The Soul of Saint Paul (with a little help from our Minneapolis neighbor)

The Soul of Saint Paul

Pardon the delay on this submission. In terms of timing, it is rather late to be writing simply about last weekend. However, that is simply because parts of last weekend are still sticking with me like the scrumptious BBQ ribs I consumed at the First Trinity church. Nevertheless, it is time I recount this experience and try to piece together what I feel was a very satisfactory weekend, and a clue to the soul of Saint Paul.

It certainly doesn’t hurt to begin with Garrison Keillor, the arguably beckoning voice of Saint Paul (I disagree, but so would millions of listeners to my idea), and his bookstore, Common Goods. Or, was it the musicians who invaded and Common Goods was merely an observant? No matter what, the combination of accordions and cozy bookstore settings was discovered to be a compelling match. Thanks to some strings, or, in this case, boxes being pulled, performers from the “Think Outside the Squeezebox” accordion gathering at O’Garas stopped by for an “impromptu” flash mob. It was later revealed that it was the most orderly flash mob ever, with a gaggle of accordion players lined up neatly in the back of the store, and surprisingly anticipated, but, the results were rather pleasant. Traditional waltzes mixed with Tom Jones’ Delilah and a hint of audience-participation via kazoos made for a pleasant jam of a morning. A Macalester first-year even made his St. Paul accordion playing debut! While the spontaneity may have faded in the background, the community of music was a welcome addition to a beautiful, crisp morning.

I had intentions to go to the Festa Italiana, but, due to time crunches, I was unable to attend. On my way to my next event down Marshall Ave. however, I stumbled across an equally interesting tradition. There, I spotted smoke on the horizon and as I pulled to the corner of Marshall and Chatsworth Avenue, I saw a smoker that stretched almost the entire block. Ok, a slight exaggeration, but forgive me if my newfound hunger clouded my vision. There, two young church community members were roasting up many racks of delicious ribs. I bought the $12 dinner plate, which included a full rack, coleslaw, beans and Texas toast, and I helped myself to a heaping plate of BBQ goodness. The ribs were tender, juicy and came with a homemade sauce, simmered on the stove for hours. I was told that the “Ribfest” as they called it happens every couple Saturdays, and they start grilling early in the morning (that’s 10 am, so translate early/late as you please). All I can say is that it is definitely worth a drive-by every Saturday to see if they are grilling up.

Sharing community food was a continued venture on the next stop of this interesting day as my girlfriend and I took in a showing of The Return of King Idomeneo: A Picnic Operetta at Swede Hollow Park. The play was a tale of the return of a King Idomeneo onto his unfamiliar hometown, a question of an unfulfilled sacrifice to King Neptune, which just happens to be his son, and, of course, diners and doo-wop galore. Thanks to the injection of 50’s choruses and fashion, Mixed Blood Theater produced another spectacular performance and provided delectable snacks to munch on such as cucumber boats and kale bites that matched the soaring ships and algae monsters in the show. The performance was filled with energy, wonderful musical arrangements, and enough clever translation of the epic opera for even the least-read opera fan to understand. It was unfortunate that it was the second-to-last performance, but, it was quite a joy to enjoy such a unique spectacle in one of St. Paul’s most beautiful natural spots.

