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 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.

Richard Abraham in the Cloister Gallery

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

A white hot late summer day, half way between the dog days of August and the Indian summer of October, is a perfect time to slip into the halls of  House of Hope Presbyterian Church for a visit to the Cloister Gallery, where transplanted St. Paul artist, Richard Abraham is displaying his work from Sept 4 through October 2 .

Don’t be intimidated by the construction going on in back of the church, on Portland Avenue.  Actually, an observation of the pallets of slate and a view of the crews ascending the scaffolding and balancing on the steep slope of the Gothic building is reason enough for a visit.  The church was  designed by Richard Cramm and is among one of his many Gothic church designs.

I had to duck under some construction tape to ring the doorbell, and get buzzed in by an unseen hand. Luckily, I soon encountered an employee who walked me to the gallery, though the curator’s instructions were easy enough to follow, and are here: “turn left and follow the wall to your right and you will see the gallery going towards Summit Avenue next to the open courtyard.”  Trouble is, there are so many interesting things to look at while approaching the gallery, it’s easy to get distracted.

The gallery spans the hallway, punctuated by windows that view a fetching interior courtyard. An alcove provides another viewing area.  According to the current chair of the art committee, and curator of the space, Patty Paulus,  also a notable painter, the gallery has been around since the 70’s.

Artists picked to show in the gallery have all been local or regional artists from Minnesota, and are chosen by members of the Arts Committee at the church.  Interested in showing at the gallery? Portfolios – digital or pictures of art can be submitted to the committee.

According to Paulus, “sometimes the art has a religious theme, but that is not the intent of the gallery to only show works of that genre.

Art is for sale if the artist desires. They range in price anywhere from $100- $6000, depending on the artist.  The church does not take a percentage of the works that are sold, but appreciate a donation from the artist if sales are made during the show.

(We) try to feature a variety of media, subject matter and interesting art that might challenge our congregation …..and encourages their support of art produced by local artists.”

The Abraham show was a perfect choice for an early fall exhibit.  Richard Abraham, according to his biography, made a profound life change when he left a 14 year long production career in Madison, Wisconsin to move to the Twin Cities and study painting.

The collection of work here is a study in the power of changing mid-western seasons.  They are the kind of  landscapes that we view from the car window -so usual that we forgot to contemplate them. Finding them on canvas provides a moment to reflect on what we take for granted.

You can view the show and  talk with the artist  during a “coffee chat”  taking place on September 18 at 11 a.m.

Prices for paintings range from $500- $2300.

Here’s the viewing Schedule/Office Hours (Sept.-May)

Sun 8 am-noon

Mon & Wed 9 am-8 pm

Tues &Thurs 9 am-5:30 pm

Fri 9 am-4:30

Please visit St. Paul Spot on line, and download our app, on Android or iPhone, for a daily comprehensive listing of St. Paul events and St. Paul restaurants. 

Claddagh Coffee – a new place on the block

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I live on the other side of the river  – so bridges are part of the daily routine.  In 19 years, I’ve never tired of the view crossing the 35  bridge.  Heading north the skyline of St. Paul with whatever backdrop the sky gods have chosen for the hour . Heading south, the shimmer of   river , bisected by an island of green.  In winter a monochromatic blend of ice floe , limbs,  infinite grey sky.  And crossing the High Bridge, I never fail to admire the perfect site line of the  classical Capitol Building, its dominance over the landscape until the sky opens over the south end of the bridge and announces St Paul Cathedral’s more dominant psychic  hold over the land, and then, a smattering of skyscrapers to the east.

What does this have to do with coffee?

The ramp to the 35  bridge is closing this week, cutting off the mainline to my usual coffee joint. So I was  out scouting an alternative yesterday, and  reminded by someone from the Minnesota Food Bloggers  to visit Claddagh Coffee.

It’s a sweet, clean place, admirably designed with a light touch.  Brick walls backdrop the obligatory coffee shop gallery display.  Huge blackboards serve double duty as design elements and daily menu announcements.  The proper quotient of hard-working folks sitting at wified computers, and good-natured baristas in training made for an approachable place.   Delving a bit into the menu I found that the pastries came from all the well reviewed places around town.   Add to the mix some custom baked items.  Boars Head meats and cheeses are used for panini.  Fresh and organic produce comes from nearby Mississippi Market.   There’s a downstairs seating area with a conference table for groups who can reserve it for meetings.  And for a basement, it was cosy rather than close with a nose of mildew.

And the coffee.  Well, I had already consumed my daily quota; the caffeine was still creating a nice buzz in my mouth, where, according to the baristas at my usual place,   caffeine from espresso preparation works its magic.

The ramp to the bridge is closing on September 6.  I’ll be back with a coffee report then.

On Alcina’s Island

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

An all night trucker hears the siren call of home cookin at  Alcina’s oasis, and so begins the adventures of an evil truck stop temptress with a potent toxic brewery, a bevy of ex boyfriends who have been transformed into inanimate garden sculptures, and a shunned lover who assumes the role of a pest control team to rescue her trucker and  break the spell.

Part opera, half musical, classical ,western, a capella, and balletic  romantic comedy.  That’s Alcina’s Island. Confused?  Not at all. Just completely engaged.

Relax on the picnic blankets, get cozy with your neighbors, rule number 5, pass the trays.

Reserve tickets on line.  No fee.  Come to the show, throw some $’s in the bucket, buy a tea towel, volunteer. Share the sheer abundant  joy of the  creative folks from Mixed Precipitation in the community gardens.

