A Little Free Library, a Community, a Story

Just a Story…

A funny little thing happens when the neighborhood comes together.  You loosen up.  You feel connected.  And most of all, you learn something.

I am writing this immediately after the first community event from the Macalester Community Little Free Library.  For a little context, my girlfriend and I caught wind of the community installation trend that’s sweeping the nation (ok, the Midwest at least).  The Little Free Library is basically an intricate wooden box where books can be freely displayed and purveyed in the neighborhood.  We felt it would be cool if we got one in order to connect Macalester student writing with the surrounding community.  We were also hoping to connect with a spot that would allow us to host community events and let those writings live out in the community.  We won a grant, got the Library…and waited to find a partner.

As it turned out, getting a partner proved to be difficult and we ended up in a sort of library purgatory, the structure in our hands but no place to put it.  But, much like stumbling upon the library is a popular way to find it, I came across a library very close to MacalesterCollege and the house my girlfriend and I were staying in on Berkeley Avenue.  I spoke with a Mom and her daughter who I thought was the owner of the library, but they turned out to simply be neighbors of the owner.  As I told my story of my library, her eyes lit up and she said that she owned an art studio around the corner on Snelling Avenue, King Studios.  After some nifty engineering by her husband, the library is still in its hanging home underneath the studio’s roof.

Through a simple story, my girlfriend and I found the community space we were looking for, and with that, we acted to host tonight’s proceeding: A Storytelling Open Mic.  The premise was simple, bring yourself, bring a story and enjoy.  And from people who had lived in the neighborhood for 24 years to people who had only moved in just ten days prior, we had a wide range of community represented.

Here are some things that I learned:

  • Minnesota Nice is not just the stuff of dreams: It’s real folks.
  • While the rivers may have stopped burning, the passion for Cleveland hasn’t.
  • Home doesn’t leave just because it’s easy.  If anything, it becomes more real.
  • I suddenly have a reason to get excited about Halloween thanks to Palace Ave.
  • Cannibals: Cut them some slack.
  • If someone promises you with chocolate croissants, it is most likely a trap.

However, the most important thing I learned was the power of receiving community.  We had no sign up list, no really specific theme, and certainly no direct incentives for anyone to go up and tell a story.  But, people kept coming up and building off of the stories that were shared and coming up with different ways of telling them.  I am grateful for everyone who felt the need to share and to give to a community that was simply there to listen.  What I learned was a deeper understanding of what community can provide, especially when you don’t know what’s coming.

All I asked for was a story.  I should have expected to get more than I bargained for.

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.