However, I believe I saved the most beautiful part for last, and that was at the Twin Cities Funk and Soul revival show hosted by Secret Stash Records at the Cedar Cultural Center. The event coincided with a new collection put out by Secret Stash that brings together songs from many groups that helped establish the scene in the Twin Cities. The event got major buzz as Mayor R.T. Rybak stopped by to visit with the old stars during rehearsals, and both cities declared through official proclamations last week to be Funk and Soul week in the Twin Cities. When I arrived, I had never seen a more diverse crowd. There were a lot more older people than I am accustomed to, including a rollicking seating section, but there were also a fair amount of younger folks, including kids. A lot of people appeared to share some sort of connection to the old bands, as there was a great deal of buzz as the house band was introduced, but, eventually, everyone became connected by the fantastic music pouring out. The main band was electric. A three piece horn section, guided by a sharp bass and guitar from one of the Secret Stash Records employees ripped through hit after hit as singers rotated in from groups and singers such as The Valdons, Willie Walker, Jackie Harris and amny more. My favorite was from a sultry starlet, Wanda Davis, as she wailed a passionate version of “Take Care”, a mid-tempo letter to a lover that got the crowd moving and grooving. Perhaps the most rewarding part of the evening was seeing the true emotion pour out of bandmates who hadn’t played together, let alone seen each other in over thirty five years. As the show became older, the crowd and the bands seemed to get younger. I was shocked that more dance songs occupied the set instead of slow jams, as burners such as “Thieves in the Funkhouse” and “The Maxx” got even the oldest groovers to shake off any rust and take a strut. In the end, I developed a further respect for those whose names may not have gotten big, but certainly made an impact in the community.

So, what do all of these events have in common besides making for an exhausting day? I think they show how well engrained St. Paul’s history is, and how tradition and reinterpretation can create a wonderful concoction. From two young men carrying an outreach tradition with time-honored staples, to a remix of a centuries-old theatrical tale, or a new vision of an old bookstore (with kazoos) and the reunion of classic singers with a familiar and foreign crowd, St. Paul (and a little help from Minneapolis) provided a vision of community give and take. As I told my twin brother visiting from Chicago, this line of events may happen in other cities, but, at once, on the same day, in a way that is accessible to all? Well, the next time that happens is when I finally start to get opera. Oh wait…

Edtor’s Note

The writer,a guest blogger for St. Paul SPOT is Harry Kent , currently a senior at Macalester College, and a student employee at Macalester’s Civic Engagement Center.  Prior to that time, he was a community outreach coordinator and eventually, serving  a brief stint as Office Manager of the University Avenue Business Association.

Speakeasy Series @ McNally Smith

McNally Smith “Speakeasy Series” featuring JT Bates

August 10, 2012

Soundbite Café, 4-6 p.m.

This weekend I ventured down to McNally Smith College of Music’s brand new “Speakeasy Series” in the third floor Soundbite Café. While there I took advantage of a great spread including complimentary coffee, white and red wines (I chose the white, hoping to avoid purple lips), and chips and salsa. I also got the chance to speak with local drummer and featured guest JT Bates, McNally Smith College of Music’s president Harry Chalmiers and by chance a local DJ who gigs at Minneapolis’ Honey and also previously toured with the hip-hop enigma MF Doom.

Listen in on the event here:

At the Soundbite Cafe, McNally Smith

Speakeasy Series, McNally Smith

The next Speakeasy takes place Friday, Sept. 21 from 4-6 p.m. and features guest DJ Derrick Stevens, 89.3 The Current Production Manager. More information on McNally Smith and the Speakeasy Series can be found on the calendar at St. Paul Spot.

Some St Paul Spots to check out this week

Monday, April 18 08:00pm MUSIC: McNALLY SMITH COLLEGE OF MUSIC SHOW!!!!   @  Minnesota Music Cafe 
Tuesday, April 19 All Day Event Public Eco-Art   @  Macalester College 
07:00pm Azar Nafisi – The Republic of the Imagination   @  St Catherine University 
Wednesday, April 20 07:00pm – 09:30pm At the Movies with Colin Covert   @  Macalester College 
07:00pm – 08:30pm LECTURE;Chris Hedges   @  Macalester College 
Thursday, April 21 07:30pm THEATRE: I Wish You Love   @  Penumbra Theater 
07:30pm Emerging Artists –   @  McNally Smith Auditorium 
Friday, April 22 07:30pm – 11:59pm MUSIC: DEMO weekly showcase   @  St. Paul Eagles Club 
08:00pm MUSIC: The AMAZING LEGENDARY WILLIE MURPHY BAND   @  Minnesota Music Cafe 
Saturday, April 23 07:00pm TC Terrors vs. Race City Rebels (Indianapolis, IN)   @  St Paul Armory 
08:00pm Paranormal Pajama Party   @  The Historic Mounds Theatre 
Sunday, April 24 08:00pm – 11:00pm MUSIC: Second Harvest Zydeco Benefit   @  Half Time Rec

this is a copy and paste

But wanted to pass on the line up for McNally Smith’s Emerging Artist Series.