Fairs, Circuses and All Things Fun

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

It’s Minnesota State Fair Time! I love an excuse to eat some crazy food and mingle with the great people of our diverse state.  Since I am a bit of history nerd I was really excited to hear that one of St. Paul’s biggest celebrities, James J. Hill, used to lend the best pieces from his private art collection to be displayed at the State Fair’s J.V. Bailey House for all of Minnesota to see.

My excitement doubled when I heard the Minnesota Museum of American Art, (St. Paul’s only art museum) is carrying on that tradition with their Fairs, Circuses and All Things Fun exhibit in the exact same historic home on Cooper Street and Cosgrove.

This all ages, crowd pleasing show will make you and the whole family smile and it brings to life all the reasons we love to go to the State Fair or similar events.  Don’t miss the fantastic kinetic sculpture, Shoe Fly, by Norman Andersen and get inspiration on how to use leftover egg cartons from Clement Haupers’, frame of the painting Vulcan Victory.  Read the labels carefully and see just how many Minnesotan artists are represented, one more reason to be a proud Minnesotan!

Hope to see you there, the exhibit was created special just for the State Fair, so don’t miss out!  Make sure to send pictures and comments to the MMAA and the St. Paul Spot, we’d love to know what you think. In addition, MMAA will participate in the Fine Arts Exhibition by including three paintings by Minnesota artists in the special show Marking Time: Looking Back at Minnesota Artists and the Juried Exhibition, located in the Fine Arts building near machinery hill.

Happy Fair Days!

-Minnesota Museum of American Art

P.S. Catch gallery talks at JV Bailey house exhibit:
– Thursday, August 25, 5 and 6 p.m.
– Wednesday, August 31, 5 and 6 p.m.
– Friday, September 2, 1 and 2 p.m.

Guest blogger from MMAA, Shelby Matula

St Paul’s got talent

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

St. Paul artists are well represented at this year’s juried Minnesota State Fair art show.  Here is a sampling of St. Paul talent.   To experience the show without the distraction of reflecting lights and glass (but with the distraction of hundreds of elbowing state fair visitors and whatever weather conditions may be dictating the building’s unconditioned space),  walk to the north-eastern  ends of the fairground.  Afterwards you can rest up with a milkshake and a corn dog, then proceed to the Green Living expo.


Patio Nights – past, present, and future

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The Minnesota Museum of American Art has brought back their popular musical event, Patio Nights for three nights this summer.  If you are a music lover, history nerd, St. Paul enthusiast, foodie, community explorer, want to support the MMAA make their comeback or are just looking for an excuse to get out of the house next Friday night, then make sure you are there!

You can expect beyond amazing meals from the truck of Café 128.  I had the ginger-soy sirloin skewers washed down with handmade ginger basil lemonade, both were perfection and were a great way to start the night.

When I walked into the City House space , a former municipal grain elevator, I confess I had a history nerd moment and proceeded to read almost every sign in the place.  I literally jumped up and down at the sight of a Humphrey Man Lift.  The patio offers sights of this working river (I talked to the crew of the “Betty Sue” who were maneuvering a loaded barge) and the cool breeze that rolls right across the seating area is so refreshing.  Thanks to the city of St. Paul for renovating this spot and making a great place for the community to come together in.

The music hosted by the MMAA was top notch, Communists Daughter played the first night and offered up their classic indie music.  Everyone was tapping their toes and grooving to their all pleasing style.  Matthew Inkala & the Hostages  had a host of people up and dancing. Their folk style is upbeat and great for all ages.  Up next Friday is Mr. Rowles and Band  who state they like to rock, but not in your face.  They have a bit of funk and jazz mixed in their tunes and are sure to please all in family.

Lastly when the night and sun are winding down you can wander down the path to Upper Landing Park to visit Jim Campbell’s light sculpture, Scattered Light.  The MMAA helped bring this work to St. Paul for the Northern Spark festival and it is truly a treat to be let inside and experience the 1,600 LED light bulbs moving about.  Don’t forget to stand and view it from afar so you can experience figures walking across the pixilated “screen.”  If you take some unique pictures with the sculpture, make sure to share them on the MMAA’s Facebook page!

If you live in the neighborhood, walk on down or if you drove to the city you can find Patio Nights at City House just off Shepard Road and Chestnut Street, on the path behind the Caribou Coffee. Check out the map for more details.  If a short walk along the river suits you, there’s parking underneath the High Bridge, accessed via Randolph Avenue off Shepherd Blvd.

David Rich and Paulette Myers-Rich – Friday at the Acme Artworks

The dynamic St. Paul art duo of David Rich and Paulette Myers are showing their work together, for the first in a long time,   at Acme Artworks.  David describes his work in the show as the  “particular intersection of urban landscape and abstract painting. ”  Paulette will be showing urban landscape photographs.

The opening reception is Friday night from 5:30 – 9:00.  Come and celebrate this independent gallery, enjoy the company of  St. Paul’s veteran and emerging artists, and gawk at the beautiful works of two  artists who have come to be regarded as St. Paul urban treasures.

Can’t make it to the opening?  The show will be up  through July – on weekdays by appointment, and Saturdays 12-8pm, Sundays 12-5pm.

For a complete list of  St Paul events and restaurants, visit us on our website, and download our app on iPhone and Android at the usual places.

St Paul leftovers

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

A night at The Palace Stage of  Wild Tymes in St. Paul.  Alma Desnuda, from  San Francisco, and on a long road tour,   also played at Music in the Parks.

Steve Sullivan, from Steve Sullivan and the Factory,  takes his tunes out to West 7th place.

Why this venue isn’t packed to the rafters is a mystery.  Amazing music and a gorgeous, eerily lit up summer night for lingering  on the 7th Place Plaza.

Music from Alma Desnuda.

For a complete list of  St Paul events and restaurants, visit us on our website, and download our app on iPhone and Android at the usual places.