St. Paul music – this weekend

At the Minnesota Music Cafe


Friday, August 24
04:00pm MUSIC at Station 4 -varied times   @  Station 4
04:00pm MUSIC: Wabasha Days   @  See event notes
04:00pm Music: This month   @  Station 4
05:00pm – 07:00pm MUSIC: Free Buffet every Friday 5-7pm   @  Wilebski’s Blues Saloon
06:30pm – 10:30pm MUSIC: Live Jazz at the Lex – August Calendar   @  The Lexington
07:00pm Music in the Parks Celebration Brass   @  Como Lakeside Pavilion
07:30pm Monthly Music   @  Dunn Brothers – Music
08:00pm – 10:00pm MUSIC: Willie Murphy   @  Black Dog Coffee and Wine Bar
08:00pm MUSIC: Phil Kitze & the Resonators   @  Wilebski’s Blues Saloon
08:00pm Weekly Music   @  The Palace Stage at Wild Tymes
08:30pm MUSIC: Midas Touch   @  Mancini’s Char House
09:00pm MUSIC: NIGHTOSAUR | BLACKTHORNE (Members of Song of Zarathustra)   @  Turf Club
09:00pm MUSIC: Media Addicts   @  Artists’ Quarter
09:00pm MUSIC: Welcome Ave   @  The Shanty at O’Gara’s
09:30pm MUSIC: Tom Dahill   @  Dubliner Pub
09:30pm MUSIC: Shelby’s Voyage   @  Shamrocks Grill and Pub
10:00pm MUSIC: Old School R and B Latenight   @  Wilebski’s Blues Saloon
Saturday, August 25
09:00pm MUSIC: Lip sync Contest   @  Dubliner Pub
08:00am – 05:00pm MUSIC:HOT FUN FESTIVAL   @  Minnesota Music Cafe
04:00pm MUSIC at Station 4 -varied times   @  Station 4
04:00pm Music: This month   @  Station 4
06:00pm – 08:00pm MUSIC: Local Nights- Mark Linzer & Friends   @  Trotter’s Cafe – Since 1989
06:30pm – 10:30pm MUSIC: Live Jazz at the Lex – August Calendar   @  The Lexington
07:30pm Monthly Music   @  Dunn Brothers – Music
08:00pm MUSIC: Justin Meyers, Joe Panzner, Mike Shiflet   @  Studio Z
08:00pm MUSIC: Soul Rumination   @  Black Dog Coffee and Wine Bar
08:00pm Weekly Music   @  The Palace Stage at Wild Tymes
08:30pm MUSIC: Midas Touch   @  Mancini’s Char House
09:00pm MUSIC: Bethany Larson and The Bee’s Knees   @  Turf Club
09:00pm MUSIC: Peter Whitman, Peter Schimke, Tom Lewis and Kenny Horst   @  Artists’ Quarter
09:00pm MUSIC: Scottie Devlin   @  Dubliner Pub
09:30pm MUSIC: Soul Tight Committee   @  Shamrocks Grill and Pub
Sunday, August 26
09:00pm MUSIC: Lip sync Contest   @  Dubliner Pub
03:00pm Music in the Parks – Como Pops Ensemble   @  Como Lakeside Pavilion
04:00pm MUSIC at Station 4 -varied times   @  Station 4
04:00pm Music: This month   @  Station 4
07:00pm Music in the Parks – Moonlight Serenaders Big Band   @  Como Lakeside Pavilion
07:30pm Monthly Music   @  Dunn Brothers – Music
08:00pm MUSIC: MAURICE JACOX BAND 4pm Show   @  Minnesota Music Cafe
08:00pm – 11:00pm MUSIC: Mia Dorr Live   @  CAMP Bar
08:00pm MUSIC: Maurice Jaycox Band   @  Minnesota Music Cafe
09:00pm MUSIC: Ol’ Yeller w/ Germaine Gemberling   @  Turf Club
09:00pm MUSIC: Antoin Black   @  Dubliner Pub
09:00pm MUSIC: The MN Songwriter Showcase – Open Mic   @  Plums

St Paul events – weekly roundup

StPaulSpot’s weekly round-up (Aug. 20-24) includes hand-chosen events for all ages and interests. If an event catches your eye, make sure to click on the link for more information.
Monday, at Black Dog Coffee and Wine Bar, come to  a Gallery Talk and Discussion  at 6:00, about the Edward Curtis exhibit that is on display through the month of August.

On Tuesday, Summit Brewing Company continues their reservation-required, free brewery tours beginning at 1 p.m. (tours also offered Thursday and Saturday). The tour guides lead you through the process of brewing beer – from hoppy copper kettles to fermenting tanks, filtering, and bottling and kegging. Stay afterwards for several hefty size portions of your choice of Summit’s many brews, and get to know the Minnesota nice crowd while exchanging critiques. The Amsterdam Bar & Hall’s “Books and Bars” kicks off at 6 p.m. and will discuss “Ready Player One.”  Reading the book is optional; consider this an enhanced review.  (though the book is a couple day read, max) If you’d like a free opportunity to work on your dancing, the Minnesota History Center’s “9 Nights of Music”, featuring Ross Sutter and Friends, takes place from 6:30 to 8:30. Bring a lawn chair and pack a picnic or purchase food from the Café Minnesota terrace grill. Come early and take advantage of free admission to the museum galleries from 5 to 8 p.m.

On Thursday, “Music in Mears”, featuring Savannah Smith, The Brian David Band and Honeydogs, takes place from 6 to 9 p.m. in Mears Park. Last appearance of the Honeydogs  in St. Paul, at the Real Radiophonic Hour was memorable. We are psyched to see them in Mears. Also taking place that evening is a high-energy comedy and magic show, featuring Suzanne and Matt Marcy, beginning at 6:30 in the Twin Cities Magic Jewel Theatre ($15-20).  This venue is on the periphery of St. Paul’s event menu but shows take place there every month or two.


