hideout from the mafia, debt collectors, my mother. Lately, he’s been writing a new album. He mails me lyrics. “Bruce Springsteen stopped by on his way to New York City,” one letter said. “Gave me a hand with these lyrics.” That’s a lie, but his lyrics — songs of failure, loneliness, redemption — are all true. I park in front of his garage, grab the cases of beer I brought for him, and leave the Suspicious Minds tapes. I don’t want to spoil the surprise. “Yo,” I shout. “Johnny Reynolds still kicking around here?” Something crashes. My father’s porky tabby cat bursts out of the garage. Moments later, my father, stooped, 10 pounds underweight, staggers out with a Mason jar of moonshine. His toothless smile stretches his gaunt face. He hugs me, kisses my cheek, offers his moonshine. He cracks a beer right away. “Thank God for beer,” he says. “That moonshine’s giving me cataracts.” I look at the scar on my wrist. It has faded over time. “I’ve got a surprise for you, Dad.” He drains his beer and cracks another. “I finally got that stereo installed.” He pulls a remote from his pocket and clicks a button. My band’s music blasts from the shop’s stereo — Presley sings, I play lead guitar. “It’s different,” Dad says. “But it ain’t bad.” We stare in silence across the dead field. Somewhere, someone’s radio is playing his songs. Dad sings along with my band as he wanders back into his shop. This is how he says I love you. M
Colin Scharf has an MFA from Minnesota State University and his fiction and essays have been published with Landlocked Magazine, The Postcard Press, and The Menteur (forthcoming). He is the recipient of a Prairie Lakes Regional Arts Council Emerging Artist Grant to assist the completion of his novel-in-progress about a group of young independent musicians. “The Comeback Special” was excerpted from the novel. He is from Ellicottville, N.Y., a small ski town nestled in the hills of Western New York. He didn’t know what “home” meant until he moved away in 2007 , nor could he write about home -- or the people who lived there -- until he left.
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MANKATO MAGAZINE • June 2013 • 27
Day Trip Destinations: Bullhead Days
A festival for the
ach June, Minnesotans consume 14,000 servings of fried bullhead sold from a concession stand at Waterville’s Bullhead Days festival. Local residents run the stand. “People save the bullheads all winter long,” said Sue Myers, Bullhead Days organizer and president of the Chamber of Commerce. “They clean them all by hand and freeze them. I think it’s two or three fish on a plate with bread and butter,” she continued. “People come from miles around for their bullheads.” The Bullhead Days event runs June 7- 9 this year. There is a full calendar each day with events for all ages and interests, including an ongoing carnival run by Family Fun Shows of Mankato. Friday evening is the Miss Waterville pageant, as well as the Junior Miss Waterville pageant for elementary school children. “This is the 57th Miss Waterville pageant, but only the 49th Bullhead Days,” Myers said. “The name changed to Bullhead Days after the first few years.” 28 • June 2013 • MANKATO MAGAZINE
By Sarah Zenk Blossom
Fireworks are scheduled for 10 p.m. over the lake on Friday evening. Saturday features a hot dog eating contest, a kids’ tractor pull, and a kids’ fishing contest. Saturday morning is also when the Sakatah Challenge takes place. This event includes a 5k walk, 10k run, and 11-mile bike ride offered to all who would like to participate. In the evening, a euchre tournament with 100 percent payout will be held at Main Street Lounge; there will also be a bean bag tournament held there on Saturday. Sunday morning features a community hymn sing, followed by the grand parade. After the parade, a raffle drawing will take place on the main entertainment stage while a balloon artist helps to entertain the kids in the audience. “The Chamber of Commerce is selling raffle tickets for $1, and the grand prize is $500, second prize is $250, and third prize is $100,” Myers said. An ongoing medallion hunt offers a $150 prize; the only “catch” is that the winner is paid in “Bullhead Bucks,” which
Sakatah Lake State Park and Trail
The well-known Sakatah Singing Hills State Trail runs 39 miles from Mankato to Faribault, making its way through Sakatah Lake State Park. Sakatah Lake is home to walleye, bass, northern pike, and other fish, including the infamous bullhead. With 820 acres of upland forests, lakes, wetlands, and fields, the park is an excellent place to come face-to-face with Minnesota wildlife. Deer, squirrel, mink, raccoon, rabbit, and coyote are among the species spotted regularly at the park. Checklists are available for birdwatching, with most southern Minnesota species represented. Campsites are available at the park, though campsites in the Waterville area tend to fill far in advance for Bullhead Days, and it is best to call ahead.
