“It will never rain roses: when we want to have more roses, we must plant more roses.” ―George Eliot
This quote came to mind after our Northrop Summer Music Festival concert last Friday. With a soulful lineup ready for sunshine, the second Northrop Summer Music Festival concert, featuring The Ericksons, Southwire, and Chastity Brown, instead found the real meaning of dancing in the rain. When Friday’s weather radar took a sudden turn, it caught a happy crowd in downpour and high winds. Luckily everyone was able to get safely indoors. Thank you to our audience members, musicians, and on-site staff for handling this change of events so well! With a post-storm Plaza littered with soggy flyers, cups, and speakers, it was the audience walking across the Plaza—smiling, laughing, and dancing—who reminded us of the real heart of the Northrop Summer Music Festival.
The Ericksons, our first folky duo, played their full set to the applause of our crowd buzzing beneath the tents and Northrop pillars. As sprinkles started, couples danced in the rain. After sudden weather forced everyone inside, audience members played some of their own originals acoustically on borrowed guitars, and everyone dried off.
A highlight of Friday evening was an impromptu, intimate acoustic performance from Chastity Brown in Johnston Hall, where most people were taking cover. Chastity perched herself on a bench in the building’s entryway with a boot on her guitar case. She filled the space not only with her smoky vocals and effortless charm, but also a premiere of a new song, which all together created an unforgettable experience.
Check out this video for Chastity’s acoustic performance!
There’s a certain charm that comes with smoldering summer afternoons. While waving away some mosquitos and perspiration, we might find a pair of ice-cold Coke bottles and rocking chair melodies wafting off the porch. Northrop Summer Music Festival is bringing these front porch jams to the heart of the city on Friday, June 21st with the folky sounds of Minnesota bands Southwire and The Ericksons, opening for Chastity Brown, at Northrop Plaza, Minneapolis’ biggest front porch.
Ericksons Originally from LaCrosse, WI, sisters Bethany Valentini and Jenny Kochsiek have been writing songs and performing as the Ericksons since 2006. They spent three years playing open mic nights and testing the waters in Brooklyn before returning to the Midwest and making the Twin Cities home. The sister duo’s sound features indie-folk acoustics and handsome synchronous harmonies. Their stylistic openness transcends genres to instead be cataloged by the emotions which clearly build and compose their music. Their latest album, The Wild, is being praised as dark, deep, soul-baring, and beautiful.
Recently spotlighted in a KARE 11 live in-studio performance, Bethany and Jennifer talk about writing songs and playing music together every night in their Brooklyn apartment. Their April visit to The Current studios—paired with the music on The Wild, self-described as an evolved rock indie-folk—has fans floored by their flawless harmonies and charmed by the tangible sisterly closeness in their collaboration. Joining the Americana lineup for the NSMF Friday concert, The Ericksons are set to bring all that indie summer folk we love into the airwaves of the evening.
Southwire The sounds of Southwire exude the echoes of a post-church swing session, rapping hymn-like folk spirituals. Built by a timeworn piano, steady drumming, bluesy guitar, and a stand-up bass, the melodies are a mix of lyrical spoken word and hearty, booming vocals.
Fostered by a tightly-knit Duluth music scene, the band’s beginnings were both high contrast and closely woven. Fans of one anothers’ music, the impending members had contemplated isolated collaborations on a song or a recording with one anothers’ diverse styles. Two seemingly dissimilar influences folded into each other over half a decade ago when collaboration-eager Sean "Mic Trout" Elmquist and Ben "Burly Burlesque" Larson from experimental hip-hop group Crew Jones adjoined the traveled solo folk-gospel of Jerree Small to create the heavy folk of Southwire today. Their roots in the music industry combine to build a sound so distinct that their hip hop genre is subtle, more likely to be brought into conversation by knowing suggestion than apparent influence. Silk and leather, Small’s hauntingly beautiful vocals weave through the spoken word poems and “firebrand preaching” from Larson.
A March CityPages article cites the source of their traveled instruments, as Larson reminisces, "The piano you hear on the recording is a retired barroom upright I got free from a monk in Duluth [allegedly from Molly's Bar in Superior]," Small says. "I think its sour, creaking sound helped to expand my writing style and probably the style of the band too." Southwire will be hefting the soul of their sound on stage this Friday between The Ericksons and Chastity Brown.
The Ericksons and Southwire will be rocking the mall this Friday, June 21st before powerhouse headliner Chastity Brown brings all her jazzy-bluesy-soulful country gospel to our outdoor stage. The night will be Americana at its core. Accompanying the homegrown acts will be free Raising Cane’s, concert giveaways, and a perfect summer evening on Northrop Plaza.
Nicole Stumpf: How has moving from Tennessee, the country music capital of the U.S., to Minneapolis—which some call the cultural capital of the Midwest—impacted your music and you personally as an artist?
Chastity Brown: When I moved to Minneapolis seven years ago, I had no intentions of playing the music that made up my upbringing—folk and the blues. But somehow, being so far from home allowed me to embrace what is most natural to me—storytelling with a groove.
NS: What topics are important for you to explore in your songwriting?
CB: It’s important to me to tap the vein of the working class, the queer, the misspoken for…and to tell a story that feels true.
