On The Road With NPR Music: Andrea Swensson At KCMP, Twin Cities, Minnesota

We love music here at Gadling, and this month is Public Radio Music Month, which is why we’re teaming up with NPR to bring you exclusive interviews from NPR music specialists around the country. We’ll be learning about local music culture and up and coming new regional artists, so be sure to follow along all month.

Name: Andrea Swensson

Member station: 89.3 The Current

Regular Show/Contribution Beat: Music Reporter

When people think of music in the Twin Cities, what do they think of?

The first thing that seems to come to mind for most people is either Prince or the underground punk scene of the ’80s, which spawned the Replacements, Hüsker Dü and Soul Asylum. In more recent years our hip hop community – led by Rhymesayers artists like Atmosphere and Brother Ali and independent crew Doomtree – has become world-renowned, and we have big variety of other genres of artists finding success, from bluegrass to electro-pop to jazz. In general, people think of the Twin Cities with a vibrant, collaborative and supportive place to make music. We like to joke that we are living in the Land of 10,000 Bands.

How do you help curate that musical scene?

The Current has several different ways it supports the Minnesota music community. My role at the station is to report exclusively on local music and post my findings on the blog – which contains everything from show reviews and interviews to news stories and in-depth profiles – and share them with the host of the Current’s weekly Local Show. We also have a 24/7 all-Minnesota music stream called Local Current, and have just launched a pair of specialty shows about the Duluth scene (home of Trampled by Turtles, Low, and Charlie Parr) and our ever-expanding hip-hop scene.

How has that scene evolved over the last few decades?

We have experienced a boom in both the number of active bands and the number of bands breaking out nationally over the past few years. It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly what is causing this upswing, but at times it can be difficult to keep up with all of the high-quality new music coming out. It’s not just one genre or niche that’s expanding, either; there is an energy and excitement that is palpable throughout the Twin Cities.

What would you say is the most unique thing about the Twin Cities music scene?

There is a collaborative spirit that binds our community together. The Twin Cities are large enough to support a couple dozen venues and spawn hundreds of bands, yet small enough that musicians can develop meaningful relationships with one another. It’s not uncommon for bands to share members or work together on projects; the 27-member Gayngs recording project is a good example of this, as are compilations like “Absolutely Cuckoo: Minnesota Covers 69 Love Songs,” which featured Magnetic Fields songs covered by 69 different local artists.

What are three new up and coming bands on your local scene right now and what makes them distinct?

The Chalice: An explosive hip-hop trio that has caught the attention of our entire scene this year. They are natural performers and their charisma is off the charts.

Meme: Crystalline pop from a young duo who are just beginning to play out live. Singer Lizzie Brown’s voice is mesmerizing, and her partner Danny Burke creates cool high-concept, animated music videos to accompany their tracks.

Southwire: This Duluth quartet combines gospel, folk and spoken word to create a unique, alluring sound.

For a Gadling playlist, what are your favorite tracks?

  • Aby Wolf, “Permission”
  • Meme, “Young”
  • Crankshaft, “Boomtown”
  • Trampled by Turtles, “Alone”
  • Van Stee, “We Are”
  • P.O.S., “Get Down”
  • The Chalice, “Push It”
  • Southwire, “Gone Astray”
  • Dessa, “Dixon’s Girl”
  • Har Mar Superstar, “Lady, You Shot Me”

Listen to the playlist on Spotify.

[Photo Credit: Photo by Nate Ryan/MPR]

The Spirit(s) Of Christmas: Great Distilled Gifts To Give

bourbonThe holidays are stressful for many reasons, one of which is gift pressure. Host(ess), Christmas and Hanukkah gifts, gifts for neighbors, obligatory “thank you for the great mail delivery/haircuts/massages gifts.”

You know what makes for a thoughtful gift that reduces stress? A bottle of something delicious. Unless, of course, your intended recipients don’t/aren’t old enough to drink. I can’t help you with that. But I can provide you with a list of great, small-batch spirits to give to those who’ve been appropriately naughty or nice this year:

Black Maple Hill Small Batch Bourbon
This stuff sells out quick, so when you see it at your local liquor store, snatch it up right quick. The bourbon lover in your life (I would gift this to myself, hint, hint) will savor the vanilla, clove, licorice, black cherry and petrol notes. Made from sour mash, and aged for eight years in white oak, this heavenly elixir is made by Kentucky Bourbon Distillers, Ltd., which specializes in producing small-batch bourbons for brands that include Noah’s Mill and Willett.