can be spent like cash in any of the Waterville stores. Myers cautioned that Bullhead Bucks cannot be spent in neighboring communities. One year, a winner spent Bullhead Bucks in a nearby town, and when the shop owner tried to exchange the Bullhead Bucks for American currency at the Waterville Chamber of Commerce, Waterville representatives had to explain that the Bullhead Bucks policy is strict on this matter. Though they must be spent in Waterville, Bullhead Bucks can be spent at any time during or after the event. Clues for the medallion hunt will be posted in the window of the Lake Region Life office. Ongoing events also include meat raffles by the Lions Club, Texas Hold ‘Em tournaments, Bingo and kiddie Bingo, karaoke contests, and shows for both adults and kids on the main entertainment stage. There is one motel in town, the Sakatah Bay Motel, and several campgrounds. It is best to arrange accommodations early, as many festival-goers plan a full year in advance. M
The Bullhead Days button is required for participation in some events, including the kids’ tractor pull. These buttons can be purchased at any of the local merchants for $1. They are also available at the Waterville Chamber of Commerce
“The bullhead is one tough fish,” the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources says on its website. “Stubborn, obstinate, tenacious: People with these traits are called ‘bullheaded.’” These fish are heartier than many other species, living in waters inhospitable to other fish. In both Minnesota and Wisconsin, bullheads can crowd out other species, including bass, bluegill, and waterfowl. In Minnesota, fishing for bullheads is legal all year, with a bag limit of 100; as a result of the bullhead’s heartiness, it is in no danger of overharvest, and it puts up a good fight for fishermen.
MANKATO MAGAZINE • june 2013 • 29
That’s Life By Nell Musolf
How a perfect stranger saved our marriage
id you know that the radio frequency that police scanners use changed from analog to digital on Jan. 1? I didn’t either. Nor did I care, but it became a matter of vital importance to my husband, Mark. Mark got a police scanner several years ago and since then has enjoyed listening to it and keeping up with what’s going on in the area. After hearing about the upcoming switch, Mark began to peruse electronics sites for a new, bigger and better police scanner. Being a fairly astute wife, I could tell that he wanted to get a digital scanner, but I could also tell that there was something holding him back. “You should get one,” I told him a week or so after New Year’s while he was sitting dejectedly next to his old analog radio. “They’re pretty expensive,” Mark warned. “It can be your Valentine’s Day gift. How much is it?” I asked as an afterthought, thinking that surely a dinky little radio couldn’t cost more than a hundred or so dollars. After all, they’re about the size of a walkietalkie and how much does a walkietalkie cost? “You can get one for under 500.” “Dollars?” I squealed. “Your other scanner didn’t cost nearly that much.” “But that was analog,” Mark pointed out. “Digital is always more expensive.” So Mark ordered his expensive scanner — which quickly became not only his valentine but also his Father’s Day, birthday and Christmas presents for this year — and was as happy as a clam when it arrived in the mail. At least he was happy until he started to read the user’s manual. Thumbing through it, his voice became panicked in a matter of seconds. 30 • June 2013 • MANKATO MAGAZINE
“This might as well be written in Latin. I don’t understand a single thing it says. It doesn’t even tell me how to turn the stupid thing on!” “You’ll get it,” I encouraged. “Just keep trying.” Mark read the user’s manual and tried to understand it, but in spite of his good intentions, the user’s manual never became user-friendly to him. By the end of the week, he was on the telephone calling Best Buy, Radio Shack and every other store he could think of in southern Minnesota, desperately searching for someone who spoke radio-ese. After striking out repeatedly, Mark sat at the kitchen table, his unused and silent scanner in front of him. “I give up. I’m never going to get it going. We might as well return it.” “We can’t return it. It’s past the return date. You’ll figure it out,” I said in a voice that had gone from encouraging to threatening. As the days passed, Mark’s face grew longer and longer every time a police car careened down our streets with lights blazing and siren screaming. “I wonder what that call’s about,” he’d say wistfully. “I don’t suppose I’ll ever know what’s going on ever again.” “You could do something other than sit at the front window looking for police cars,” I pointed out. “Yeah, you’re right. I’m going to bed,” he sadly announced even though it was just 7:30. That was when I remembered a story I had written on hobbies in Mankato. One of the groups I’d contacted was the Mankato Area Radio Club, obvious brainiacs who understood things like frequencies, both analog and digital, and who also seemed like very nice people. In pure desperation, I sent an email off to the club’s president, Andy Johnson, asking if he knew how to program police scanners.
