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What George (Scot McKelvey) said — and other Minneapolis music musings

“Thank you, Minneapolis,” said singer/songwriter/guitarist George Scot McKelvey to a scant dozen at Famous Dave’s in Uptown last Wednesday night. It was a joke, but what preceded it wasn’t: McKelvey, an emotive singer and lead guitarist who has played with everyone from Soul Asylum to Hookers & Blow, the B-Team, and Ashleigh Still, delivered the most beautiful version of “Over The Rainbow” I’ve heard in my life, and that includes ones by Eva Cassidy and Minnesota’s favorite dreamer, Judy Garland.

Making it even more bittersweet was undoubtedly the setting we’d all found ourselves in ‘round midnight that night: a chain bar, in the middle of gutted-out Calhoun Square, her grotesquely remodeled walls as white and chalky and flinty as the rubble from the freshly demolished Uptown Bar across the street.

Since human beings first discovered fire it’s been true that people create their own churches, claim their own hallowed grounds, and when the old churches go up in flames, new ones replace them. Before leaving Famous Dave’s, I chatted with Mari and Matt Abdo of Lynhurst, who came with tales of their five-week tour out West, then I lit out for Sauce, the new joint on the corner of Lake and Lyndale, formerly the church of La Bodega restaurant.

Sauce may not be the Uptown Bar, but what it lacks in history it makes up for in spades in urgency. When I walked in the door, on stage was Mayda, the diminutive budding funk powerhouse whose trashy little band spat out the kind of spare philosophy and poetry that the current Uptown neighborhood sorely lacks. Mayda was followed by a couple of local bands that sounded like losers and/or legends, and I was happy to have both.

The next night I worked at Kings, the new wine bar in South Minneapolis, where the bar/dining room’s playlist comes courtesy of howwastheshow.com’s David De Young. It’s all local, all the time (Janey & Marc, Alva Star, Mercurial Rage, John Swardson, the Twilight Hours, Prince, etc.), and it the gives the place flavor and mystery, the kind that actually adds ambiance rather than subtracts by shoving, say, one more soul-numbing play of Jimmy Buffett’s “Margaritaville” down patron’s gullets, as the U.S. Post Office does at its 50th and France location daily, hourly.  

The next day, Mary Lucia was on the Current, interviewing Brother Ali and they started talking about being from the Midwest, which Twin/Tone Records once championed as “the heart of the beast.” The two Twin Cities natives talked about how far Minneapolis-St. Paul can feel from the talons of the entertainment industry, and how this area can provide a necessary incubation tank for creativity that Lucia suggested encourages people to “dig deeper” and that Brother Ali characterized as a place where “nobody cares [about trends].”

The next night I went to St. Olaf Catholic Church in downtown Minneapolis, where my daughter Helen was singing with the Minneapolis Youth Choir. The kids were accompanied by the 38-year-old Minnesota Chorale and a chamber group, and sitting in that pew, hearing all those exquisitely trained voices raised to the heavens amidst the glow of all those votive candles lit by someone for someone, I was yet again feeling blessed. So I thought I’d share. 

I often say that music creates families, and if Thursday is a day for family in all its delicious dysfunction, I’d like to raise a glass to all the losers and legends who make up the large extended adoptive family that is the local music scene, and say that I’m giddily looking forward to Friday, when I’ll be at the church of First Avenue/7th St. Entry, celebrating the legacy of hometown heroes the Replacements. But just in case I don’t get the chance to say it out loud, I want to reiterate what George said. 

Thank you, Minneapolis.

For listening.

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