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…
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.
No, seriously, get out as in Outside. Need I remind anyone as to what lies around the corner? Starts with a W and is followed by white stuff & frantic calls from your mother about ‘driving conditions’. So with that in mind, I decided to amble about in St Paul, choosing the Selby Dale area.
First things first; a hit of caffeine at Nina’s Coffee Café, on the corner of Western & Selby. Nina’s serves up just about everything I want with my latte; great space, fab service and an interesting mix of people. On this particular day I met Doug, a frequent patron who chatted me up while I waited for my skinny. Turns out Doug is the one who keeps the water & biscuit bowls filled for the four-legged companions. (Bonus pts; Nina’s street side tables are dog friendly!) So instead of staring off into space while my latte was in production, I met someone new and got a tiny glimpse of another person’s life. Plus, he showed me his tattoos. I know. Sounds weird but trust me, it was interesting. And you know what else? The barista brought my coffee out to me. With a smile. Very nice!
Now properly caffeinated, I headed down Selby to check out Allee Metro Chic. Allee’s, formerly located on Snelling Ave, is now at 493Selby. Allee defines itself as a ‘European inspired boutique’. It is indeed quite groovy. Housed downstairs of the boutique (which happily is light and bright due to the building design!) is a selection of antique and vintage home accessories. Whether you are shopping upstairs or down, there’s nothing ordinary here. Definitely worth a look.
Next I bopped into Fleur de Lis flower shop. Besides the obvious, Fleur de Lis stocks an interesting array of gift items way beyond the usual kitsch of most floral shops and many designed by local artisans. This I will be sure to remember once the snow starts to fly. Not only are there some great gift ideas (think Christmas or Hanukah!) but to get a whiff of that fragrance of fresh flowers in the Winter . . . how wonderful!
Time for my lunch date with Q at Cheeky Monkey Deli. Being just a bit too cool to sit outside, Q & I nabbed a table over by the fireplace. (Note to self; fireplace = great girlfriend/wine drinking/ cool weather spot.) I like the feel of Cheeky’s indoor space; better in so many ways than your average ‘deli’. Q & I split a roasted mushroom sandwich & a bowl of tomato soup. Yum! Oh, and that glass of sauvignon blanc wasn’t bad either!
Needing just a little something sweet after our lunch, Q & I hit up the bakery A Piece of Cake. Q had a chocolate cupcake, giving it a high review. I had a decadent little sugar cookie piled high with frosting. The cookie was very tasty but it was the frosting I fell in love with. They could sell that frosting alone in Dixie cups!
Regretfully, that’s all the time I had for Selby Ave that day. I left with plenty of reasons to come back, though. So GET OUT & either explore some of the places I’ve mentioned or find some of your own while it’s still nice enough to walk around!!
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.
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.
Now through September 4th The Grand Hand Gallery is entertaining offers on all pieces. The store boasts fine art and crafts from 250 artists nationwide– two thirds of whom hail locally. Deepest discounts will be offered on already discounted items. Offers from St Paul Spot followers and previous customers, however, will be taken into higher consideration.
Next sale not till January.
Save the date for an Opening Reception on September 10, from 5-8 pm, when Gallery artists Fred Kaemmer and Sarah Wieben exhibit new work.
First Wednesday of the month. If you live in St.Paul, or within driving distance, remember that date.
That’s the night of Sample Night Live. If you don’t know the drill, Sample Night Live, held in the History Theater in downtown St.Paul, is a varied assembly of acts from around the Twin Cities who are given about 10 minutes on stage to try to persuade you to come out to see them again, sign up for their e-mail lists, and tell your friends about them. Last night’s performers were incredibly persuasive. The acts included eclectic sets of music, ranging from country to Beatles to jazz and indie Rock, and comedy acts ranging from improv, to classic stand up to…..well, not such classic stand up, and on a serious note, a national award-winning slam poetry duo.
An MC introduces the events, hands out prizes, and keeps the audience entertained during brief set changes. And a house band, The Smarts, maintain a festive continuity from the time you scramble around for a seat to after the house lights are turned back on and you just don’t want to walk away from the magic.
Not persuaded yet to make it out to Sample Night Live? Here’s another incentive. If you’re a St. Paul Public Library card holder, it’s free.
Every month the audience votes on favorites, who will convene for a show in December. Last night, there was a tie between the music act Calamity and the Owl, (playing at Wild Tymes in downtown St Paul on August 19) and comedian Linda Aarons( who will be at the Joke Joint from August 18th – 20th ).
Here’s our own little sample of Sample Night Live, captured on Youtube.