A Minneapolis Frolic

Minneapolis at its best: local arts and culture on a savvy girl's budget.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Acoustic Campfire at the Walker

Last December Mila, a professional female vocal ensemble, was scheduled to play in an upstairs room at the Unity Church in St. Paul. As the start time approached it became obvious that the room was too small for the burgeoning crowd clad in voluminous winter coats. The performance had been highlighted on MPR's Art Hounds broadcast and the resulting crowd exceeded all expectations.

Those thick winter coats became necessary as the audience (myself included) trooped down to the sanctuary. The large, vaulted space hadn't been heated so the air was chilly. The room was laden with seasonal greenery and Mila's haunting Eastern European harmonies blended beautifully into the crisp, fir-scented air.

But it's summer! you say. Why are you telling us about an event from last winter?

Because I want you to know what to expect from Mila's performance at the Walker Art Center this Thursday. Be prepared for strong voices, dark harmonies and sounds unlike any present in Western music. Expect goosebumps to prickle on your arm as the group's melismatic tones and winding meter call forth the sunset. Mila's performances are spiritual experiences transcending time and place and are by no means to be missed.

The Walker's Acoustic Campfire starts at 8:00 pm and runs until 9:30 pm. The event is free to attend and highly recommended.

This lovely friend of mine won't be offering pizza on Thursday night but her musical delivery will top any pie

Friday, August 19, 2011

What's Your Status?

Hip-hop and break-dancing might not be the first activities people associate with Hmong culture but after this weekend perhaps they will be. The two art forms are strong in the Hmong youth population as media that can connect across cultures, distance and language barriers. That connection is critical to the Hmong, an ethnic group of mountainous people from China, Laos, Vietnam and Thailand. Facing persecution at home after the Laotian Civil War, many of the Hmong resettled in the United States and other Western countries.

Minnesota's Hmong population is second only to California in number and St. Paul is said to have the largest urban Hmong population in the world. Roughly 28,600 Hmong lived in the city according to the 2010 census, a number regarded by some as a conservative estimate. Exact numbers aside, Hmong culture will be displayed in full force at Status Update, the Center for Hmong Arts and Talent's 10th Annual Hmong Arts and Music Festival.

While few are unaware of the metropolitan area's large Hmong population, too few are aware of the historical context and contemporary art movements within Hmong culture. Status Update offers a chance for the Hmong to update fellow Twin Citians on the richness abundant in their arts and culture. It also stands as a chance to bring together Hmong artists and culture connoisseurs from across the country in celebration of a common bond.

Interested? Update your own status to "attending" between 11 am to 8 pm tomorrow (Saturday) in the Western Sculpture Park across from the Sears building in downtown St. Paul. Local hip-hop artists Pupils of the Storm will perform; the festival also promises films, fashion and food.

Sunday will bring another family-friendly festival for the culturally inclined. More on that later as I'm off to work!

Friday, August 12, 2011

A Finer Festival

This weekend two major events are competing to draw attendees to Uptown Minneapolis and downtown St. Paul. Pizza Luce offers another solid local lineup at its Saturday block party and the Irish Fair includes three days of Gaelic pride replete with traditional dancing, fiddling and storytelling. Yet a third festival taking place outside of the city offers a finer fare worth mentioning.

I'm talking about the Art Meets Wine Festival at St. Croix Vineyards. With a relatively low-profile lineup and out of the way location, this festival has been overshadowed by its more popular competitors. For those who dislike swarming crowds and parking-induced headaches, however, this two-day festival promises a more relaxed summer afternoon.

Art Meets Wine features live local music and samples of local wine, beer and food at the beautiful St. Croix Vineyards, just off of Highway 36 toward Stillwater. The vineyard will offer free tours at 1pm and 3 pm both days of the festival, a tour worth taking if it's anything as informative as the one I took last fall. It's one thing to imagine grapes being crushed and fermented into wine, it's another thing entirely to follow the grapes through each stage and to see the machinery involved.