Andy, bless his heart, not only answered immediately he also offered to program Mark’s scanner. We dropped the scanner off and one day later, Andy had it programmed. “It really isn’t all that hard to set one up,” he told us after we effusively thanked him. Mark and I looked at each other doubtfully but didn’t bother correcting Andy. After all, it’s a wee bit embarrassing to admit that not only couldn’t we set up a radio, we were also the last married couple in America to get cell phones and neither of us know how to take pictures with our digital camera. Thanking him once again, we left with the scanner tucked safely under Mark’s arm. As soon as we got home, Mark turned the scanner on and was immediately in a state of bliss as he listened to a variety of police calls happening around the town. “Andy even programmed St. Peter into my radio,” he told me. “Now I’ll know everything that’s going on.” Imagine that: Andy programmed Mark’s radio and saved our marriage all in one fell swoop. M
Nell Musolf is a mom and a freelance writer from Mankato.
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MANKATO MAGAZINE • June 2013 • 31
Garden Chat By Jean Lundquist
Straw bale gardening? What the hay! E very new growing season is an opportunity for gardeners, even old, seasoned gardeners like me, to try something new. One year, I decided to grow okra. I could never find a way to prepare it that was edible. So after a couple of years, I gave up. It is a beautiful plant, however. It’s a member of the hibiscus family. One gardener I know told me she pickled it, and it was edible then, and pretty on a relish tray. I’ll take her word for it. Flower gardeners are so lucky – there is always a new strain, or color to plant. There are wave petunias to fill in any area needing color, and a seemingly never-ending supply of new coleus varieties to plant. But I think I’ve run out of new vegetables to try. There are always new varieties of tomatoes, peppers and the like. There are also new hybrids to try. A few years ago, I found the Green Ice hybrid cucumber available only from Farmers Seed and Nursery. It’s $7 for 20 seeds, but I think it’s worth it. But with most of the vegetables I like to eat, I’ve already found the variety I want, and trying something different just isn’t that appealing. So I’m experimenting with different ways of gardening. The main point in finding new ways of gardening is to outsmart weeds. Don’t get me wrong – I know weeding is as much a part of gardening as harvesting. In fact, you can’t get to harvest if you don’t weed. I find weeding is a Zen experience for me. But I like a challenge, and weeds never let me down. One of my first endeavors was newspapers between the rows that I covered with straw. My chickens made quick work of messing that up. Then I tried rolls of black plastic, but when the wind caught under the plastic, it reared up and broke off my plants. Besides, my conscience would not allow that for more than one year. Next came the promise of black garden paper, which would provide a weed barrier and then decompose into the ground by fall. It didn’t work out, either. It got dry and crinkled underfoot, allowing weeds to grow like crazy, but the paper tangled in the tines of the tiller. I tried 12-inch thick straw mulch. It’s true I didn’t have the traditional weeds to contend with, but since a weed is any plant growing where it is not wanted, I had a lot of oat weeds that year. My first ever crop of oats.
