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]

Christmas in Minnesota

Minnesota, in the icy northern central USA
Temp: 23°F in Minneapolis as I write, and the 25th has a projected low of 19°F
Snow: Lots of it!
Percentage of population who celebrates Christmas: 64.2 percent here are Christian “adherents
Are you there right now: Yes.

All’s quiet on the northern front. What I love about Minneapolis at Christmastime is that we almost always have fluffy blankets of falling snow, which creates a sound barrier and makes the whole city seem blissfully peaceful. Still, there’s lots to do, from munching on doughy, cinnamon and sugar frosted puppy dog tails at Isles Bun & Coffee (trust me) to watching Dickens performed in Star Trek-speak.Even if all the crazy Scandinavian and German foods and traditions are Greek to you, you’ll love the way homes all over the city and suburbs really get into the fantastical holiday light decor. Like in other states, driving through the residential areas of the city to look at the dazzling holiday light displays is a common family ritual. Minneapolitans even take it a step further and throw a yearly, nightly Holidazzle Parade, which locals and children watch from the warm skyways (enclosed bridges which connect a large number of buildings in the downtown area; they’re like all-window hallways) and a heated tent, supplied with hot cider and cocoa, every Thursday through Sunday (this year’s parades ended December 20).

Families line up for hours at the Minneapolis Macy’s on Nicollet Mall to see the yearly SantaLand, a tradition which is almost 50 years old. Once you enter, you wind through animatronic elves and North Pole-esque wonders and eventually arrive at Santa himself for that “will my kid cry or ask for a present” confrontation (through December 30). A newer yearly tradition at the trendy bowling-alley-restaurant-theater, Bryant Lake Bowl, is a performance of David Sedaris’ SantaLand Diaries by Theater Limina (final performance December 21), a merciless account of working as a Macy’s elf, strangely heartwarming in its cynicism, and perfect for the dark-humored Nords of Minnesota. It typically sells out.

If you’re into holiday theater, a show which every Minnesotan must see once is The Guthrie Theater’s annual A Christmas Carol. It changes a little every year with new adaptations and actors, so there’s always something new to see. What is constant is the beauty and authority with which the classic tale is presented, with enough Dickens for true fans and enough wonder for the whole family (through December 31). Folks travel from far and wide to catch it — and now, many are traveling over the rivers and through the snow for a newer tradition: A Klingon Christmas Carol, presented almost entirely in Klingon by the translation-focused company Commedia Beauregard, with a single English-speaking Vulcan narrator (who happened to be my best friend this year through December 13, clip here). Over in St. Paul, Ballet Minnesota’s annual Nutcracker Ballet plays through December 20 at the O’Shaughnessy. Minnesotans never want for live performances. They say it’s because it’s so cold in the winter; all the indoor entertainment industries thrive.

For Scandinavians, the place to be is The Swedish Institute of America, where they have A Nordic Christmas (through January 10). Insider tip: The SIA’s gift shop always stocked with hard-to-find imported gifts and candies. It’s a Minnesota Christmas goldmine.

Lastly, if you’d prefer liquor over lutefisk and lefse, head to The Chambers Hotel, where they have an Ice Bar (that’s me there with my friend Tim in 2007 — it’s not glass, it’s all ice!). It won’t be open on Christmas Day, so if you’re looking for some literal holiday drinking, head to Gameworks for beer, cocktails and gaming, The Saloon, which is one of the Twin Cities’ most fabulous gay bars, Market BBQ for raucous karaoke or Park Tavern for bowling.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all of you!

NWA pilot: lots of misinformation, but can’t talk about it

All eyes are on the Northwest Airlines crew that missed Minneapolis by 150 miles. Rumors abound, such as dozing and arguments in the cockpit. Richard Cole, a crewmember on Northwest Flight 188, wouldn’t talk, except to say that it wasn’t his fault: “But other than that, I cannot tell you anything that went on because we’re having hearings this weekend, we’re having hearings on Tuesday. All that information will come out then.”

The flight had 144 passengers and five crewmembers and left San Diego for Minneapolis. At one point in the trip, there were 78 minutes of radio silence, and when the air traffic controllers reconnected with the crew, it had overshot the airport by 150 miles. The police who met the plane said the pilots were “cooperative, apologetic and appreciative.”

Few solutions offered for passengers trapped on plane overnight

Even Gilligan used his creative wits better in crisis.

The 47 people on-board a Continental flight last Friday night found themselves on their own “three-hour tour,” a la Gilligan’s Island. Rather than taking three hours to fly from Houston to the Twin Cities, they were stuck on the tarmac in Rochester, Minnesota for nine hours overnight, not even leaving the aircraft. The flight, operated by ExpressJet, had been diverted to Rochester because of thunderstorms in the Twin Cities.