Whether you're a wine connoisseur, amateur or abstainer, you can't beat strolling through tree-lined hills accompanied by live music and fresh air. Unless, of course, you enjoy the chaos of an Uptown festival with 7,768 other merrymakers. That's how many have replied "attending" on facebook so far - and, truth be told, I'm one of them.

Note: Sunday looks like the better day to visit the vineyards with a weather forecast of sunshine and 80 degrees.If you time it right, you could hit the Irish Fair on Friday, the Pizza Luce Block Party on Saturday and the Art Meets Wine Festival on Sunday. Also worth mentioning is Peter Wolf Crier at Lake Harriet on Friday night - bring a picnic and stake a claim to your spot early as the crowd gets big fast.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

All things spring

It may be August 10 but it feels a lot like May 10. I am in heaven. I can take warm showers! I can boil water for pasta! I'm a new woman.

But I digress. Unseasonal, spring-like weather aside, I really meant to write about the Spring Street Tavern. Tucked away on Spring Street and Monroe in Northeast, the Spring Street Tavern is a classic Nordeast establishment. It boasts a patio and a space presumably meant for dancing but it completely eschews the overdressed crowds of Uptown or Downtown. It's a local joint that manages to have some serious cred oozing quietly from the corners.

At the Spring Street Tavern post-kickball teams clad in dirty t-shirts mix with men and women sporting impressive dreads. Bartenders prepare your favorite drink as you walk in and shout bawdy exclamations across the room. Paintings and drink specials are both prominently displayed, and on Thursday nights they can the canned music and switch it over to DJ Shannon Blowtorch, BOMP co-founder and one of the city's best DJs.

If you like BOMP (aka the biggest dance party in Minneapolis) but want your sound with a little less pound, visit the Spring Street Tavern. Sit on the patio with a basket of sweet potato fries until the music starts and then head inside. Pull up a chair and sit back as Blowtorch spins a mix that is emphatically not Top 40 - the Thursday night specials aren't so special but the music makes it worth the trip.

Thrifty note: Happy Hour runs Monday through Friday from 3 pm to 7 pm but on Wednesday nights you can catch happy hour prices on appetizers until 9:30 and taps until midnight. Thursday nights expect to pay full price on everything but pitchers but go anyway. To check out specials for the rest of the week, click here.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Uptown: Where the energy flows freely

Do you actually need another reason to go to the lake this summer? (And if so, are you truly embracing summer in Minnesota?) For those who need a little something more to get them to pack up the car and into the snarl of Uptown traffic here it is: every Friday night in August the Lake Harriet Bandshell will be rocking live music and free films. Tonight the once-local Free Energy performs at 7:30 pm followed by "Pee-Wee's Big Adventure," opening Vita.mn's music and movies series at the lake with particularly peppy beats. Pack a picnic basket and a blanket (and bug spray!) and it doesn't get much better on a lazy August Friday night.

Lake Harriet won't be the only spot in Uptown to simultaneously soak up beams of sunshine and culture this weekend: the Uptown Art Fair will be in full swing Friday through Sunday. There will be the usual exhibits, vendors and live performances including an appearance by the Minnesota Vikings cheerleaders at 3:45 on Friday (does this really count as art?)

As for me, I'll be avoiding the crowds on the street by keeping it lago-centric. After checking out Friday night's show I'll be hitting Lake Calhoun for a free vinyasa yoga class on Saturday morning. The class is at 10:30, making it a perfect way to begin yet another day at the lake.

Tired of the usual lakeside revelry? Consider renting a kayak from Wheel Fun Rentals at the northeast corner of Calhoun. Paddle down into Lake of the Isles and Cedar Lake and you can almost imagine what the lakes were like before a city popped up around them. Beautiful.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Red Stag Game Plan

I'm particularly fond of the Red Stag Block Party. After moving to Minneapolis a few years ago it was the first block party I attended. A thunderstorm crashed the party and gusts of wind toppled the canopy and effectively ended the show. As E.L.No's towering black wigs flew from their heads, my friends and I tore through the rain and sirens in search of shelter.

