Trains are cool. Which makes Union Depot a cool place to be this Saturday, during its annual Train Day event. Special guests include the Great Northern 400 (“Hustle Muscle”) locomotive, the “Cedar Rapids” parlor lounge/observation car, built by the Milwaukee Road in 1948, a modern BNSF Railway locomotive, five restored vintage rail cars and a new Amtrak baggage car with bike racks. Several rail cars will be open so you can walk through them and dream of quitting your day job, selling everything you own and spending the rest of your life on trains.
Train Day is family-friendly, with activities and entertainment. Children’s TV star Choo Choo Bob and singer Cannonball Paul will perform throughout the day. The Depot’s Waiting Room will host educational programs and a photo exhibit. St. Paul Saints mascot Mudonna will drop by for a meet-and-greet starting at 2 p.m.
Come for the trains, but be sure to head for Union Depot’s Concourse before 1 p.m. That’s when St. Paul artist Ta-coumba Aiken’s giant Lite Brite mural will be relit in its new permanent home. Originally created in 2013 for the St. Paul Foundation’s million-dollar Forever Saint Paul Challenge, it was built by more than 600 volunteers: Kids and adults from the community, and people who happened to be passing by, asked “What’s up?” and were invited in. Twelve feet tall, 24 feet wide, made from 596,897 Lite Brite pegs, it’s now the Guinness World Record holder for largest Lite Brite picture ever.
First lit on Feb. 16, 2013, it stayed up for a while, then went into storage while the foundation figured out how to bring it up to code. The six individual panels have been remounted on aluminum framing. The lighting is now energy-efficient, long-lasting LEDs, and the panels are protected by plate glass sheets, like giant storefront windows. Colorful, joyous, full of things to discover, this monumental work joins Union Depot’s already impressive public art collection as a gift from the Foundation. There’s even a maintenance plan in place to keep it glowing for years.
Pick up a Train Day ticket at the Union Depot booth and have it stamped along the way throughout the day. Later, you can exchange your fully-stamped ticket for a Union Depot T-shirt, while supplies last. 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. FMI. Free.
Before Friday night’s “American Voices” concert at Orchestra Hall, Minnesota Orchestra president and CEO Kevin Smith dedicated the performance to Lee Henderson, the Minneapolis attorney and staunch orchestra supporter who died suddenly last Thursday. After which the orchestra, led by Mischa Santora, played especially beautifully.
The whole program was a pleasure: Bernstein’s breezy “Divertimento for Orchestra,” Copland’s Concerto for Clarinet and Orchestra, with former principal clarinetist Burt Hara (who brought shouts of “We love you, Burt!” and “Come home, Burt!”), the reprise of Judd Greenstein’s lush “Acadia” and the world premiere of Steve Heitzeg’s “American Nomad,” featuring Charles Lazarus’ clear, soaring trumpet.
It was an exceptional night of music, all written by American composers within the past 70 years. We’d like to think that Henderson, who played the clarinet, would have enjoyed it immensely. His loss to the orchestra and this community is significant. He was such a steady, well-spoken force during the long lockout, and he could raise large amounts of money seemingly with the snap of his fingers, and by the example of opening his own wallet. He loved to travel; he and his wife, Polly, had planned to accompany the orchestra on its Cuba tour later this month.
On Monday, the members of the citizens’ group Orchestrate Excellence released a statement saying, in part: “Lee Henderson was a leader in the truest and best sense of the word, a leader who loved music and the Minnesota Orchestra passionately, a leader who left a legacy of dynamic cultural stewardship from which we can all learn. During and after the lockout, Lee articulated a powerful vision for the future of the imperiled Minnesota Orchestra, worked collaboratively across the community to raise funds to support it, and initiated and personally supported major challenge grants. Independent, optimistic and no-nonsense, Lee took decisive action, always true to his principles and his passions.”
Funeral services will be held Thursday, May 7, at 10 a.m. at Bethlehem Lutheran Church. In lieu of flowers, his family suggests memorials to the church or the Minnesota Orchestra.
Does anyone have a theory (or, better, an actual reason) why so many arts and culture events happen on Thursdays?
Thursday (May 7) at the Continuing Education and Conference Center on the U’s St. Paul campus: Charles Baxter: “Contemporary Fiction and the Modern Security State.” Baxter is a superstar U of M creative writing professor and an award-winning author of many books, including the National Book Award finalist “The Feast of Love,” which was made into a film starring Morgan Freeman. He’ll talk about how the modern security state and its tendency to disclaim responsibility (“Mistakes were made”) is affecting novels and movies today. 7 p.m. FMI and registration ($15).
Thursday at the Trylon: “Happy Collaborator: George Stoney.” Local filmmaker Mike Hazard releases his documentary about George Stoney, the “Johnny Appleseed of documentary film,” one of the fathers of public access television and a man who believed that “films should do, not just be.” (And here we interrupt ourselves to note that “The Avengers: Age of Ultron” just made $188 million on its opening weekend.) Stoney taught at NYU into his nineties; his many students include Paul Barnes, chief editor for Ken Burns; Jim Brown (“The Power of Song: Pete Seeger”); and Hazard, who first met him in 1981. Screenings are at 7 and 8:30 p.m., with a Q&A after each. Free and open to the public. FMI.
Thursday at the Hennepin History Museum: “Bewitched, Beguiled, and Bee-Dazzled: Honeycomb of Words.” For the museum’s Fifth Annual Poetry/Prose Reading, curator Roslye Ultan has invited six writers to read selections with a spring theme. With James Lenfestey, Kate Schuknecht, Ross Willits, Cindy Tran, Scott Banas, and Yoni Reinhartz. 7 p.m., preceded by live music. Free. Located in the 44-room George Christian Mansion on Third Ave. S. just north of the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, the museum is not (yet) handicap accessible.
Thursday and Friday at Hopkins Center for the Arts: Pen Pals with Chip Kidd. While this year’s Pen Pals season was stellar – Joyce Carol Oates kicked it off – Kidd is the speaker we’ve been dying to see. He’s a rock star New York-based graphic designer of book covers and illustrations (the T-Rex image for Michael Crichton’s “Jurassic Park” was his, and now you probably see it in your head). His 2012 Ted Talk, “Designing books is no laughing matter. OK, it is” has been viewed more than 1.3 million times. This promises to be tremendously entertaining and enlightening, and will probably make everyone in the audience want to run off and design books, or buy some. 7:30 p.m. Thursday, 11 a.m. Friday. FMI and tickets ($40-$50). P.S. It looks like we’ll be announcing the new Pen Pals season on Friday.
Save Saturday, July 25, for the second annual Lowertown Blues Festival in Mears Park, where the headliners include Elvin Bishop, an original member of the Paul Butterfield Blues Band. Noon-10 p.m., all ages, rain or shine, and free.