Andy Nelson at Blooming Grounds By Alexandria Fisher
Butternut squash soup and coffee aromas fill the room at Blooming Grounds Café where the crowded space offers shelter from the drizzling rain flooding the streets outside the windows behind Andy Nelson.
He rests on a chair in the corner of the snug café on the corner of Third and Main streets. His acoustic guitar gently rings from the small PA system resting on the bar table behind him as his soothing voice resonates to the ears of the relaxed listeners.
“I really enjoy the calm atmosphere he creates,” said Alaine Johnson, former WSU student who returned for the festival. “Plus I get to enjoy my coffee while I listen to him. It’s very relaxing.”
Toes tapping and fingers rapping on the wood tables as he plays, Nelson’s short set is interrupted by a tornado siren.
“Playing through it anyways,” he said.
Nelson, Rice Lake, Wis. native, has been playing for nearly 12 years, but he says that experience doesn’t help much when it comes to performing.
“I get a little tense sometimes but then when I get up there everything goes out the window,” he said. “Sometimes before I go on even though you know everything you forget it all seconds before you go up and start playing.”
After his show, Nelson politely handed out recently recorded CD’s that he burned himself.
Greg Taylor at Pieces of the Past By Sydney Swanson
Greg Taylor starts off the music at Pieces of The Past on Second Street. The décor is a mix of Americana and antique furniture with low lighting all around.
The tables are covered with red construction paper and markers are everywhere so the audience members can doodle while they listen to the music being played.
“How cool is this? The Black Crowes are opening for me!” said Greg Taylor before starting off the show.
Taylor sang about changes in his first original song and continued with covers of a couple Beatle’s songs, more originals, and a few other covers. Taylor’s attitude towards the audience was friendly and inviting, welcoming interaction between him and everyone listening.
One of the best parts about this festival is that there isn’t a sense of detachment between the performer and audience. Taylor talked about how many of his lyrics were written by his brother and how difficult it is to write lyrics.
JazZen at the Winona Arts Center By Jonelle Harren
The name of the band gives a clue as to what to expect as far as genre this evening, but similarities between this trio and the first picture that came to mind stop there. Rather than the classic brass lineup, JazZen brings a unique sound to the realm of jazz with Derrin Pinto on drums, holding the beat for Bobb Fantauzzo‘s Native American and Chinese wooden flutes and Aaron Kerr on the five string electric cello.
Nearly 15 people are escaping the day’s rain in the cozy room of the Winona Arts Center, bobbing their heads to the beat.
Fantauzzo gave the audience some background on playing the flute, explaining that there are different ways to utilize Native American flutes in today’s music and it’s all about “finding your voice.” He said that really high notes are usually supposed to be played on his flutes but he likes to venture to the higher pitches that he dubs “Bobb notes.”
A rack of more than five flutes sits at his feet while his body moves with the music produced by the one in his hands, eyes closed, feet tapping and swaying side to side.
Kerr’s fingers move rapidly up and down the neck of his electric cello, expertly finding their spot while he alternates between bowing and plucking. In between,his bow rests inside the hole exposing his knee in his jeans.
Pinto holds a solid swing beat on his drums for JazZen’s improvisational tunes, bouncing with each thump to his bass and nodding to the rhythm of his snare, cymbal and hi-hat.
Bones Malone at the Winona Arts Center By Jason Ziebell
Bones Malone is pumping out the jams right now at the Winona Arts Center. From the opening moments of their show, which opened for Caroline Smith and the Goodnight Sleeps, the boys of Bones Malone have got the art center crowd jiving to their unique mix of funk-jazz boogaloo. The group, who met while attending Winona State University, has thrown categorization aside in search of smooth beats and bloody melodies.
Hook after hook and lead after lead, these boys sure know how to navigate the jam and hurl the listener into uncharted galaxies of sweet rock goodness. Goodbye lullabies, it’s time for Bones Malone to send that funk right into your jaw and keep you asking for more of their steam-powered gypsy jazz magic caravan. Oh the cool crisp noise awakens the spirit that flows like a river through that funk.
