We love how out-of-staters write about Minnesota. Like the Washington Post reporter who called Red Lake County “the absolute worst place to live in America,” then ended up moving there (here). The German reporter who lied his pants off about Fergus Falls. And the writer for the Thrillist travel site who noted that “Minnesota suffers the most miserable godforsaken winters in the United States … And yet, respectably, its population of Midwestern nice optimists don’t just suck it up – they throw a huge-ass party.”
Indeed we do. It’s called The Great Northern, and it officially starts today (Thursday, Jan. 24). Founded in 2017 by Eric Dayton with leaders from the St. Paul Winter Carnival, the U.S. Pond Hockey Championships and the City of Lakes Loppet Ski Festival, it was a way to get our winter act together before Super Bowl LII in 2018, when the eyes of the world would be on our frozen yet intrepid selves. It took place in 2017, again in 2018, and it’s back in 2019. If the third time’s a charm, then The Great Northern is officially a thing.
So grab your Elmer Fudd hat and your down-filled mittens. Laugh at the thermometer. We’re looking at 10 fun-filled days of things to do and see outdoors (and some indoors). Along with the legacy festivals and events, there’s original programming. Here’s a selection.
Saint Paul Winter Carnival. With Rice Park under construction, much of Winter Carnival (now in its 133rd year!) will take place in and around Kellogg Mall Park and the Landmark Center, with some at the Minnesota State Fairgrounds. All three parades (Moon Glow tonight, Grand Day on Saturday, Jan. 26 and Torchlight on Saturday, Feb. 2) end at the park, where you’ll find the lighted Ice Sculpture Garden, Ice Bars, and all kinds of live music. “Fire & Ice,” the 2019 Winter Carnival Art Show of work by local artists, is up now through Feb. 17 at AZ Gallery, with a reception Friday, Feb. 1 from 5-9 p.m. On Sunday afternoon (Jan. 27), the Saint Paul Civic Symphony will play a free concert in the Landmark Center Cortile. The Saintly City Cat Show (millions and billions and trillions of cats!) runs Saturday and Sunday, Jan. 26-27, at St. Paul RiverCentre. The Fairgrounds is home to the Vulcan Snow Park, with a giant snow slide and the Minnesota State Snow Sculpting Competition. There’s no Ice Palace this year, boo-hoo.
Want to learn how to curl? Sure you do. Frogtown Curling Club will host FrogFest on Saturday, Jan. 26. Throw a rock, sweep a stone and ponder the mysteries of this Olympic sport. On Tuesday, Jan. 29, Beta.MN, an organization that helps startups succeed, will host Minnesota Tech – State of the State, a networking happy hour followed by a panel discussion on the current state of technology in Minnesota and where we go from here. Why is this part of The Great North? We don’t know, but it’s free. On Thursday, Jan. 31, Brooklyn-based indie pop duo Matt and Kim will play a free concert on Nicollet Mall, and partnering restaurants will open their patios for the evening. You read that right. On Friday, Feb. 1, Securian Financial Club at CHS Field will screen two films, “Lure of the North” (about dogsledding) and “Finding Hygge” (about hygge).
Our annual urban cross-country ski festival, the City of Lakes Loppet has a new home at the Trailhead in Theodore Wirth Regional Park, with fat tire events, skijoring and dogsled events, the enchanting Luminary Loppet on Saturday, Feb. 2, a snow sculpture contest and a Loppet village and beer garden.
And on Saturday and Sunday, Jan. 26 and 27, the U.S. Pond Hockey Championships will fill Lake Nokomis with hockey rinks. A family skating rink will be open to the public.
Pity the poor snowbirds in their Florida beachside condos and mid-mod Palm Springs Airbnbs. If you know how to dress (one word: layers) and keep moving, winter in Minnesota can be a beautiful thing.
Friday at the American Swedish Institute: Preview party for “Imagine: Surreal Photography by Erik Johansson.” A first look at the dream-like, nature-based photograph montages of Sweden’s award-winning artist and Instagram star. At the party, Johansson will give an artist talk and T2P2’s Tane Danger will lead a Q&A. Go for Retro will provide live music, Lauren Emmons will lead a collaborative drawing project and Visual is Good will bring the virtual reality. These are always such smart parties, and ASI continues to amaze us with mind-blowing exhibitions that would never come here if ASI weren’t here, so let’s be glad it’s not in Chicago or New York or San Francisco. 7-10 p.m. FMI and tickets ($20/$15 ASI members).
Friday at the Hook & Ladder: Outpost. Because Sam Bergman doesn’t have enough to do as a violist for the Minnesota Orchestra, he started a new performance series called Outpost with equally unbusy soprano Carrie Hennemann Shaw. Outpost made its debut in September 2018 with a night of live chamber music by living composers and spoken word by a poet, a comedian and an actor. “We hope to start a new tradition of giving a diverse array of artists and voices a place to collaborate with each other on a single stage,” Bergman said at the time. Outpost returns Friday with music by Missy Mazzoli, Chickasaw classical composer Jerod Impichchaachaaha’ Tate, Joe St. Johanser and Daniel Bjarnason. Violinists Sarah Grimes and Cecilia Belcher of the Minnesota Orchestra and cellist Richard Belcher of the River Oaks Chamber Orchestra will join Bergman and Shaw in the musical performances. The spoken word artists this time will be storyteller and activist Javier Morillo, poet Chris Santiago and actress/singer Momoko Tanno. Think of it more like a cabaret show than a classical concert. 8 p.m. FMI and tickets ($20, $25 students and seniors).
Friday and Saturday at the Cedar: Drone Not Drones: The 6th Annual 28-Hour Drone. This yearly benefit for Doctors Without Borders is also a marathon concert unlike any other. First, it’s billed as a standing show, but it’s really a sitting- on-the-floor, lying-down show (people bring pillows, blankets, even sleeping bags, and some spend the night). Second, it’s a continuous, uninterrupted 28-hour flow of minimalist drone music, a skein of sustained and repeated sounds that spools out without stopping. As one musician or group plays, another is setting up, and the final notes of the first meet the opening notes of the second. This year’s performers include International Novelty Gamelan, Gaelynn Lee, Alan Sparhawk (Low) and Mila Vocal Ensemble. Here’s the lineup (it’s not yet complete, and the schedule will change). We went last year for a few hours and found it mesmerizing, reflective and respectful. The concert will also stream live online and air over KFAI. 7 p.m. Friday-11 p.m. Saturday. All ages. FMI and tickets ($20 advance, $30 day of show).
Starts Sunday at Mia: “Battlelands.” The U.S. premiere of a new version of Meiro Koizumi’s film about war veterans and trauma. Wearing body cameras that record images of their current domestic spaces and everyday landscapes, seven U.S. veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars recount the traumatic experiences they faced during these military conflicts. Seemingly mundane routines are imbued with underlying tension as memories of war seep into the subjects’ daily lives. The film will be on view through April 28. Free. An artist talk with Koizumi will take place at 2 p.m. Sunday. FMI and tickets ($10/$5/free).