Checking out the vibes in Surly-land; Mary Rockcastle wins Kay Sexton Award

MinnPost photo by John Whiting
Where would they all be if they weren’t here?

Is beer art? Let’s all say, ‘Yes,’ then head to Surly’s new “destination brewery” in Prospect Park, a $34-million, HGA-designed complex with a 250-plus capacity beer hall, a 90-seat restaurant, top chefs (Jorge Guzman, formerly of Solera, and Brian Hauke, last of Spill the Wine), and all the beer you can drink; at full production, Surly will produce more than 100,000 barrels a year.

We were kind of apprehensive when we went Wednesday night. We’d read stories, we’d seen pictures and we were lacking what seemed to be the two main requirements for admission: a beard and a flannel shirt. But we’d gotten an invite we couldn’t refuse, so we drove up Malcolm Avenue, found an empty space in the massive parking lot, strolled past the valets, the giant bike rack (and a few Surly Fat Tire bikes) and the blazing fire pit on the patio, opened the door and entered the din.

The beer hall was overflowing. There was a two-hour wait for a table, a half-hour wait (at least) in the beer line. (And this was a Wednesday night.) People sat and stood and milled around everywhere. First thought: Where would they all be if they weren’t here? Were other formerly hot places suddenly empty and forlorn, or had Surly drawn a whole new crowd?

When we finally got a table, the food was seriously delicious and the service friendly and fast. It was noisy, but a happy noisy, not the horrid (and passé) kind of noisy that forces you to scream to be heard by the people beside you.

On the way out, we stopped by the company store filled with Surly tees and sweatshirts, caps and all kinds of drinking vessels, and a helpful staff. A friend walked a few blocks south to take the Green Line home. We felt like we’d just been in Surlyland, but in a good way. 

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Hamline writing professor, author, editor and founder of an award-winning literary journal, Mary François Rockcastle, has won the 2015 Kay Sexton Award, the Minnesota Book Awards announced Thursday. Named for the late Kay Sexton, an influential bookseller and B. Dalton vice president, the award is presented annually to an individual or organization for “long-standing dedication and outstanding work in fostering books, reading and literary activity in Minnesota.”

Author of two novels published by Graywolf, founder and executive director of “Water-Stone Review,” Rockcastle helped start Hamline’s MFA in Creative Writing program in 1994, the first of its kind in Minnesota; the program now offers a low-residency MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults and a BFA in Creative Writing. Author Kate DiCamillo said in a statement, “Mary has made the Twin Cities a hub for children’s literature.” She has, and we’re grateful. Rockcastle will be honored Saturday, April 18, at the 27th annual Minnesota Book Awards Gala.

This Saturday, Jan. 17, is opening night for the Southern Theater’s ARTshare, an intriguing new membership model for lovers of theater and dance. After the Southern suffered a financial meltdown in 2011, production manager (now executive director) Damon Runnals stayed on, raising money, paying bills and coming up with a plan to keep the beloved old theater alive and, at the same time, give many small companies a home.

The Southern now has 15 resident companies including Black Label Movement, Live Action Set, Savage Umbrella and Workhaus Collective. For a monthly fee of $18, you can see whatever you want as often as you like, have first access to resident company performances, reserve admission before the general public, and attend members-only events.

The grand experiment begins Saturday with Swandive Theatre’s “Defying Gravity” by Jane Anderson, a free-structured look at the 1986 Challenger disaster, teacher Christa McAuliffe (one of seven crew members who were killed) and our own need to dare the universe. Next Saturday (Jan. 24), Theater Novi Most steps in with a newly reworked version of its original play with music, “Rehearsing Failure,” about Bertold Brecht in Los Angeles, rehearsing “The Life of Galileo” with his wife and two of his former lovers.

On Wednesday, Jan. 28, Savage Umbrella’s “Freaks” opens, a “high school zom com rom com” followed by a live music dance party. All shows run in repertory into February, when new ones begin. For more information and tickets ($24). ARTshare membership info here. We spoke with Runnals last July, before ARTshare went live.

Picks for the weekend and a bit beyond

In case you’re new here: We post weekend picks all week long starting on Tuesday.

Sunday at Aria in Minneapolis: Brooklyn Rider with special guest Greg Saunier. Elizabeth Mishler of Theoroi, a young professionals group sponsored by the Schubert Club, wrote this preview for MinnPost: “While all four of its members are classically trained, Brooklyn Rider is not your typical string quartet. They have partnered with banjo player Béla Fleck and electro-acoustic composer/shakuhachi player Kojiro Umezaki. Greg Saunier, their guest at this event, is the drummer for the punk rock band Deerhoof. They have played everywhere from Carnegie Hall to South by Southwest. NPR describes them as ‘re-creating the 300-year-old form of string quartet as a vital and creative 21st-century ensemble.’ For their latest album, ‘The Brooklyn Rider Almanac,’ they commissioned 15 non-classical composers to write music inspired by another artist from the past 50 years. (And it didn’t have to be a composer.) Jazz saxophonist Daniel Cords wrote a piece inspired by Keith Haring. Guitarist Bill Frisell wrote one inspired by John Steinbeck. Jazz pianist Vijay Iyer looked to James Brown for inspiration. It will be exciting to hear what they have in store for us this weekend.” FMI and tickets ($31). Very few remain, but the show is general admission, so your chances of getting a great seat are as good as anybody’s.

Tuesday at the State Theatre in Minneapolis: “I Love Lucy – Live on Stage” opens. Lucy and Desi, Ethel and Fred. How can this not be hilarious? Prepare to go back in time: it’s 1952, and you’re a member of the Desilu Playhouse studio audience, awaiting the filming of two new episodes for the brand-new thing called television. Here’s the “sizzle reel,” with the usual audience raves, but enough glimpses into the actual stage show to make this look like a seriously fun night on the town. FMI and tickets ($39-$99). 

Tuesday and Wednesday at the Dakota: José James. Growing up in Minneapolis, he sang jazz at Fireside Pizza with his high-school band teacher, Denny Malmberg. A charismatic singer with a velvety baritone, he was so good he almost won the prestigious and tough Thelonious Monk International Jazz Competition in 2004. Like other young jazz artists today, he began mixing jazz with other influences: hip-hop, funk, soul, R&B. James signed to Blue Note in 2012 and has since released two CDs that seem very far away from jazz, “No Beginning No End” and “While You Were Sleeping.” His latest not-yet-released Blue Note disc, “Yesterday I Had the Blues: The Music of Billie Holiday,” signals a return to his jazz roots … or does it? We won’t know until we hear it. Either way, he’s worth hearing. This is a rare chance to see James on his home turf, since he now lives in New York and travels the world. 7 p.m. FMI and tickets ($35).

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