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On the post-election pulse and the riches of regionalism


Letter from Minneapolis-St. Paul

Dear Planet Earth,

I’m writing tonight (Nov. 13) from my spot on the floor of the 400 Bar on the West Bank of Minneapolis. I sat down here, up against the wall and close to the stage, because I wanted to hear my talented friends John Swardson and Eliza Blue and, even though only a couple dozen people are here, I wanted to make sure I could hear every note, every song, as barflies in this town can be the chattiest in the world, and two dozen can sound like an army a-twitter.

Especially these heady days. It feels giddy in this burg, straight up. I’ve been going to bars, pubs, and music clubs since the presidential election, and the pulse of the people is permanently on Catalyzed. The air is electric with possibility, and when I heard The Current play my old friend Paul Westerberg’s “Dyslexic Heart” on the way to the bar tonight, it felt, yet again, like something is happening. Something that anyone who has ever been part of an original music scene can relate to, since community organizing, creativity, love of your fellow man and woman, keeping your chin up, hope, faith, drive, getting up when you get knocked down, progress, passion, etc., are daily and nightly mood swings.

Which reminds me. Eliza’s kid brother and his local-music obsessed friends are putting together a new pirate radio station. Here’s their mission statement: “Local music on local radio for local people. This is the cornerstone of the idea we first envisioned. Our scene is vibrant, our population active and engaged. All that the people need is access and we believe that it must be given to them. Working with the city’s youth and giving a voice to the voice of our times is also a primary goal that we will keep in our minds and hearts. NIJA Radio will be dedicated to creating a powerful progressive haven for people who want to have their story told. Functioning with the Zeitgeist Zine we will reach out and connect the many disparate cells of progressive Minnesotans.”

Kid after my own heart, that one, just like Nic Santiago, whose missives from Los Angeles about rock, sex, depression, and his old hometown come over the transom like brotherly heart-to-hearts. But beyond provincialism or Obamamania, I’m thinking about all this Music Scene Jive for a few reasons. One, in anticipation of the Chess Records biopic “Cadillac Records,” I’m once again geeked by the riches of regionalism, which, due to the onslaught of technology, some say is a thing of the past. Two, Sports Illustrated’s Chris Ballard wrote a great piece on the dead-in-the-water Seattle sports scene a few weeks ago, and as I laughed out loud at his dire account, it made me happy to be living here, where all sorts of good stuff is happening, from musicians, media, and the mystical.
Three, I’m fondly recalling the heydays of Matter and No Depression magazines, whose scene reports were the lifeblood of those important journals. They were like letters ever-sent from faraway lands that you recognized and revered as your own, and, in turn, discovered kindred spirits via. Four, I’m working on a piece about the rise in old-timey music in these downturn times. Here’s what Jack Klatt, a hard-touring homegrown troubadour, told me: “People ask me all the time after gigs, `What the hell is going on in Minneapolis?’ There seems to be a lot of kids who are really into Woody Guthrie for some reason, and you don’t find that everywhere. It seems to be strangely centered in Minneapolis.”

Hang on. Eliza and John have left the stage, having won over even the loudmouths with their expertly-bled and –harmonized outsider ballads. Now it’s on to Thomas Kivi, a good-working-on-great songwriter who possesses a huckleberry voice that leans more toward John Denver than Conor Oberst and whaddya know? Here’s another talented pal, Ashleigh Fumich, curling up on the floor beside me and reporting that Kivi, 22, lives in Hastings and has only been writing songs for a year. Which is fairly amazing, given that his as-yet unrecorded “Freedom Dues” is a heartfelt mélange of complicated images and emotions that seeks to define the times, and succeeds. No mean feat.

Well, gotta fly. At the moment, headliner Gabriel Kahane is doing his second encore, and while I dug his Brooklyn’s-Ben Folds-fronting-Spaghetti Western String Company trip, I have to rest up for Martin Devaney and The Tisdales at the 331, another great club whose clientele rarely shuts up to listen. Which, when you think about it, is not the worst sin a live music lover can commit.

As I said, it feels like something’s erupting here. Or continuing. I’ve always been of the mind that the best way to gauge the health of a scene is by the palpable energy of the people involved; the number of fans who can actually be seen going out, and the quality of what you hear live on a regular basis — not major-record-label deals or national press or any other such sugar-high signposts. From my experience, we are as golden as ever, and I figure by spring, hordes of happy hibernators will emerge from the long cold winter with new verve, and the Twin Cities will be on every Hot List worth its hype.

If not, we’ve always got the Twins.

How are things where you are?

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