All of these concerts are free, and open to the public. They take place at our favorite music venues around St. Paul – Minnesota Music Cafe, Artist’s Quarter, Station 4, The Fitzgerald Theater, and also on the McNally Smith campus in the auditorium.

Good listening for St. Paul folks throughout the month. Enjoy.

McNally Smith Presents: The Emerging Artist Series

All concerts are free and open to the public

Friday, April 8

McNally Smith Auditorium, 8 p.m.

Musical Theater ensemble performing “Song for a New World” by Jason Robert Brown – Erin Schwab

Saturday, April 9

McNally Smith Auditorium, 8 p.m.

Musical Theater ensemble performing “Song for a New World” by Jason Robert Brown – Erin Schwab

Sunday, April 10

McNally Smith Auditorium, 2 p.m.

Musical Theater ensemble performing “Song for a New World” by Jason Robert Brown – Erin Schwab

McNally Smith Auditorium, 6 p.m.

Afro-Caribbean Percussion ensemble – Shai Hayo

World Vocal ensemble – Peggy Larson, Rene Thompson Dance Group

World Percussion ensemble – Aaron Barnell

Percussion ensemble – Dave Schmalenberger

Wednesday, April 13

Minnesota Music Café, 7 p.m.

Danny Elfman ensemble – Brian Metreyeon

Video Game ensemble – Sean McMahon

Blues ensemble – Neal Thorgrimson

Rock ensemble – Charles Fletcher

Blues ensemble – Charles Fletcher

Creative Fusion ensemble – Brian Metreyeon

Monday, April 18

Minnesota Music Café, 7 p.m.

World Vocal ensemble – Peggy Larson

Blues ensemble – Steve Faison

Rock ensemble – Steve Jennings

Country ensemble – Travis Schilling

Fusion ensemble – Dave Jensen

Wednesday, April 20

Minnesota Music Café, 7 p.m.

Bluegrass ensemble – Phil Nusbaum

Creative Comp ensemble – Sean McPherson

Electric Guitar Fusion ensemble – Tim Lyle

Creative Foxy Shazam ensemble – Reid Kennedy

Rock ensemble – Shon Parker

Creative Top Forty ensemble – Erin Schwab

Thursday, April 21

Artists’ Quarter, 7 p.m.

Latin ensemble – Liz Kuivinen

Hot Club ensemble – Randy Sabien

Contemporary Percussion ensemble with members of Salsa Del Sol – Shai Hayo

Hornheads ensemble – Scott Agster

Jazz ensemble – Kristin Sponcia

Jazz ensemble – Chris Olson

Jazz ensemble – Steve Jennings

Friday, April 22

McNally Smith Auditorium, 7:30 p.m.

Music for Media ensemble – Jack Dubowsky

Monday, April 25

Fitzgerald Theater, 7 p.m.

Sing Out Spring 2011

McNally Smith College of Music Singers – Judi Donaghy

Sonic – Shon Parker

World Vocal ensemble – Peggy Larson

Contemporary Vocal ensemble – Jennifer Parker

Musical Theater ensemble – Erin Schwab

Wednesday, April 27

Minnesota Music Café, 7 p.m.

Ska ensemble – Scott Agster

Hip-Hip ensemble – Kevin Washington

Creative Jazz ensemble – Peter Schimke

Rhythm & Blues ensemble – Jeff Bailey

Soul ensemble – Debbie Duncan

M-Theory – Steve Faison

McNally Smith Auditorium, 7 p.m.

Full Circle ensemble – Chris Cunningham and Sean McPherson

Thursday, April 28

Station 4, 7 p.m.