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Then there was the year of corn gluten meal. The only effect I saw from that was a beautiful corn yellow coating on my skin after applying it. I believe I failed to apply it at the correct time of year, in the proper wind conditions, or something. Fast forward to this summer, and my next great ideas to thwart weeds. I told you about the weed barriers I purchased from the Soil and Water Conservation District that are intended to keep weeds away from young trees for up to three years. I have 10 of those, and intend to make the most of them. But I’m also going to buy into the latest craze in gardening, and plant in straw bales. Straw bale gardening is an interesting idea. The process is to take a straw bale, and place it cut side up, so the twine holds it together. Next, soak it with water for a few days so it’s good and wet all the way through. Add some fertilizer and more water, so the bale begins to compost. Wait a couple of weeks, making sure to keep the bale wet. Then, plunge your hand into t h e middle of the bale to test the temperature. If it’s “too hot,” wait a little longer. I’m not sure what “too hot” means. There were days in the greenhouse earlier this spring when the temp got to 100 degrees, and the plants did just fine. But if it burns my hand, I suppose that is “too hot.” Then, set the plants into the bale, fill the holes with whatever soil is needed, and keep watering. The composting straw is supposed to supply nutrients, and an added benefit is you don’t have to bend over so far to tend to the plants. Another benefit is supposed to be no weeds. Given my experience with oat straw, I’m not so sure about that benefit. Thanks to my chickens, I have plenty of straw bales to use. I piled 10 bales around the north and west sides of the coop last winter to act as insulation. They are already wet, so they just need a little fertilizer to get them going. The biggest challenge is keeping the bales from drying out, from what I’ve read. I’ll let you know how it turns out for the season! M Jean Lundquist is a master gardener who lives near Good Thunder.
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Bryce O. Stenzel
Solstice is carrying on a music festival tradition in Mankato that goes back 140 years to the Mankato Opera House.
140 years of making music in Mankato
ankato’s geographic location as a river town -- and later the commercial hub of south-central Minnesota -- still makes it a popular destination for performing groups and artists from all over the world. This has long been the case, as evidenced by the early presence of the Mankato Opera House, located at 200 S. Second St. Originally built in 1872, the building was completely destroyed by fire on Jan. 23, 1882. It was rebuilt and reopened in June of 1893. In her book, “Betsy and Tacy Go Downtown,” Mankato author Maud Hart Lovelace offered insight into why the Opera House was the center of culture and popular entertainment in its heyday: “It was a thriving county seat, and theatrical productions, passing from the Twin Cities to 34 • June 2013 • MANKATO MAGAZINE
Omaha, found it a convenient and profitable one-night stand.” Many famous stars appeared on the Mankato Opera House’s stage: Mary Pickford, Anna Held, John Drew, Irish tenor, Chauncy W. Olcott and John Philip Sousa’s Band. Local talent was not ignored, as evidenced by appearances made by the Andrews Opera Company, Florence MacBeth and Lora Lulsdorff. The Chautauqua (named for the place where the first one was held in 1874 at Chautauqua Lake, New York) was a nationally recognized form of variety-show entertainment, lasting until the mid 1920s. Its original purpose was to keep frontier citizens enlightened in cultural and social issues of the day by offering a weeklong series of events
that featured noted entertainers, orators and scholars. The most famous person to visit Mankato as part of a Chautauqua event was Populist William Jennings Bryan, who unsuccessfully ran three times U.S. presidency. His 1916 visit was delayed by a rainstorm; however, crowds waited for hours just to hear him speak. The immense popularity enjoyed by Sousa’s band at the turn of the 20th century, with its flashing horns, colorful uniforms, military “corps-style” march step precision and toe-tapping music, set the standard for the creation of the “town band” in communities all the Midwest. Mankato was no exception. One of its most enduring organizations of this type first appeared in 1922 as the Mankato Elks Band. The organization’s claim to fame was that its members could sight-read a piece of music at a rehearsal Monday night and be ready to perform it for a Tuesday evening concert in Sibley Park. That tradition still lives on, even though the modern Mankato Area Community Band no longer receives lineitem city funding as its parent band used to, when the Mankato Municipal Band was considered an official ambassador of the city of Mankato. The Mankato Area 77 Lancer Marching Band, composed of students from Mankato’s four high schools, has largely taken over that responsibility, beginning in 1979. The widespread popularity enjoyed by both the Lancers and Thunder of Drums participants can trace their origins back to the “town band” phenomena. Live music remains an integral part of Mankato’s entertainment scene. Local performer Steve Murphy of the Murphy Brothers Band, himself a musician since he was 12, echoed Maud Hart Lovelaces’ earlier sentiments when said: “Many people seem to think they have to drive long distances to see quality, live music at affordable prices, but Mankato has always had a long tradition of musical talent in a wide variety of styles.” Murphy credits the popularity and longevity of live music to the countless hours of work and raw talent exhibited by the musicians on stage to be at the top of their craft. There are no re-takes, as there are in a sound studio. “Performers really put themselves out there to create a