Mmmmm tasty, I think I’ll have another helping of that sweet juicy funk please. Fill up my plate.
Interview with Bones Malone By Alexandria Fisher
Cory Chisel & the Wandering Sons at Jefferson's Pub & Grill By Jason Ziebell
Cory Chisel & the Wandering Sons are currently riffling through a set of whiskey soaked alternative country rockers at Jefferson’s Event Center. The Wisconsin based group has mostly been in hiding over the last year following the release of their highly anticipated major label debut in 2011, but has chosen to make a stop as part of the Thursday night festivities of Mid West Music Fest. Chisel’s songwriting reeks of Midwestern sensibilities and long nights spent with a pack of cigarettes and cheap beer. Nobody can deny that Chisel and his Wandering Sons carry with them a sense of brotherhood and common bonds in their music.A true original band pumping out inspirational songs that linger in your psyche like smoke permeating a log cabin. What FUN!!!
Matt Ray and Those Damn Horses at the Masonic Temple By Alexandria Fisher
Matt Ray and Those Damn Horses, a six-member roots and Americana string band in Minnesota, have spent the last three years fighting just to be a band.
“There’s a lot of sacrifices,” said Matt Ray, singer, banjo and guitar player for the band. “It’s hard to make a living out of music. Most of us have day jobs-‘normal’ jobs- and families too.”
Outside of the typical musician tasks like writing, practicing, recording and performing, which take up a majority of their time, the band must also work elsewhere and find time for their families.
“It can definitely be taxing on your family members,” said Ray.
Being a small band surrounded by small towns means a lack of consistency.
“For a band without a major label it’s expensive to go out and play,” said Ray. “Bars and venues are hesitant to give you a set amount of money and it’s a risk.”
But the more they perform the easier things get.
“It’s a building process,” said Eric Krenz, guitar player and background “hollerer.” “We’re focused on the region and building a good base here.”
After playing at the Boats and Bluegrass festival, Ed's No Name Bar and tonight's show at Mid West Music Fest, Winona has proven to be a good target for the band’s performances.
“People seem to really like [their music] here,” said Ed Hoffman, owner of Ed’s No Name Bar. “They seem to get the crowd.”
“They’re fun to play with,” said Jamie Harper, banjo player for Beet Root Stew, who has opened for the band in previous shows. “It comes out that they’re having fun and that transmits to the audience.”
But not all shows are as encouraging.
“Live music is important to people here and that’s pretty cool,” said Krenz. “In the larger cities people kind of take it for granted. We’ve been musical wallpaper enough times.”
As long as the band is playing, they’re happy. But with six people and little money, being able to play can be challenging; practice times fluctuate with their various work schedules, performances are hard to arrange with each member and sometimes money is too tight.
“You’ve gotta kinda have thick skin if you’re going to be in music here,” said Ray. “You have to deal with not getting paid money. If you’re trying to get your music out there to people usually that’s done by playing out or using a cd and all of that costs money and it’s hard.”
The band says that most days the money issue is manageable. It’s maintaining the band that is the hardest part.
“It only takes a couple of days and you’re yesterday’s news,” said Krenz. “You have to be at it all the time. It’ll wear you down.”
The band often jokes about naming their upcoming CD “Uphill both ways.”
But it doesn’t take much to reassure them that their music is worth the struggles.
“To me, between playing cover tunes to a bar and 300 people loving you or playing our sort of music to people who aren’t getting but one person is reached- that’s the most rewarding thing ever,” said Krenz.
Beef Slough Boys at the Masonic Temple By Amber Grace
The Beef Slough Boys are bringing a mixture of good ole’ fashioned jug and bluegrass tunes, both classics and originals, to the Masonic Temple as the festival kicks off.
“It wouldn’t be the Beef Slough Boys without a washboard”, said one band member as another pulls out his characteristic washboard. They then performed a classic tune “The Taxman” by The Beatles.
The Boys had started their set off with a rendition of “Wagon Wheel” by Old Crow Medicine Show along with some original jug tunes.
