By day, the open-air amphitheater at the Minnesota Zoo is home to hawks, owls, and parrots in the World of Birds show. By night, as often as 35 times during the summer, it’s one of the top music venues in the Twin Cities area, bringing in stars of blues and R&B, rock, pop, soul, folk, bluegrass, country, singer-songwriter, world and indie. For nearly 20 years, the Music in the Zoo series was run by independent concert promoter Sue McLean. On Wednesday night, shortly before that evening’s show by Lyle Lovett & His Large Band, McLean family members, friends, and Zoo officials gathered for a small private ceremony to dedicate the amphitheater’s stage to McLean, who died in May of cancer at age 62. Memories were shared, a plaque was unveiled, and a Two Gingers toast was raised.
“It’s an honor to be the first act to play on the newly dedicated stage,” Lovett told the sold-out crowd later that night. “Sue was the first promoter who brought me to town in the 1980s. Without her, things wouldn’t be the same for us here in Minneapolis-St. Paul.” His 2½-hour concert paid homage to her as darkness fell, the moon rose, and bats took to the air.
Before Sue died, she brought in her niece, Patricia, and prepared her to take over the business. MinnPost spoke with Patricia on Wednesday afternoon.
MinnPost: How did Sue get started with Music in the Zoo?
Patricia McLean: She saw the need for music in an outdoor amphitheater, a place to perform that was quaint. She started small with acoustic acts, and from there, you’ve seen what it became. It’s one of the most successful music concert series in the country.
MP: What kind of growth has it seen over the years, in number of concerts and attendance?
PM: We started with five shows, then 12, then took the leap in the late 1990s to up to 35. With SRO passes, the capacity is close to 1,400. We’ve been maxed out for years. All but two of this year’s shows sold out. We could have sold some of them three or four times over.
MP: Do you have any idea how far people come to see the shows?
PM: The farthest I’ve heard is Colorado. Last Sunday, people drove all the way from Chicago for Carly Rae Jepsen and the Wanted.
MP: What do you find most interesting about the series?
PM: The diversity, and the relationships Sue had with the artists. The series has changed and grown over the years. Sue’s favorites were blues and R&B, but now we’ve got all kinds of different genres. She had long-term personal relationships with artist after artist. The series has been especially emotional this year. Every artist, except for a handful who were new to the Zoo or didn’t know her, has paid tribute to her in their opening or dedicated a song to her. Lyle [Lovett] nicknamed her “Zoo McLean.” It feels like family. Seventy-five percent of the people who come are regulars and repeats. A lot of it is proximity, folks who live nearby, but people will drive a long way.
MP: How do you feel about running the show?
PM: There’s no way I could step into Sue’s shoes and pretend to pick up where she left off. We have a very strong team that has supported me in the transition, and we have shows booked out through March of next year. We’re sending a message that even though Sue is gone, we’re moving forward, standing strong.
MP: Any hints on what we can look forward to next summer?
PM: We’re not yet booking the Music at the Zoo series because our contract with the Zoo is up for renewal. We’re going through the formal RFP process with the state.
Three Music at the Zoo concerts remain: The Robert Cray Band on Sunday night; Elvin Bishop on Wednesday, Aug. 28; and Jerry Jeff Walker on Thursday, Aug. 29. Cray is sold out, and only a few single seats are left for Walker. Your best bet is Elvin Bishop. Opening: Ruthie Foster. FMI and tickets.
Count on Brave New Workshop to be up to speed. Its 2013 holiday show is titled “I Saw Daddy Marry Santa Claus.” Previews start Nov. 7 and opening night is Friday, Nov. 15. BNW’s 282nd show promises to skewer the holiday in general and, in the words of director Caleb McEwen, to “make your spirits brighter than some Minnesotans consider appropriate.” The cast includes Lauren Anderson, Matt Erkel, Andy Hilbrands, Tom Reed and Taj Ruler. Tickets go on sale Sept. 6.