quality production with many variables to contend with. Certain things happen live that can happen nowhere else,” Murphy said. “If the band can come out live and sound as good or better than their CDs do, then that was the earmark of a good performance.” Murphy also said that music, especially live music “is a way to pick up the spirit—it’s like a great conversation between the performers and their audience. When music is played with soul, it is inspirational—a great deal of energy comes from it. All any musician wants is for an audience to appreciate his or her music.” The Murphy Brothers Band was the closing act of Mankato’s inaugural Solstice music festival held in 2005. Beginning the second year, Murphy began booking bands as well as playing with the Murphy Brothers Band. While he is no longer in charge of finding acts for the summer festival, he remains an active part of the Band. Many people associate “Solstice” with the older “People’s Fair,” that began in 1970 to raise money for the Eclipse Crisis Center of Mankato. People’s Fair pioneered the use of live bands set up on a large outdoor stage in Sibley Park, along with crafts and food vendors. People
were allowed to bring in their own coolers, often containing beer. Although the People’s Fair event drew a record crowd of attendees in 1998 (13,000), misuse of the lax, carry-in beer policy led to the banning of coolers in 1999. More than $15,000 in revenue was lost, which put the festival on the road to ultimate extinction. According to Steve Murphy, there was no intention of replacing People’s Fair with Solstice; but because the newer festival ended up having similar elements (including a return to coolers being allowed in) the inevitable comparisons were made. Solstice will follow People’s Fair in another respect. In 2013, it will become a two-day event, June 15- 16. Visit www.mankatosolstice.com/ for more details. M
Photo courtesy of Blue Earth County Historical Society
The Mankato Elks Club band pictured on parade in 1925 in Mankato.
Despite large crowds and loyal fans, the People’s Fair fizzled after the banning of coolers in 1999. MANKATO MAGAZINE • June 2013 • 35
By Heidi Sampson
his year’s Raw Fusion fashion show theme was Shades of Shimmer. Raw Fusion is designed to be a highenergy, abstract fashion show in which contestants are to incorporate at least one raw building material into their outfit design. They are then judged based on the particular uniqueness and flair of the design. “Raw Fusion was designed to bring awareness for the local building industry while supporting a great cause with a portion of the proceeds from the event going to a local non-profit,” said Jamie Sorenson, one of the four co-founders of Raw Fusion and vice president of the Minnesota River Builders. “This year’s non-profit was the Minnesota Valley Action Council.” The Minnesota River Builders Association sponsored their third annual, Raw Fusion fashion show to a sold-out crowd of more than 500 people on May 3 at the Verizon Wireless Center. The event started off with a pre-party at Olives followed by a red carpet-type social hour at the Verizon Wireless Center. Five awards were handed out at the end of the evening: the Show Stopper Award, the Shades of Shimmer Award, the RAW Factor Award, the Most Wearable Award, and the People’s Choice Award, in which participants were able to text in their votes for their favorite runway design. After the fashion show, there was a meet and greet with models, as well as an after party at Number 4 in Mankato. This year’s People’s Choice Award went to both Schmidt Siding’s Elvis design and Bent River Outfitters’ butterfly design. Schmidt Siding’s Dale Brenke said: “Our designer, model and longtime employee, Tony Tarjeson, is extremely creative. Tony hand-placed 1,964 bolts, nuts, washers, screws and rivets to create the detail of the jacket. He even designed the jacket to be fiber optic so that the screw heads would actually light up. It was amazing.” Cherry Creek Cabinets took home the Show Stopper Award with their 36 • June 2013 • MANKATO MAGAZINE
furnace filter skirt panel design for their Egyptian goddess. Heather Buisman and Nicole Wolters were the lead designers. “Originally, we thought about doing something related to Katniss, from the Hunger Games, but decided to go with something more along the lines of Cleopatra or an Egyptian goddess. The most interesting aspect of our design is that a lot of different people were involved in the creation of it. For instance, our cabinet installers helped to design our chariot,” Buisman said. “Raw Fusion is a lot of fun and it challenges creativity.” Minnesota Valley Granite was recognized with the RAW Factor award for a design that included the best use of raw building materials, including a granite kind of dust called Mica that resembles glitter and is a natural element found in stone. The Minnesota Valley model blew the Mica off her hand in a fairy-like fashion on the runway. Owner Lisa Schweiss said the dress design included granite pieces that were broken up with hand hammering, attached to a flexible floor underlayment canvas-like material. Designers used two different textures of granite for the dress and glued it to the floor underlayment. “All the accents pieces were wire we would use in floor heat or cable,” Schweiss said. The only non-building materials were rhinestone and chain. The entire office was involved making the dress and the idea took shape over a month. ”It evolved every day,” Schweiss said. M
From Raw Fusion
Mankato fashion maven Ann Rosenquist Fee provided live Twitter commentary for The Free Press during Raw Fusion. Her insights and observations were at once humorous and poignant and are worth revisiting on Fee’s Twitter account -@ARosenquistFee. For now, however, here are some of her observations from the Raw Fusion runway: “Lights are dim! Runway’s ready. Furnace filters, wire, sealant, suspension rods comin’ up. Those are all the new black.”