While it has indeed rained at every festival I've attended this summer, tomorrow's event is supposed to be hot with only a 20% chance of thunderstorms. Rain or no rain, here's what I'm most looking forward to: 

Zoo Animal plays early on in the day and I will undoubtedly be attending their set. I first heard the band at the now-defunct 501 Club and I loved their sound. Singer Holly Newsom's voice and lyrics are simultaneously strong and intimate, complemented by rather restrained guitar and drums. The instrumentals are well-crafted but they definitely allow Newsom's haunting, often hopeful lyrics to shine.

Peter Wolf Crier and The 4ontheFloor play later in the evening and I'll be sure to be there. I haven't seen Peter Wolf Crier, a two-man group, since the 2010 SXSW send off party at First Avenue. Peter Pisano's falsetto intrigued me then and tomorrow I aim to see what they've done in the last year.

If you go to hear anything tomorrow, however, I vote for The 4ontheFloor. Each of the band members has a kick drum, effectively used in time to give the music a rollicking good beat. Their sound is raw and raucous with lyrics meant for singing (or shouting) along. A relative newcomer compared to the rest of the lineup, please don't let this band be a stranger to you after this weekend. Already a fan? Perfect. You'll be especially good at belting out the lyrics to "Junkie" and "I'm Drunk on Tuesdays."

Looking for something to do between sets to escape the heat? Visit I Like You just a few storefronts to the south. The consignment shop offers a plethora of independent and handmade goods from over 250 local artists. I particularly enjoy the lotions and perfumes and wouldn't mind hanging some of the artwork on my walls. Though my self-imposed budget precludes me from buying anything for myself, this shop is high on my list of gift-buying destinations. Something about giving a friend a vanilla bean body balm handmade in Minneapolis just says "I like you."

(Ask before swinging)

Friday, July 29, 2011

Pups on Parade and KCK recap

Convinced the world needs a better chance to properly admire your pooch? Seize your chance tonight at the Northeast Dog Parade. The parade starts at 6 pm in Chutes Square and ends with a Dogtail Hour and Flea Market. Costumes/outfits encouraged and a 5 pm picnic will precede the procession.

If Trelicious were mine I'd parade him around every night

 Did you go to the Kitty Cat Klub last night? Openers Satellite Voices and Bombay Sweets were unexpectedly solid. The former, a Minneapolis-based quintet, played a set with dark lyrics and neon sounds, at times relying on a melodica and stylophone to throw other-worldly tones into the band's tightly layered beats. (Unfamiliar with melodicas and stylophones? So was I until last night. Google them.) Bombay Sweets produced an incredible amount of sound for a two man set up and Gospel Gossip finished off the night with a new music showcase that evolved into long and sweaty music marathons.

All in all, it was a fantastic show and I love that the male to female ratio was at least 5:1 for most of the night at a venue called the Kitty Cat Klub.

Tomorrow: what (and who) to know before you go to the Red Stag Supper Club block party on Sunday. You are going, right?

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Gospel Gossip at the Kitty Cat Klub and a little Vita.mn Sizzle

Dinkytown is perhaps best known as a once-eclectic neighborhood now overrun with college students and rampant commercialization. Area bar specials include White Trash Wednesdays and weekly beer pong tournaments; chain restaurants stand large and flashy against their independently owned counterparts. Still, some bastions of culture remain and chief among them is the Kitty Cat Klub.

Just under Annie's Parlour on 14th Ave SE, the Klub features an veritable profusion of ornate couches and arm chairs tucked into darkened nooks and crannies. The music is usually solid and many nights are free, the rest reasonably priced for a thrifty budget (the most I've paid is $5). This Thursday night the Kitty Cat Klub hosts one of my long-time local likes, Gospel Gossip.

The Northfield-based trio features singer Sarah Nienaber's soulful vocals sliding throatily over the jangle of the guitar and drums. With lyrics such as "Home is where I found you/ and home is where we've been/ But my home isn't your home anymore" I wouldn't call the music uplifting yet I can't help but tap my toes to the strong rhythmic thrust of the music. For a free night out, this band and this venue are definitely worth checking out. (Drinks and parking expenses are up to you - Dinkytown's meters are free after 10 pm.)