Leopold Bros. Three Pins Alpine Herbal Liqueur
One of Colorado’s top distilleries is this family-owned Denver company. They make a mean gin and whiskey, as well as other spirits, but Three Pins is a ski-town favorite. Made from a proprietary blend of over a dozen herbs and regional alpine flowers blended with spices and other botanicals, it’s slightly sweet and syrupy, with refreshing citrus and herbal notes. Use as you would Benedictine – as a digestif, to add depth to a cocktail, or as a surprisingly compatible pairing with a mellow blue or goat cheese.

Ron Zacapa
If someone on your list has the hots for rum, this is the gift that will keep on giving far longer than its under-$40 price tag would suggest. A premium Guatemalan sipping rum made with high-elevation-grown estate sugar cane, Zacapa is made according to the same Sistema Solera process used in sherry production. The rum is blended and aged in American whiskey, sherry and Pedro Jimenez wine casks of varying ages. The result is a rum with deep, complex aromas and flavors reminiscent of raisin, honey, spice and oak. If your recipient is extra special, get them the Ron Zacapa 23 (as in years). Simply luscious.

Crop Vodka
I’m not a huge fan of vodka, but was pleasantly surprised by the cucumber and tomato flavors from this certified organic brand from Minnesota. Lovely on the rocks, in a gimlet or Bloody Mary, or with a splash of tonic, these refreshing garden varieties are like summer, er, distilled in a bottle.

Sombra Mezcal
Mezcal is the new tequila (technically, tequila is mezcal; both are made from blue agave, but tequila is produced in designated regions within Jalisco state). Or, look at it this way: it’s the Scotch-drinker’s white spirit. Smoky, peaty, and world apart from the firewater swill with the worm in the bottle, today’s premium mezcal’s are often sourced from single villages located near the small distilleries. Sombra, produced in Oaxaca with high-elevation, estate-grown agave, is oaky and smoky, with notes of spice and pineapple. Masculine and sophisticated; serve with a smoking jacket or … velvet slippers?

[Photo credit: Flickr user fd]

The Kensington Runestone and other Viking mysteries in America

When I was in the fifth grade, my teacher asked me what I thought was an easy question.

“Who discovered America?”

“The Indians!” I replied.

My teacher frowned at me and asked, “No, what EUROPEAN discovered America?”

“Oh, Leif Erikson. He was a Viking.”

Obviously annoyed, my teacher told me, “No! COLUMBUS discovered America.”

“But the Vikings came here in the year 1000. Columbus didn’t arrive until 1492.”

“COLUMBUS DISCOVERED AMERICA!!!”

I learned two important lessons that day: (1) self-appointed experts are often wrong, and (2) showing you know more than an authority figure is a good way to get into trouble.

Growing up, I was always fascinated with the possibility that ancient civilizations in the “New” and “Old” Worlds had contact with one another. Ocean currents and trade winds make it fairly easy to cross the Atlantic. Surviving the voyage is another matter. Certainly, boats from one side of the ocean would occasionally get blown off course and end up on the other. Their crews would probably be dead by then and their arrival on a foreign shore would have had little effect on the civilizations that discovered their remains.

But what about ancient explorers? There was no shortage of civilizations with ocean-going capability: the Greeks, Romans, Phoenicians, Chinese, etc. Did they visit America? Did Native Americans visit Asia, Europe, and Africa?Sadly, other than the Viking settlement at L’Anse aux Meadows in Newfoundland, there is no hard proof for Pre-columbian contact. Though, that hasn’t stopped people from looking. A range of researchers, including professional archaeologists, dedicated amateurs and outright quacks, have searched for evidence that other contacts occurred.

The evidence looks a bit thin. There are plenty of supposedly “Old World” artifacts in North and South America. Some are laughably bad fakes. Others are misinterpreted Native American artifacts or even natural objects. One artifact, though, has kept scholars arguing for more than a century.

Kensington Runestone, courtesy George T. FlomThe Kensington Runestone was supposedly discovered in 1898 in Minnesota by Swedish-American farmer Olof Ohman. This rectangular stone slab is covered on two sides by Runic writing, the script of the Vikings. The translation goes:

“Eight Götalanders and 22 Northmen on (this?) acquisition journey from Vinland far to the west. We had a camp by two (shelters?) one day’s journey north from this stone. We were fishing one day. After we came home, found 10 men red from blood and dead. Ave Maria save from evil. There are 10 men by the inland sea to look after our ships fourteen days journey from this peninsula (or island). Year 1362″

Vinland is the Viking name for the area they explored in North America. Götaland is a region of Sweden. It wouldn’t be strange for Vikings to write “Ave Maria” in 1362 because they had converted to Christianity by then. Most supporters of the stone believe the inscription is proof that Vikings ventured inland from their coastal settlements.