“Cherry Creek Cabinetworks: Furnace filters like you’ve never seen. Dirty with gold dust. Your furnace should be so lucky.”
“Brunton Architects: Lamp pieces, LED lights, fabric blinds! Lights! Red red lights through red red satin. Want. Now.”
“Paulsen Architects: Wallcovering, rivots, aluminum bars, sculpted on the body. Had to be. This is not human-shaped and it’s beautiful.”
“AND THAT’S IT. Beautiful! I want a new wardrobe and I think it’s all in my shed.”
Faces & Places
Photos By Sport Pix
M.A.D. Girls vs. Goosetown Roller Girls
“How the Rookies Rumble” Roller Derby 1. (L to R) M.A.D. Girls Rave N Revenge and Nauty Nelly sitting in the penalty box during the derby. 2. The Rookies Rumble Roller Derby was at the Verizon Wireless Center in Mankato. 3. (L to R) M.A.D. Girls Nelly B. Brutal and Nauty Nelly and Goosetown Roller Girls Smack My Ash and SoUr Kraut during the derby. 4. No Apolo-G from the M.A.D. Girls skating around the track. 5. BunnZilla of the Goosetown Roller Girls skating during the derby. 6. A member of the M.A.D. Girls skating during the derby.
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Faces & Places
Photos By Sport Pix
1. Boutiques and More store owner, Deb Spraggins shows off her ‘twirl and swirl’ design, a design she sells in five different countries. 2. Drawers of thread add splashes of color to Willow Wood Market’s set up. 3. Willow Wood Market displays hundreds of fabric swatches. 4. Susan Fetter Ward, owner of Common Bias Quilting, talks about her business and different quilting styles at Quiltfest. 5. Amy Jurewicz with Firefly talks to fellow quilters about fabrics and different style options during the show. 6. Jan Brader of Boutiques and More demonstrates a quilting technique at Quiltfest. 7. Donely Johnson sits quietly behind a display of his wall hangers at Quiltfest.
MANKATO MAGAZINE • June 2013 • 41
Faces & Places
Photos By Sport Pix
YWCA Girls on the run 5K
1. Ady Lurken gives everything she has as during her run. 2. Kendra Johnson has a look of determination as she finsihes the Kids K. 3. Good weather brought out a large crowd to the event. 4. At the starter’s word, the 2013 Girls on the Run 5k gets under way. 5. Bria Baumgard takes a breather after the run. 6. Ryan Johnson works on his mastery of the hula hoop after the run is over. 7. Lily Hunt holds very still as she has a butterfly painted on her cheek.