Iron Maiden ensemble – Ric Oliva

Heavy Metal ensemble – Ric Oliva

Creative Progressive Rock ensemble – Ric Oliva

of Dessa Darling & new urbanists

From the SXSW line-up.  Dessa Darling, as she is sometimes referred to,  recently became Artist in Residence at St Paul’s McNally School of Music.   She played  at the Concrete and Grass festival in Mears Park last summer.   Her next St. Paul play date is with the Live at Five series on April 19 .

Today I’ve got a deadline for  a story  on the recent 30th Anniversary of Seaside, Florida and joint meeting of the Congress for New Urbanism, the Founder’s Forum and awarding of the 2011 Seaside Prize to Dhiru Thadani.  Coming from the genuinely functional urban area of St.Paul,  I find it amusing to listen to New Urbanists banter and bicker about the proper way to design walkable developments.

These men and women have devoted their lives to designing developments that look, and act, like St. Paul. The streets are lined with sidewalks,  the houses have front porches, and cars are relegated to an approach through the alley.  The civic buildings have architectural merit – they are landmarks in the landscape.  And the focal points of a distant vistas – like the  St Paul cathedral as viewed  for miles while driving down  Smith Avenue and crossing  the High Bridge.  I digress.

This year the Forum was heavily tweeted about, and the conference attendees were divided into the old guard who wouldn’t know a baggage tag from a hashtag, and the new generation of urbanists,   such as @cnunextgen, who tapped away on their smart phones while the forum panel debated .

Want to know what these brilliant  folks are thinking about smart growth?  Here are a few gems from the tweet feed,


The organization is important. Who else would have been able to pull together in Mississippi. – Plater-Zyberk #SeasideAt30
29 Jan Favorite Retweet Rep

n Greece, despite lack of maintenance & space, nothing was torn down because everything belonged to someone specifically -Stef#SeasideAt30
CNU NextGen
cnunextgen CNU NextGen
RT @stevemouzon: An object is an object. It is not necessarily in a causal relationship with cultureStefanos Polyzoides, #SeasideAt30
CNU NextGen
cnunextgen CNU NextGen
Doing & learning, doing & understanding, doing & transforming. Urban and Architectural design as ways of becoming. -Polyzoides#SeasideAt30
CNU NextGen
cnunextgen CNU NextGen
RT @suhender: Community isnt just about people. It includes social financial and natural capital as well. ~Hank Dittmar #SeasideAt30
CNU NextGen


Enjoy the music.

St Paul Musician Ben Weaver and the SXSW line up

From the City Pages music blog, Gimme Noise,  I found this list of Minnesota musicians who will be playing in the South By Southwest conference in Austin, Texas  – commonly referred to as SXSW –  taking place March 11-20.

Alpha Consumer
Banner Pilot
Ben Weaver
Birthday Suits
The Blind Shake
Cecil Otter
Dan Wilson
Daughters of the Sun
Farewell Continental
Four Fists (P.O.S. and Astronautalis)
Haley Bonar
Har Mar Superstar
Kid Dakota
Lazerbeak & Paper Tiger
Leisure Birds
Marcy Playground
Marijuana Deathsquads
Mystery Palace
Now Now
Retribution Gospel Choir
Sick of Sarah
Slapping Purses
Solid Gold
Swimming With Dolphins
Tapes ‘n Tapes
Trampled by Turtles

Yeah, quite a list.  Even after 6 months of managing music calendars for the iPhone app, few of these names look familiar to me.  I decided to go down the list and see which of the musicians were from St. Paul,  do a little research and give you an opportunity to hear them with a SoundCloud  sampling.   I’m way at the top of the list, with Ben Weaver , whose last album  was Mirepoix and  Smoke.

If you want to hear this St. Paul musician play, you’ll need to catch a flight to England or the Netherlands. Like many great musicians, he seems  to be touring primarily out of the country.

Here’s some of his music – I’m working to get the SoundCloud stream on the page.

This is going to be a fun project.