Feeling more literary than lyrical? I can't vouch for the quality of the literature but tomorrow (Wednesday) Vita.mn is hosting its annual Best of Summer Short Stories event at the Brave New Workshop. This year's participants were challenged to write sex-themed short story and the finalists will read their work aloud starting at 7 pm. With free appetizers from Gai Gai Thai and post-readings burlesque, this event should be spicy enough to push you over hump day and into the homestretch.

Note: Gai Gai Thai's facebook lists vegan and vegetarian options, so keep your fingers crossed that the event will too. Parties are more fun when everyone gets a spring roll.

No Kitty Cat Klub is complete without a kitty cat

Friday, July 22, 2011

Weekend Plans

I wouldn't call the 15th through 23rd of July the Best Days of Summer (perhaps the sweatiest?) but Minneapolis' Aquatennial celebration nails its fireworks, if not its slogan. Each year the fireworks top the city's Fourth of July show in quality and quantity and are, in fact, one of the largest annual displays in the country. As far as free entertainment goes, this event is tops. For an added bonus, it's usually less crowded than the Independence Day festivities.

After the show (or if it gets rained out) you don't have to walk far to continue the summer celebration. The Aster Cafe on St. Anthony Main offers reasonably priced food and drinks with live music and ample low-light ambiance. If it's not storming, sit outside and enjoy your fare on the patio. There's no cover this Saturday night and the Aster will host folksy singer-songwriter Andra Suchy. I have to admit I've never heard of her but Suchy's local music credits include performances on Garrison Keillor's "A Prairie Home Companion"  as well as commercials for Minneapolis-based Target.

Confession time: If I had a little more cash I'd spring for tickets to the Trampled by Turtles show on the Cabooze Plaza. The all-local lineup includes openers Roma di Luna and Charlie Parr, making the event an indie plaza paradise. Alas, $25 is more than I like to spend on an ordinary evening, especially when Minneapolis offers so many free (or cheap) possibilities. If you're more moneyed than I am, tickets are $25 and the doors open at 5pm.

While Saturday's activities all hover under the chance of severe weather, Sunday is supposed to be beautiful. Enjoy the outdoors at the Bakken Museum (3537 Zenith Avenue South, Minneapolis) as you learn how to cook from your backyard, courtesy of Whole Foods. Of course, this presents certain difficulties for those of us whose backyard is a parking lot. I'd rather not eat my tires or broken beer bottles, thank you very much.

Seriously though, the museum will offer General Mills breakfast treats to the first 100 visitors, a cooking lesson and make-your-own mini herb gardens at 11 am and 1pm as well as tours of the Green Energy Art Garden throughout the day. Best of all, it's all free (through Sunday only). For more information on the museum, which aim to inspire "a passion for science and its potential good," visit: http://www.thebakken.org/

Got better weekend plans? Share them with me so I can envy you as I spend tomorrow in rural Minnesota, where the mosquitoes outnumber even the conservatives.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Bastille Day Block Party

Today it may storm but come Sunday Minneapolis will swing to new extremes as Barbette hosts the hottest block party of 2011. I'm not just talking weather, lovelies: Barbette has amassed one of the best lineups of the summer to celebrate liberté, égalité, fraternité.

Barbette's Bastille Day feté, celebrated three days after the real French holiday, is a don't miss for local music lovers and Francophiles alike. The French holiday falls on the anniversary of the storming of the Bastille prison in 1789 - a gesture now symbolic of the beginning of the French Revolution, the collapse of the absolute monarchy and the birth of the First Republic.While the French celebrate with military parades, Barbette's schedule of events is less of a parade than a carnival.

National Bird and Pink Mink are among the event's headliners with guest appearances by Rogue Valley, led by the mellifluous Chris Koza, and Solid Gold. In addition to the live music, the North Star Roller Girls will be present along with Jamison the Juggler and the Infiammati Fire Circus. The show is free but expect parking to be a mess - walk, bike or take the bus if you can.

For more information and the entire lineup, visit the event page here: http://www.bastilledayblockparty.com/

Going? Come back on Monday and leave a comment telling me what you thought of the show!