Runic experts say it’s a modern fake, pointing out that the language is simply 19th century Swedish written in an ancient script. For example, the text lacks the case endings and plural forms that were common in the Middle Ages but had died out in modern Swedish. Runic alphabets were widely published in the 19th century and it was later reported that Ohman had one in his possession. Archaeologists also point out that the inscription looks too fresh to be more than 600 years old.

There has been much nit-picking back and forth about specific Runic letters, weathering on stone, styles of 14th century Swedish, etc. The vast majority of linguists and archaeologists believe it’s fake, while the locals in the area where it was found support it enough to have opened the Runestone Museum and Kensington Runestone Park. This being an area with a large Scandinavian-American population, the idea that Vikings settled here has obvious appeal.

Another intriguing find is the Maine penny. Minted in Norway between A.D. 1065 and 1080, this small silver coin was discovered at a prehistoric Native American village in Penobscot Bay, Maine. It’s now housed in the Maine State Museum. Whether the Vikings visited this site is debatable. The penny may have made its way down the coast as a trade item.

There are other purported runestones in the United States. Two of them, the AVM Runestone and the Elbow Lake Runestone, were later admitted to be fakes by their creators. The Heavener Runestone, found in Oklahoma, is often purported to be genuine in alternative publications, but is written in an old style of Runic that was no longer used by the time the Vikings were voyaging west to Greenland and North America. Two smaller stones with fragmentary inscriptions were found in the same area. The Poteau Runestone, also from Oklahoma, is written in a mix of two Runic alphabets and is even less convincing. Yet another Oklahoma find, the Shawnee Runestone, has an inscription that looks too fresh to be medieval.

The Heavener Runestone State Park in Oklahoma has a small museum dedicated to these curious objects.

Shawnee Runestone

Did the Vikings explore the interior of North America? Take a road trip to Minnesota and Oklahoma and decide for yourself, basing your conclusion on facts and evidence rather than personal bias. And don’t let your fifth-grade teacher browbeat you into her way of thinking. Columbus did NOT discover America!

Photo of Kensington Runestone courtesy George T. Flom. Photo of Shawnee Runestone courtesy Heironymous Rowe.

Meet the coldest cities in America

coldest cities americaFeeling chilly? Chances are, if you’re not a resident of the following five cities, you really don’t have it that bad. The Weather Channel recently released a list of the coldest cities in America, according to NOAA National Climatic Data Center average annual temperature data from the last 30 years.

Caribou, Maine, came in fifth on the list. Dubbed the “Most Northeastern City in America”, Caribou’s average annual temperature of 39.7 degrees is partially due to a “polar vortex” over the Hudson Bay, which directs cold air from Canada into northern Maine. It gets more than 9 feet of snow each winter – youch.

Fourth was Jackson, Wyoming, with an average annual temperature of 39.4 degrees. Because of its proximity to Grand Teton, Yellowstone National Park, and Jackson Hole, Jackson is a popular tourist spot, but visitors should pack warm. Since Jackson is surrounded by mountains on three sides, cold air settles into the valley at night, resulting in morning freezes approximately 250 days of the year.
Coming in third on the list was Gunnison, Colorado, located in the heart of the Rocky Mountains. With an elevation of 7640 feet and an average annual temperature of 38.1 degrees, visitors can expect freezes almost every day of the year.

International Falls, Minnesota, is the second coldest city in America, with an average annual temperature of 37.8 degrees. An all-time record low of -55 degrees has earned it the nicknames “Frostbite Falls” and “Icebox of the Nation”.

For the most part, researchers limited the list to cities with more than 5,000 people. The one exception was the number one spot, which went to Barrow, Alaska, located 5 degrees north of the Arctic Circle. With an average temperature of — get this — 11.7 degrees, Barrow is in a league of its own when it comes to cold. In fact, from late November to mid January, the sun does not even rise over the horizon. Brr.

[via weather.com, Flickr image via Bob Johnston]

Branding 10,000 of Minnesota’s lakes


minnesota 10000 lakes branding


Doing anything 10,000 times is no easy feat, but Art Director Nicole Meyer has embarked upon the near impossible. A project to create unique branding for all of Minnesota‘s 10,000 lakes, a project she estimates will take her 27 years.

The talented Meyer is 83 lakes in, and we’ll admit we’re impressed by the images she’s crafted of everything from Black Lake (a simple black on black design) to Leech Lake, which, shockingly, isn’t as gross looking as we’d anticipated.

Meyer’s Branding10000lakes.com is just part of her overall design portfolio. It’s an impressive and inspiring passion project – and we hope one that lands her a job. Which of the lakes so far is your favorite? Which one should she brand next?

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