The U of M Department of English has announced its English@Minnesota Writers Series for fall. Thursday, Oct. 3: novelist and short story writer Bonnie Jo Campbell (“Women and Other Animals,” “Q Road”). Saturday, Oct. 12: poet and St. Paul native David Wojahn (“World Tree”). Tuesday, Oct. 15: 2012 National Book Award for Nonfiction winner and Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Katherine Boo (“Behind the Beautiful Forever; Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity”). Tuesday, Oct. 29: novelist Robert Boswell (“Tumbledown”) and poet Peter Campion will read to raise money for Second Harvest Heartland. Thursday, Nov. 7: poets Daisy Fried (“She Didn’t Mean to Do It”) and Joshua Weiner (“The World’s Room”). Tuesday, Nov. 19: novelist, essayist and critic Thomas Mallon (“Henry and Clara,” “Dewey Defeats Truman,” “Watergate”). All events are free and open to the public, but keep in mind that Oct. 29 is a benefit and do the right thing. The readings are at different times and places; check “Events” on the department’s Facebook page.
Who’s Neil Gaiman, and why is he such a big deal? (Hints: Sandman, Dr. Who, Coraline, Neverwhere, Simpsons cameo.) City Pages’ Tatiana Craine got the only interview he gave the last time he was in Minneapolis, and it’s an excellent introduction to the superstar author.
Tickets are on sale now for the Soap Factory’s annual Haunted Basement. Now in its seventh year, this may be the single most terrifying Halloween-related event in the Twin Cities and for miles around. We are not joking about this. Darkness has never been inkier. We went last year, came home, had a very stiff drink, and wrote (in part), “Is it scary? Scary as heck. Comments overheard afterward: ‘Peed my pants.’ ‘Freaking awesome.’ ‘Very f***** up.’ ” Noah Bremer directs (again), and he’s a sadistic s.o.b. This makes the Haunted House at the State Fair look like “My Little Pony.” FMI and tickets ($25/$27). Some time slots are already sold out and many are close to selling out.
The Minnesota Opera has added four more performances of Mozart’s “The Magic Flute,” one of the most highly anticipated events of the 2013-14 arts season. The Minnesota Opera and LA Opera have joined forces to bring a new production by the British avant-garde theater group 1927 to the states, and people are already talking about it. You’ll now have nine chances to see it, from April 12, 2014 – April 27. (No one at the Opera can recall a time when that many performances of a single event were held on the Ordway stage.) The opera has also launched a slick new website. Check out the trailers for “Flute” and more.
Tickets are on sale now for the Metropolitan Opera’s 2013-14 Live in HD season. The Met up close, streaming live, in a comfy seat, with popcorn. All performances are on Saturdays at 11:55 CST (except for “Prince Igor,” which starts at 11). Oct. 5: a new production of Tchaikovsky’s “Eugene Onegin.” Oct. 26: Shostakovich’s “The Nose.” Nov. 9: Puccini’s “Tosca,” with Roberta Alagna as Cavaradossi. Dec. 4: A new production of Verdi’s “Falstaff,” conducted by James Levine. Feb. 8, 2014: Dvorak’s “Rusalka,” starring Renee Fleming. March 1: a new production of Borodin’s “Prince Igor.” March 15: Massenet’s “Werther,” with Jonas Kaufmann in the title role. April 5: Franco Zeffirelli’s classic production of Puccini’s “La Boheme.” April 26: Mozart’s “Cosi fan tutte.” May 10: Rossini’s “La Cenerentola,” with mezzo Joyce DiDonato in the title role. Find tickets and a theater near you. (In the Minneapolis area, our choices are the Showplace ICON in St. Louis Park and the Eden Prairie 18.)