Nine hours is a really long time, don’t you think?

One passenger told the Minneapolis Star Tribune, “This was a sardine can, with a single row of seats on one side of the plane and two rows of seats on the other. And they’ve got about 50 people inside, including babies, for the whole night. It was a nightmare.”

The airline seems to have plenty of excuses, but few answers. Just a few: They couldn’t wait for the storm to pass because the crew had already reached their maximum work hours, and another crew had to be flown in. The passengers couldn’t just go into the airport, because they would have to undergo security screening, but the screeners had already gone home for the night. And the idea of at least letting passengers sleep on chairs in a certain area of the airport “wasn’t provided as an option.”

I’d be curious to know whether the passengers were throwing around the term “anarchy” after a few hours, or whether the original crew deplaned because they were at the end of their shift.

Poor, poor passengers. Rather than arriving in Minneapolis around midnight on Friday night, they eventually landed around 11 a.m. on Saturday morning.

Budget Travel: Minneapolis, Minnesota

Minneapolis. What comes to mind? Prince’s purple jumpsuit, Francis McDormand’s accent in the movie Fargo, the Mall of America and six months of winter.

Perhaps the larger of the Twin Cities (Saint Paul being the smaller) is not on the tourist map, but it often gets props for being a nice place to live. (Forbes called it most affordable city to live well. The Minneapolis suburb of Plymouth was rated the best place to live by CNNMoney).

So it’s a fine place to live. But why visit?

First, there is the food…then the live music, the art, the coffee shops, and, of course, the fact that Minneapolis is second only the New York in number of theater seats per capita.

Bring your coat (and if your ears are delicate, a hat as well) during the winter, but don’t expect ice fishing weather from April to October. That is when the city’s lakes, trails, and outdoor events make it a budget traveler’s dream destination.

Get In
It will soon be cheaper to fly to Minneapolis. Southwest will be launching flights to and from Chicago Midway in March. From Chicago, you can get a connection to any city in the US that Southwest flies. That will drive down airfares to MSP, once a stronghold of Northwest. Names like Megabus, Greyhound and Amtrak are also players in the transit game. Minneapolis sits in the cross-hair made by Interstates 35 and 94. It is reachable by car in a day from virtually anywhere in the Midwest.

Getting Around
The bus and train system is better than average for a mid-sized city, but still far from perfect. This is a driving city, especially if you want to take advantage of outdoor activities. Summer is bicycling weather and most of the urban destinations are within pedaling distance of one another. Buses and the new light rail system both allow bikers to bring their wheels on board.

What to do
The Minneapolis Institute of Arts is free every day and often holds special events and exhibits. The nationally famous Walker Art Museum has free admission on the evening of the first Thursday of every month (with plenty of events and activities on offer). The adjacent sculpture garden is open year round, but is mainly a summertime attraction. The Como Zoo (actually in Saint Paul) does not charge for entry and is known for its polar bears and penguin exhibit. It is also free to peruse the art galleries in the growing hipster hot-spot of Northeast Minneapolis (Nordeast).

Theater prices can vary greatly. The Orpheum and Guthrie put on world-class stage productions, but tickets are highly priced unless you luck out in the rush line. There are plenty of other professional theaters and live music venues. These vary in size from a few thousand to a few seats. City Pages (print version is free at pretty much every restaurant, coffee shop and bar in the city) has a complete list of weekly events plus a collection of liberal editorial rants and naughty adverts in back. There is no better source for what happening and what’s cheap each week.

What to do (summer)
An evening stroll around Lake Harriet or Lake Calhoun, capped by a stop at one of the neighborhood bars or cafés in the area, is a pleasant (and cheap) way to spend a few hours. If you are on the prowl, such a trek can easily be seen as a chance to check out some attractive joggers. If that’s too low-brow, there’s the Shakespeare in the Park series during the summer and $2 movies at the historic Riverview Theater near the Mississippi River Road.

Where to Eat
Ethnic eateries line University Ave in St. Paul (from the State Capital to Snelling). These offer a filling, good meal for under 10 dollars. There is a similar strip in Minneapolis on Nicollet Ave. Sandwich shops, bistros, and cafes offer cheap fare throughout South Minneapolis and near the University of Minnesota.

Where to Drink
Nordeast is one of those hip artsy neighborhoods. Though its desirability is growing, there are still plenty of spots catering to the “I’m hip and creative but rather poor” crowd. Lots of these have live music or events on the weekend evenings (and good people watching every night of the week). If you are looking for some fun of the beer-in-a-pitcher variety, virtually any venue on or near the U of M campus will do.

Minneapolis offers a genuinely laid back trip. Cold weather or warm, there is plenty going on. And no, not everyone talks like Francis McDormand in Fargo.

More Budget Destinations on Gadling