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MANKATO MAGAZINE • June 2013 • 43
By Pete Steiner
Regarding earworms and songs I need not hear again “Hey, Jude, don’t make it bad, take a sad song and make it better” – Beatles “DAY-OH!” The home team’s rallying, the caterwauling comes over the stadium loudspeakers: “DAY-OH!” the crowd responds. I cringe. They’ve taken a great song and made it WORSE! The ballpark version has nearly ruined pleasant memories of first hearing Harry Belafonte’s calypso original of “The Banana Boat Song.” At least it’s earning Belafonte a ton of royalties. Same can’t be said of poor Beethoven, who died long before the legal concept of royalties emerged. Now Bruce Willis has again copped Ludwig’s “Ode to Joy” to flog his latest “Die Hard” flick. The problem originates with liberal arts graduates (like me) who get all this wonderful cultural knowledge they can’t apply. So some guy majored in music, could not get a music gig and landed in advertising. He is teamed with the movie’s producers and exclaims, “There’s this great Beethoven melody that might work!” No matter that “Ode to Joy” was a message of supreme affirmation, while Willis steals it to promote his bloody fantasies. All great art, I have concluded, exists to be co-opted by bottom-line guys. •••• Watching the evening news. During a break, here comes Debbie Boone, pitching some magic potion or procedure that makes women look impossibly younger. “And you, youoo light up my life!” she croons from her 1977 mega-hit. I run screaming from the room. As a DJ in that era, I must have played that song a thousand times, and when I finally escaped into news radio, I hoped I’d never again have to hear that sappy, syrupy tune. Nice thought behind it maybe, but way too much emotional sugar. 44 • June 2013 • MANKATO MAGAZINE
•••• Yes, music gets political. My radio colleague, Don Rivet likes to josh me, saying “Pete hates America.” That is a phrase you don’t want misconstrued. Don means the musical group America. My point: IT takes major cojones to think you’re good enough to take the name, not just of a state (Alabama) or a city (Chicago). No, you’re the group that deserves to claim the name of a great COUNTRY! So why didn’t Abba call themselves Sweden? Or the Beatles, BRITAIN! And then, for America’s signature song, “A Horse with No Name”?! Okay, really big hit, millions loved it and bought it. Not me. Don’t own one of their albums. If I had an iPod, they wouldn’t be on it. I’m not alone in my opinion. Wikipedia notes, “the song’s resemblance to Neil Young’s aroused some controversy (and) the song has been ridiculed for its banal lyrics, ‘the heat was hot,’ and ‘there were plants and birds and rocks and things.’” Penn Jillette once alleged the band told him they were stoned, and that accounted for the sometimes bizarre lyrics. Take another million-seller, Marshall Tucker’s “Heard it in a Love Song.” Catchy melody, cute refrain. But our own Gus Dewey would nearly go catatonic every time he heard, “I was born a wrangler and a rambler and I guess I always will.” “Will WHAT?!” Gus would fume. Yes, different strokes for different folks. As Wikipedia notes in its analysis of “music considered the worst,” “Paradoxically a piece of music needs to have had a high profile,” to be considered on the myriad lists of worst songs of all time. And look who’s made some of those lists: legendary songwriters like Henry Mancini, Stevie Wonder, and Dolly Parton. Not unexpectedly, Britney Spears, Madonna and Justin Bieber are on some of the lists. They’re not bothered, of course.
They take the money and run. But why does our biology allow those songs to resurface and nag us, unsolicited? Why, when I wake up at 3 a.m., and I’m trying to drift off again, does “Danke Schoen” suddenly infect my consciousness? Why does “Now it’s Judy’s turn to cry, Judy’s turn to cry” persist in looping over and over in my tortured brain? Songs become popular when a significant number of people find them catchy. We have 300 million people in this country, and it only takes 1 million of those to make a song like “Who Let the Dogs Out?” into a hit that you can’t avoid on a jukebox or at a wedding dance. I’m betting I’ll get feedback on these thoughts. Maybe we can revisit the topic. •••• Catching up: Arlene Nelson asked about where Robby’s was really located (February issue), saying it might not have been right where DQ now stands. I am not exactly sure, it might have been a little farther north, but that whole corner was seriously reconfigured when Kwik Trip located there. For decades, it was occupied by Pat Laird’s Skelly station, which probably deserves its own column. Talk about a place where the problems of the world were solved! Places like Pat’s Skelly and Bob Owens’ Standard station at Madison and Long (now CVS) served much the same function as barbershops, where many and varied opinions (mostly male) get aired. As to whether Robby’s was the first fast food joint, Ken Lloyd keeps insisting to me that it was Smorgy’s, and others say Bell’s on Madison Avenue. But my small print says “chain,” and that for sure made Robby’s a local first. M Pete Steiner is host of “Talk of the Town” weekdays at 1:05 p.m. on KTOE.
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People, Places, Lifestyles of the Minnesota River Valley