On Friday, Trotter’s Cafés’ “Meet the Farmers BBQ” takes place from 5 to 8 p.m. Enjoy live music and meet some of the people that grow Trotter’s Café’s local and sustainable ingredients. On the menu will be fresh organic produce from Blackberry Hills Farm, Northern Organic Farm, and Whole Farm Co-op; grill items such as buffalo burgers from Shepard Farm, pulled pork from Hidden Stream, and pesto chicken from Callister Farm; and desserts, including fresh fruit pies, red velvet cake, and Castle Rock organic ice-cream sandwiches. Poor Benny, an old-time trio with fiddle, banjo, and guitar, will provide live music as guests mingle with the people who labor to raise their food.

St Paul events on our radar this weekend

At The Bindery

StPaulSpot presents a weekend round-up of events for all ages and interests. For more information on any of these featured events, make sure to click on the provided links.
On Friday, get outdoors with “I Can Fish – Fishing Friday’s”from 3 to 5 p.m. at Snelling Lake’s fishing pier. Minnesota residents don’t need a fishing license, and equipment, bait and instruction will be provided. Afterwards enjoy “Live Jazz at the Lex” from 6:30 to 10:30 at the Lexington. This week features Maurice Jaycox, who can be previewed here. Additional live music is taking place at the Artists’ Quarter starting at 9 p.m., where the talented Brandon Wozniak, Adam Linz and Eric Kamau Gravatt will be performing.

Also Friday night, one of the newest art galleries in town, located on Vandalia street just north of University Avenue , aptly called The Bindery, after the bindery housed on the main floor for decades, is hosting an opening reception.  Nyeema Morgan’s – The Dubious Sum of Vaguely Discernable Parts,begins at 7p.m. and promises to be a great place to converse about the art and arts. An artist talk will be at 2:00pm on Saturday.

On Saturday, get in some early afternoon exercise and Mississippi River sight-seeing with “Bike with a Ranger” taking place from 10 to 1 p.m. National Park Service Rangers will lead the 9 mile bike ride that starts and ends at Harriet Island. Make sure to sign up in advance, and if you don’t have your own bike (or helmet) there are loaners available. If you’d like to keep exploring St. Paul, check out the “Twin Town Tacky Tour”($24) beginning at 2:30 p.m. at the Wabasha Street Caves. Join the Gunderson’s, Gloria, Gordy, Glen or Gladys on a journey to the tackiest places in St. Paul and Minneapolis. This two-hour motor coach tour takes you to sites that no other tour of the Twin Cities would dare to venture, including the spot where shopping bags with handles were invented! Recharge from the busy day with the “St. George Greek Festival” taking place from 11 to 8 p.m., featuring a wide array of ethnic pastries and dishes, The Greek Dancers of Minnesota, Vocalist Dino Adamidis and children’s activities including face painting, games and an inflatable bouncy moon walk.

On Sunday, enjoy some local history with the World War II Walking Tour from 9 to 11 a.m. at the Fort Snelling State Park. Each tour will take a two-mile loop to the Upper Post, where many World War II-era buildings still stand. It will begin outside the historic site’s Visitor Center. Led by members of the Friends of the Upper Post preservation organization, tour groups will walk to the Upper Post to see the old barracks, headquarters and other structures that were a part of the largest military base in Minnesota.

Wabasha Days – Fridays in Ecolab Plaza

Wabasha Days” presented by Amsterdam Bar & Hall

August 10, 2012

Ecolab Plaza, 4-9 p.m.

If you’re looking for quality live music, affordable beer and bratwursts look no further than “Wabasha Days” presented by Amsterdam Bar & Hall. This week’s event featured Bethany Larson and the Bee’s Knees and Charlie Parr.

Take a look at the performance

Wabasha Days continues every Friday at 4 p.m. through Aug. 31 in St. Paul’s Ecolab Plaza.

You can find  information on the weekly bands on the St. Paul SPOT calendar.

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.