NS: I saw you perform at Arts in the Park in Eden Prairie last month. You played a song that was about your mother and childhood, although you said your mother doesn’t have a musical bone in her body despite all of her kids being involved in music. From where did you and your siblings receive musical influence?
CB: Our father was a musician. He passed away when I was young but those are the strongest memories of him…playing music.
NS: How do you think your exposure to a wide range of instruments has changed your music?
CB: I feel that each instrument has the ability to evoke a different part of me creatively. It helps me to play a few so I can keep the wheels turning so to speak. I may not be able to play them well, but they serve a great purpose for story telling
NS: Acoustic Magazine (U.K.) was recently quoted saying that you “evoke the spirit of Roberta Flack and Woody Guthrie.” Have these artists been an inspiration for your music? What other musicians inspire you?
CB: Yes of course. One set a precedent for a beautiful voice while the other is one of the leading grandfather’s of American songwriting. Some of my favorites are Nina Simone, Van Morrison, Bill Withers, and Dolly Parton.
NS: In 2012, you were involved in the Minnesota Beatle Project. (For more information, watch this video that highlights Chastity Brown’s involvement in the Minnesota Beatle Project.) Did you take away something unexpected about the Beatles or yourself as musicians?
CB: Prior to this experience I had never recorded a cover song. That was a unique learning curve for me because I wanted to do something original while at the same time respect the amazingness that is the Beatles.
NS: Since you will be performing at the University of Minnesota, I am curious…do you have a favorite spot on campus? (Mine is probably The Mall or the outdoor patio at Annie’s Parlour in Dinkytown.)
CB: The Varsity Theater is a favorite.
NS: We are excited to have you perform on the Northrop Plaza because of its outdoor location and the ability for people who are out on the University of Minnesota campus to organically come across music. Throughout your career, you have experienced many different types of venues and performances. Do you have a specific, memorable concert experience?
CB: Just a few days ago I opened for Michael Kiwanuka at First Ave. After our set, I was invited to sing a song with him on stage. I nearly melted inside.
*Check out Chastity’s music here on her Bandcamp site. Also, watch this video featuring Chastity Brown performing her song “After You” live on 89.3 The Current!
This past winter, Northrop was selected to be one of four participants in EmcArts' Innovation Lab for the Performing Arts.The Innovation Lab is an intensive training and immersion program that supports arts organizations to develop and prototype new innovations in order to adapt to new ways of operating. As a 12-month program, the Innovation Lab offers individual coaching and group facilitation followed by an intensive retreat designed to give arts organizations the time and space needed to plan, engage, participate, and learn how to create a new solution to an adaptive challenge.
Our project asks: How can we transform our revitalized facility into a hub of interdisciplinary creativity and innovation at the University of Minnesota that dynamically engages students, faculty, researchers, artists, and the greater community?
What is the biggest question our team is wrestling with as we head into the intensive retreat?
Heading into the retreat, the general atmosphere surrounding the Northrop Innovation Lab team is that of eagerness and excitement. After three months of incredibly productive and creative brainstorming where we wrapped our arms around many enormous ideas, we have finally distilled our good thinking to the point where we are ready to dig into the nitty-gritty details of creating a realistic framework for our prototype.
The biggest question that has surfaced in recent conversations, which will be at the center of our retreat planning, is how we begin to test a new model of collaborative, interdisciplinary programming before our facility reopens. The Innovation Lab period ends three months prior to Northrop’s grand reopening in April 2014. This constraint—which, for some, could be debilitating—has actually fueled amazingly inventive thinking that reimagines how we might utilize the outdoor spaces surrounding Northrop in the months leading up to the reopening.
A theme that is starting to act as a connecting thread is the idea of turning “Northrop Inside-Out,” bringing the new Northrop to life by animating every side of the building’s outside-facing walls with the kinds of programming that we will eventually take inside. Simultaneously, these efforts will signal to the community that “Northrop Is Open.”
Ultimately, as we crack open the possibility that exists when we move beyond our walls, there is an overabundance of potential solutions to this big question. We’re excited to further filter and focus these possibilities at the retreat to inform our final prototype.
Well, the kick-off to the Northrop Summer Music Festival was a HUGE success! Thanks to everyone who came out last Friday to join us on the Northrop Plaza for a huge salsa dance party, ending in a conga line that, if stretched, would have run all the way across the mall from Northrop to Coffman!
Up next will be The Tasty Tones this Wednesday, June 12th at noon! The Tasty Tones is an eight-piece horn band featuring University of Minnesota students. On the Northrop Summer Music Festival stage, you will see vocalist Cameron Kinghorn, trumpeters Riley Helgeson and Noah Ophoven-Baldwin, saxophonists Nelson Devereaux and Jason Fabus, trombonist Brandon McQuaid, keyboarder Joe Strachan, bassist Taylor Donske, and Andres Crovetti rocking the beat on the drums. Whether you’ve got a few minutes to spare between your summer classes or a break in your work day, stroll on over to the Northrop Plaza for some funky music ranging from James Brown to Al Green and Michael Jackson to Cee Lo Creen. No need to pack a lunch because Jimmy Johns will serve sandwich samples at the concert.
Check out this preview of the tunes you’ll hear echoing around campus from 12:00 – 1:00 pm, Wednesday, June 12th.
See you there!
(Remember to use #rockthemall13! We will have prizes and more at the concert.)