The Beef’s Boys bust out an array of instruments from harmonicas to mandolins, the variety is endless.
From classic tunes of bluegrass to original songs about the Midwest, horses and keeping up with this rainy day by singing songs about Spring.
They get the crowd engrossed by throwing in some good old tunes by “the man in black”, Johnny Cash.
General B and the Wiz at Jefferson's Pub & Grill By Jonelle Harren
Jefferson’s event room is dark as General B and the Wiz set up for their 8:30 Midwest Music Fest performance. Only a purple light illuminates the stage.
Suddenly the roar of an electric guitar breaks the quiet chitchat of audience members. The band’s rock tunes pull listeners from the tables along the back of the room to stand along the foot of the stage.
Blue, yellow and white spotlights dance across the room as the tempo and volume pick up with hardly a transition between songs.
General B and the Wiz was created when lead vocalist Quincy Voris and lead guitarist Seth Duin were roommates at Luther College and decided to enter an open mic contest where they played a few cover songs.
“We entered as a joke,” Voris said. “And we ended up winning the open mic contest.”
Voris said the win sparked a series of performances at school events, but eventually the cover songs just didn’t cut it.
“We weren’t having fun with it anymore,” he said.
So they started writing their own blues rock music.
Eventually drummer Erik Wadman, keyboard player Kai Brewster and bass player Kevin Coughenour joined the band, which has been together as a whole for two years.
The young men rock back and forth, some playing two instruments at once. The band’s energy carries from upbeat rock to cool bluesy tunes as Voris’s unmistakable mustache bounces above his microphone.
An audience that started at a meager population of four grew steadily through the performance to a crowd of more than 20 with some scattered around the tables in the back of the room.
Voris said the band has “full intentions of running with it [music]” and will all be living together in the Twin Cities as of this August.
Caroline Smith and the Goodnight Sleeps at the Winona Arts Center By Brianna Klapperich
The Winona Arts Center is filled to capacity for the first time in MWMF history tonight said founder of the festival Sam Brown. People sit on the floor, chairs and stand in the back of the warm room clapping for the foursome that is Caroline Smith and the Goodnight Sleeps.
Interview with Caroline Smith and the Goodnight Sleeps By Brianna Klapperich
Charlie Parr at the Masonic Temple By Sadie Neuman
Def Gone Graphic at Dibs Cafe By Sydney Swanson
“Being in a band is like having five girlfriends,” said Matt Smith, aka Def Gone Graphic.
Smith traveled with DJ Shoba from Mankato to play at Dibs Café during the Mid West Music Fest.
“I don’t consider myself a rapper, more of a lyricist,” Smith said about his music. However, his fast-paced rapping wowed the crowd at Dibs tonight. The amount of lyrics spit out in thirty seconds by him amounted to more than most would sing in half a song.
“Every show is different, I work around the style of the show, whether it’s mainstream or underground,” said Smith about the show. He recently released a new music video with Mod Sun and talked about how the style is different than his typical style.
“It’s my first attempt of not doing any hip hop,” said Smith about the song. He has been making music for a year and a half and plans to continue making music and exploring different genres.
Tapes n' Tapes at Jefferson's Pub & Grill By Sarah Neuman
Toki Wright at Dibs Cafe By Sydney Swanson
Toki Wright wins over the audience with his tunes and friendly attitude at Dibs Café tonight. He’s all about including everyone and spreading the good vibes around.
Wright is from Minneapolis, Minn. and said his mother named him after a Japanese-Buddhist priest.
Even with a sprained ankle, Wright still manages to put on an amazing show for everyone. The music switches between electronic house, to a bit of rapping, to hip-hop and reggae.
He has been making music since the late 90’s and has been with Rhymesayers Entertainment since 2009.
“I throw a lot of events, festivals, parties, I produce electronic music, I just try to make functions and I try to create a space for people,” said Wright about what he is all about. “I just like vibing out with people.”
Interview with Toki Wright By Sydney Swanson