So you’ve never seen Wagner’s massive, monumental “Ring” cycle in its entirety? Wish the darned thing were shorter? David Seaman of the Welsh National Opera has taken a pair of snippy scissors to Wagner’s magnum opus and cut it down to four hours instead of 16. For the 200th anniversary of Wagner’s birth, the Minnesota Concert Opera and the Wagner Society of the Upper Midwest are bringing some of the world’s leading Wagnerian voices to the Cowles for two performances of Seaman’s “Mini-Ring.” Soprano Jane Eaglen, baritone Richard Paul Fink, tenor Jay Hunter Morris and bass-baritone Philip Skinner will be accompanied by a 17-piece chamber orchestra of musicians from the SPCO and the Minnesota Orchestra, among others. Friday, Sept. 13 at 7 p.m., Sunday, Sept. 15 at 2 p.m. FMI and tickets.
Our picks for the weekend
Tonight (Friday, Aug. 23) at the Plymouth Playhouse: “The Church Basement Ladies in the Last (Potluck) Supper.” The fifth and final (!) installment of the popular Church Basement Ladies series of musical comedies, based on the books of Janet Letnes Martin and Suzann Nelson (“Growing Up Lutheran”) is set in 1979, with flashbacks. If you’re Lutheran, you can laugh at yourself; if you’re not, you can laugh at the Lutherans. Either is a very Minnesotan thing to do, yah, you betcha. 7:30 p.m., 2705 Annapolis Lane N. in Plymouth. FMI and tickets ($17/$31/$34). Through Feb. 23, 2014.
Friday at the Fair: WAM-on-a-Stick. Stop by the Weisman Art Museum booth in the Crossoads UMN building (attached to the food building). Take your picture in a giant art frame and pick up a WAM-on-a-stick fan. (We’ll bet Frank Gehry never saw this coming.) Vote for the art you think should appear in next summer’s exhibition, WAM#20: MN. 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Saturday at the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Park: “The Dream @ 50 —Honoring the Legacy, Celebrating with Jazz.” This year’s Freedom Jazz Festival joins with the park’s Legacy Council to honor Dr. King on the 50th anniversary of the march on Washington (Aug. 28, 1963). 10:30 a.m.: Gather at Sabathani Community Center (310 E. 38th St., Minneapolis). 11 a.m.: Rally and speeches at Sabathani. Noon: Begin march to the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Park. 12:30 p.m.: Reflections from Minnesota Civil Rights activists and elected officials. 1:15 – 7 p.m.: Jazz festival featuring the Walker West Youth Jazz Ensemble, the Capri Big Band, the Jazz Masters, and more. Food vendors and free activities for kids are available starting at 1 p.m. The park is at 4055 Nicollet Ave. in Minneapolis.
Saturday at the Soap Factory: Impetus Festival Closing Gala Performance. Since Wednesday of this week, dancers have gathered daily at the Soap Factory for Impetus, a new four-day festival of emerging contemporary dance. Saturday’s event wraps things up with performances developed during the festival by choreographers Body Cartography Project, Non Edwards, Paul Herwig, Vanessa Voskull, Tamara Ober, Emily Gastineau and more. 7 p.m. – 11 p.m., 514 Second St. SE. Free and open to the public. FMI.
Sunday at the Science Museum: Maya: Hidden Worlds Revealed. From Aug. 22 – Sept. 2 (the same dates as the Fair), receive one free child’s admission (ages 4-12) with each paid adult admission. This includes all exhibits and the Omnitheater. 120 W. Kellogg Boulevard, St. Paul. Tickets here.
Tuesday at the Artists’ Quarter: Adam Meckler Orchestra. Trumpeter/composer/educator/bandleader Adam Meckler is mixed up in a lot of things: his own quintet; the Graydon Peterson Quartet; Todd Clouser’s A Love Electric; the Jack Brass Band; his own 17-piece big band, the Adam Meckler Orchestra; Pete Whitman’s X-tet; and two projects with his wife, Jana Nyberg, the Jana Nyberg Group and Lulu’s Playground. Both his quintet and his orchestra play Meckler’s original music. He now has a monthly gig at the AQ, and this Tuesday his orchestra will play the world premier of his new piece, “Open Your Eyes,” Meckler’s personal musical reaction to the Trayvon Martin trial and the state of racism in the U.S. 9 p.m., $10 at the door. 408 St. Peter Street in the basement of the Hamm Building, St. Paul.