Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Minnesota Faces: The musicians of Monroe Crossing July 3, 2015

Portrait #30: Monroe Crossing

Monroe Crossing musicians photographed during a 2013 performance at North Morristown.

Four of five Monroe Crossing musicians photographed during a 2013 performance at North Morristown.

They’re in the Minnesota Music Hall of Fame. They’ve recorded 14 CDs to date. Twice they’ve appeared at Carnegie Hall in New York City. And in 2016, they will become the first Minnesota bluegrass band ever to perform in South Korea.

They are Monroe Crossing, a group of five musicians who rank as one of Minnesota’s favorite bluegrass bands.

On Saturday the performers, as they have many times in the past, take the stage at the oldest Fourth of July celebration in Minnesota, now in its 123rd year. That would be in North Morristown, a country church and school and a few homes clustered west of Faribault in the middle of farm fields.

The Trinity Lutheran Church and School festival grounds is the perfect setting for these musicians who present foot-stomping down-to-earth songs. They perform at 1:30 p.m. and then again at 4 p.m. And it’s free, although donations are accepted in on-grounds donation boxes.

Plan to arrive well in advance of Monroe Crossings’ concerts. The July Fourth celebration begins at 9 a.m., when food stands and games open. Yes, there’s plenty of great food including homemade pies, barbecued pork sandwiches, burgers and more. You can play bingo, hunt for a medallion, observe a flag-raising, bid on auction items, throw horseshoes, attend a parade (at 10 a.m.), listen to other musicians (The Jolly Huntsmen Polka Band, Sawtooth Brothers, Benson Family Singers and Downtown Sound), drink beer and more.

There’s also plenty of visiting. Old-fashioned handcrafted rides are available for the kids. This rural celebration is about as Americana grassroots wholesome goodness as you’ll find anywhere in Minnesota on the Fourth of July.

Ending it all is a 10 p.m. fireworks display.

FYI: Click here to reach the North Morristown Fourth of July website page for a schedule of events and directions.

You can also check out the event Facebook page by clicking here.

Click here to view a photo essay from the 2013 celebration.

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The Minnesota Faces series is featured every Friday on Minnesota Prairie Roots.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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The Benson Family Singers: “To you, O Lord, I will make music” January 19, 2014

Benson Family Singers Rachelle, left,

The Benson Family Singers Rachelle, left, Aaron, Pete and David. Luke is also a member of the group, but did not perform in this song.

MIXING HUMOR AND SERIOUSNESS with music ranging from foot-stomping bluegrass to gospel, barbershop style and even rap, The Benson Family Singers of Faribault presented a wholesome family concert Saturday evening that has me singing their praises.

Posted on the bulletin board inside the church entry.

Posted on the bulletin board inside the church entry.

This family—Pete and Rachelle and sons David, 13; Aaron, 11; and Luke, 9—performed at St. Luke’s Church, Faribault, to raise awareness and funds for the Pregnancy Options LifeCare Center. Paul, 2, has yet to make his stage debut.

But if he’s anything like his brothers and parents, his musical talents, enthusiasm and confidence will shine during shows at churches, festivals and elsewhere.

The family will perform at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, February 1, at the Paradise Center for the Arts, Faribault, in what is billed as “the perfect family entertainment experience.” That it should be.

In today’s world, it’s truly refreshing to listen to musicians like the Bensons. You needn’t worry that they’ll say or sing anything remotely offensive. They are genuine, Christ-loving and family-focused with their music as their family ministry.

Their purpose, says Pete, is “preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ wherever we go. It’s the most important thing we can do in this life.”

So, in a break between songs, this father of four sons shared his faith with the audience at St. Luke’s.

The family balances its serious message with humor as Luke role-played Lars and Pete his counterpart, Ole, in several Norwegian jokes. Not too worry. All of their jokes are kid-friendly funny.

A rapt audience at St. Luke's.

A rapt audience at St. Luke’s.

The Bensons definitely reach out to kids with Sunday School songs like “This Little Light of Mine” and other selections that have young and old alike clapping in time to the music. Think a bluegrass tune from The Andy Griffith Show.

Listening to their barbershop style a cappella singing is an absolute auditory pleasure.

I especially enjoyed the old familiar hymns such as “When the Roll Is Called Up Yonder” and “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross.”

The Benson "boys" presented a rap version of "Leaning on the Everlasting Arms."

The Benson “boys” present a rap version of “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms.”

But, by far, the hit of the evening for me, and I expect many in the audience, were the family’s numerous versions of “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms.” The family pulled out barbershop hats, sunglasses and other props to sing “Leaning” in styles from Johann Sebastian Bach to barbershop to doo-wop, Beach Boys, “clean rap” and music from the hills of Tennessee or Kentucky.

It felt good to laugh.

And it felt good, in the closing song, to join this talented family in singing the chorus of “There Is Power in the Blood.”

FYI: To learn more about the Benson Family Singers, click here. To learn more about their upcoming performance at the Paradise Center for the Arts, click here.

Information about the Pregnancy Options LifeCare Center was available at the concert.

Information about the Pregnancy Options LifeCare Center was available at the concert.

For info about the Pregnancy Options LifeCare Center, a pro-life organization dedicated to providing physical, emotional, social support and assistance to women by empowering them to make healthy, life-affirming choices, click here.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling