GROWING UP IN SMALL TOWN Minnesota in the 60s and 70s, I saw local businesses thriving. There were two hardware stores, two grocery stores, a lumberyard, feed mill, grain elevator, bank, restaurants, corner bar, barbershop, several service stations, post office and more in my hometown of Vesta, population 365. But today, the one-block Main Street stands mostly empty, pocked by vacant lots from long-ago torn down buildings. A few businesses remain. The elementary school closed decades ago.
In Belview seven miles to the north and east, the story repeats. I recall driving to Belview with my grandma in the early 1970s to shop for fabric so I could sew dresses for her. That dry goods store is long gone. Belview has, like most rural communities, experienced the closure of many businesses as locals headed to regional shopping hubs to shop at Big Box stores and also embraced online shopping.
Likewise, Redwood Falls, to the east of Belview along Minnesota State Highway 19, has changed considerably. That Redwood County seat and the Lyon County seat of Marshall were our family’s go-to larger towns to shop for clothes, shoes and other necessities when I was growing up on the prairie. Last Saturday when Randy and I stopped in downtown Redwood, I found the streets nearly empty and few businesses open. Nothing like the bustling downtown I remember.
I can sit here and write about this with nostalgia and sadness, wishing these rural communities remained self-sufficient. But wishes are not reality. And wishing does not change things. Action does.
He’s friendly, outgoing, welcoming. Everything you want in a shopkeeper. But Nate also carries a sense of responsibility, it seems. He recently-returned to his home area after a stint with the military that took him around the world. He could have settled elsewhere. But he chose to return to his roots. (He graduated from nearby Wabasso High School, my alma mater, in 2004.) That says something.
We didn’t chat all that long. But my brief conversation with Nate gives me hope. Hope that his positive attitude, his efforts—including purchasing two arcade games—and his drive will ignite a fire of possibilities.
PLEASE CHECK BACK to read my thoughts on small towns and what draws me to them.
It was an unusually frigid February day in central Minnesota with the temp hovering around zero as we gathered at St. Michael’s Catholic Church in Buckman. Over the course of more than three hours, memories imprinted upon me. Memories shaped in part by a global pandemic, which affected the ways in which we could be comforted. Randy and I declined hugs and handshakes. There would be no luncheon, the time of one-on-one visits. No getting together with siblings, at least for us, either before the funeral or after.
Yet, simply being together in the same building brought comfort. Comfort came, too, in flowers and music and Scripture. Like the words of Ecclesiastes 3:1-14, read by my sister-in-law Rosie. When she read a time to embrace and a time to refrain, I thought, how fitting for a funeral during COVID-19.
Images seared into my mind—like the lowering of the casket lid over my father-in-law. Or the surprise of seeing my then preschool-aged son in an image atop the casket spray. He was perched on the seat of his grandpa’s Ford 9N tractor in a photo I took decades ago.
Many times throughout the service—especially during the farewell chant and song of angels welcoming Dad into heaven—I focused on the heavenly angels painted on the ceiling high above the altar. What a gift the artists and craftsmen of this aged church left for mourners. Art comforts.
So does music, especially music. “Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee” and “The Lord is My Shepherd” and “Holy God, We Praise Thy Name” and many other songs filled this massive church with the most beautiful, heavenly music performed by musicians in the balcony. St. Michael’s has incredible acoustics. Randy and I suggested to his classmate Janel prior to the service that perhaps the musical team could play a polka or waltz in honor of Dad, who so enjoyed both and who also played piano, organ and accordion (not the concertina, as the priest noted). My sister-in-law Vivian shared with me later that the hymn “Whispering Hope,” played before the casket closed, was a popular waltz at wedding dances in the area and was a favorite of her parents. I love nuances like that which personalize a funeral.
As I sat through the service next to Randy on an uncomfortably hard straight-back pew, physically-distanced from family, I determined not to cry. I didn’t want to cry into my mask. I considered how surreal this felt to experience a funeral during a global pandemic. And how surreal also to experience a funeral during Minnesota’s longest cold snap in nearly three decades.
We dressed for the weather, wearing long johns under our dress pants. Randy told me his dad wore long johns often back on the farm so this extra layer of warmth seemed another fitting tribute. Before heading to the cemetery, we slipped out of dress shoes into snow boots.
And then, once grandchildren slid their grandfather’s casket into the hearse for the short drive to the cemetery, mourners followed by foot, crossing Minnesota State Highway 25. A church officiant stood half-way into the traffic lane, bundled for warmth, purple mask covering his face, holding a pole with crucifix atop as traffic waited out of respect for us to cross the road. It was a strong visual moment for me. The red pick-up truck parked curbside contrasting with mourners dressed in black. Waiting vehicles. Masks and stocking caps and bald heads (among those who chose to brave the elements minus head coverings). The priest in his, oh, so Minnesotan red buffalo plaid coat and matching ear flapper cap. An icy parking lot with occasional welcome patches of gravel. And then, the final steps across the snow to the burial site.
As my nieces and nephews carried my father-in-law’s casket, I felt the heaviness of grief. The cold of death, balanced by the promise of eternal life. Grief and joy.
And then, in one last act of love, we each stepped up to pull flowers from the casket spray to lay upon the casket. I chose a red rose, not yet blackened by the cold, placed it on the shiny grey surface. And then, with my mittened hand, I patted the lid twice in a final farewell to my father-in-law.
I’m excited to view/hear this concert featuring a wide range of talented local musicians. Like the Benson Family Singers, Fourth Avenue Four Barbershop Quartet, Gail Kaderlik, Cindy Glende, Alberto Arriaza and many others.
The purpose of the concert, according to lead organizer the Rev. Greg Ciesluk of Fourth Avenue United Methodist Church, is to lift our spirits and to help those in need. “Concert goers” are encouraged to donate to the Salvation Army via:
1) Giving at Salvation Army red kettles.
2) Mailing checks to: Salvation Army of Rice County, 617 3rd Ave. N.W., Faribault, MN. 55021
Enjoy, dear readers. I am honored to be part of this event via holiday photos I’ve taken in Faribault and which are incorporated into the concert. Thank you to all who contributed to this event. It takes a team to make this happen. What a wonderful community of caring people who have come together to uplift us.
In a typical year, I would sing Advent and Christmas hymns with my faith family in church. But now, during COVID-19, I’m watching services online. I feel grateful for this technology. But it’s not the same. I miss the in-person connection, the simply being there.
Greg Ciesluk, pastor of Fourth Avenue United Methodist Church, was experiencing a similar feeling of loss. A self-proclaimed “music person” actively involved in the Faribault community, he considered how he could restore some Christmas joy. Cancellation of the Faribault High School choir’s annual performance—an 81-year tradition—at the local Rotary Club’s Christmas meal prompted Ciesluk to think creatively. (He’s a Rotary member.) The result: An hour-long virtual Christmas concert featuring local musicians.
“Christmas in Faribault 2020” (type that into your search engine) debuts on YouTube at 7 pm Saturday, December 19. The concert can also be viewed on Faribault Community Television.
Ciesluk promises a wonderful, uplifting experience in a “joyful, soulful and invigorating” concert.
From well-known local musicians like Doug Madow and Dr. Michael Hildebrandt to Beau Chant to a children’s group from Christ Lutheran Church and many more, including performances by Ciesluk, the virtual concert features pre-recorded songs submitted to Fox Video Productions for production.
But a desire to uplift the community in this Christmas of canceled concerts isn’t the sole goal behind those putting together this virtual musical event. Organizers are encouraging viewers to donate to the Salvation Army as “a way to show God’s compassion and concern for those in need,” says Ciesluk. All donations stay in Rice County.
Give directly at red kettle donation sites in the county; via checks mailed to the Salvation Army of Rice County, 617 3rd Ave. N.W., Faribault, MN. 55021; or through an online link that will be included in the video. The concert will feature a spot from the Salvation Army. Sheriff Troy Dunn, who heads the county’s Salvation Army outreach, is serving as emcee.
Randy and I have, for many years, rung bells for the Salvation Army. It’s been a joyful, humbling experience. But this holiday season, because of COVID-19, we decided given our high risk age status, not to volunteer. Yet, I am helping in another way. Ciesluk asked if he could incorporate holiday/Christmas photos I’ve taken around Faribault through the years into “Christmas in Faribault 2020.” I agreed. Like him and his team of organizers and musicians, I am happy to help bring joy to others during an especially challenging year.
This bronze statue of Prince, crafted by Brodin Studios in Kimball, Minnesota, focuses a Prince Memorial Garden in Henderson, Minnesota.
MY CONNECTION TO THE MUSICIAN Prince, of Purple Rain fame, stretches back to my stint as a news reporter for the Owatonna People’s Press. The girlfriend of my then co-worker Roy was an extra in the movie. In a crowd scene, probably, although I’m uncertain. I don’t recall her name, but she was a quiet and beautiful young woman with hair the color of corn silk.
Fast forward to 36 years after the release of that 1984 movie and I found myself in Henderson, where a memorable scene from the movie was filmed on the banks of the Minnesota River. I’ve not seen the movie nor am I familiar with Prince’s music, other than “Purple Rain.” Still, I recognize his value as a musician and his worldwide popularity. He’s an important part of Minnesota’s performing arts history and a draw for those who are fans.
For those reasons, I wanted to photograph the latest tribute to Prince, a lovely pocket park in the heart of historic downtown Henderson. The park focal point is a life-size bronze statue of Prince set against a backdrop mural. Purple petunias, purple benches, even a purple mailbox (with guestbook inside) frame the garden honoring Prince Rogers Nelson.
Up close with Prince, in bronze.
On the Saturday afternoon I visited, Joel King, president of Prince Legacy Henderson Project Inc., presided at the site, purple folding chair open on the sidewalk next to his vehicle. He worked as a cameraman for Graffiti Bridge (the sequel to Purple Rain), has a long credit history in filming and now lives in Henderson. He introduced himself as the man behind the Prince memorial and offered plenty of advice on photographing it. Ever the cameraman.
Another look at the Prince memorial.
I got a few photos; not as many as I wanted. I decided I would do better to return on a day when no one is around, when I can take my time photographing this homegrown Prince Garden, when Henderson isn’t teeming with people…
This billboard stands along the northbound lane of Interstate 35 in Faribault, which is about an hour from Henderson. Paisley Park is only a 40-minute drive from Henderson.
Just a small portion of the people attending a concert in Faribault’s Central Park on Thursday evening.
IN THIS SUMMER OF COVID-19 limitations, I feel fortunate to live in a community where at least one bit of normalcy remained—weekly Thursday evening concerts in Faribault’s Central Park.
People walk, bike and drive to the park in downtown Faribault.
With concert-goers spreading out throughout the block square park and wearing masks when needed, I am comfortable in the outdoor space listening to music. Randy and I missed only a few concerts, one due to rain, the other because we didn’t want to be in the park following the annual pet parade. I love kids. But they tend to forget about COVID and the need to keep their distance. Who can blame them? They’re just kids.
Jivin’ Ivan and the Kings of Swing perform in the Central Park Bandshell.
This past Thursday evening we went to the final scheduled concert in this summer series organized by the Faribault Parks and Rec Department. It was a lovely evening relaxing in our lawn chairs listening to Jivin’ Ivan and the Kings of Swing. Minus Ivan Whillock. The aging musician and noted woodcarver is being extra cautious during COVID and stayed home. Instead, we were treated to an audio of him singing. It was a nice personal touch, Ivan’s way of connecting with fans of his rich, golden voice. The Kings perform Golden Era swing music. Soothing. A journey back in time.
I’ve seen more families at this summer’s concerts than in recent years.
As I listen, I watch. And I observed children running, playing, painting, tossing hula hoops and multi-colored scarves, doing back flips. It all looked so normal. Just like any summer evening. Except for the face masks occasionally seen on kids and adults. And except for the lack of people mingling and visiting as typically happens at these summer concerts.
Art in the Park, an opportunity to paint, has been added to this year’s concerts. Here Paula creates.
I also noted the size of the crowd, much larger than in past summers. That comes as no surprise given many of us in the aging demographic are limiting who we see and what we do. And this is the one event we can attend because it’s outdoors and people (mostly) follow safety protocol.
As the evening closed in on 8:30 and the bandshell lights switched on, the air chilled and some concert-goers began leaving. But my friend Valerie didn’t leave before we met up. She’d texted earlier wondering if I was at the concert. I haven’t seen her in forever, long before COVID started. And so we stepped to the side of the crowd, both in our face masks and caught up. It was so hard not to hug one another. But we didn’t. And even though I couldn’t see Valerie’s smile, I could see the smile in her eyes. In our brief conversation I felt reconnected, overjoyed, as if COVID exited and we were just two friends chatting with each other on a summer evening.
I can only hope that by this time next summer, COVID-19 will be history and we will all be vaccinated and life back to normal, whatever that may be.
Art in painting. Art in music.
But for now, for this summer, this is life. Masks and social distancing. Few or no social activities. Except for these concerts in the park—with an encore concert set for 6 pm Thursday, September 3, featuring instrumentalist Doug Madow and vocalist Barb Piper. To that announcement, the crowd reacted with raucous applause. One more evening of music to help us sort of forget about this global pandemic.
Three members of the Long Time Gone band perform during the July 16 Faribault Concerts in the Park Series.
MUSIC SPEAKS a universal language. Especially during this global pandemic. It brings people together, yet not together. It brings moments of joy in rhythm and words. It channels thoughts to memories or into the moment, into foot-tapping, circling in dance or simply listening.
A snippet of the crowd attending the concert.
Each Thursday summer evening, music draws folks to Central Park for the free Faribault Concerts in the Park series based in the historic bandshell. Hundreds spread out across the block-square park on benches, lawnchairs and blankets. Social-distancing. Some wearing face masks, others with masks in hand to wear upon arrival and departure.
Nearly every summer event—from crowded county to state fairs, from community to family celebrations, from all those connective activities we take for granted—have been canceled. And they should be. So to have this outdoor concert series continue, with safeguard practices in place, is such a gift. I am grateful to the Faribault Parks and Rec Department for organizing and to the sponsors and musicians who make these concerts possible. And to the concert-goers for respecting guidelines and distancing and doing everything necessary to keep this event safe and low risk.
A view of concert goers sitting near the bandshell. I used a telephoto lens to shoot this and all other images as I sit way back from the bandshell.
Randy and I have attended these weekly Thursday summer concerts for decades, from the time our children were little to now as empty nesters. Last week we joined others to hear the classic bluegrass of Long Time Gone, a talented group of musicians, some of whom are in the Minnesota Rock/Country Music Hall of Fame.
I looked up to this beautiful view while at the concert.
While we listened, a breeze, cool enough at times for some in the audience to wrap themselves in blankets or jackets, stirred through the trees. I tilted my head back to observe the canopy of trees and the golden hue of sunset tinting the sky.
I smiled at Rocco the dog, lying nearby, clearly loved by his engaging owner.
Dancing with baby.
Near the bandshell, youngsters tossed yellow hula hoops high into the air, the circles spiraling motion. And, on the opposite side, a young mom twirled with her baby in joyous dance.
Art created during the concert.
I saw, too, several children with paintings created at the limited Kids Art in the Park event during the concert.
A couple circles themselves with rope to keep others at a distance.
If not for the masks, the definite social distancing, the circle of distancing rope around one couple’s lawnchairs, this scene may have looked like any other Thursday summer evening at Central Park in Faribault. Except it wasn’t and isn’t. I long for the day when I don’t do a mental checklist that includes mask and handsanitizer before leaving the house for something as simple as a concert in the park. I long for those ordinary summer evenings, pre-COVID…
A portion of the crowd enjoying Little Chicago’s June 25 concert at Central Park in Faribault.
ANY OTHER SUMMER, and I wouldn’t consider a concert in the park anything but typical for a Thursday evening in Faribault. The weekly warm weather concerts have been part of my community’s history now for 134 years. But these are the days of a global pandemic. Yet, not even COVID-19 can stop this music tradition.
Many couples brought their lawn chairs and found a social-distancing spot in the park.
Central Park sits in Faribault’s downtown area, along Second Avenue across from the historic Cathedral of Our Merciful Saviour.
Some folks opted to sit on park benches near the stage.
Thursday evening I attended my first 2020 summer concert organized by the Faribault Parks and Recreation Department and sponsored by area businesses. Things looked a bit different. The vast crowd was spread throughout the block-square Central Park, mostly adhering to CDC social-distancing guidelines. Some wore masks, especially when coming to and leaving the park.
Loved the 60s and 70s hits performed by Little Chicago.
Randy and I settled at the back of the gathering to enjoy the music of Little Chicago, a New Prague-based cover band for hits from the 60s and 70s. Our music. Songs by The Grassroots, Chicago, the Turtles, Neil Diamond… Familiar hits that took me back to my teen years, especially songs like “Color My World” and “Saturday in the Park” by Chicago, one of my all-time favorite bands.
Thumbing through a book while enjoying the concert…
As I listened, swung my foot and occasionally sang along to songs like “Happy Together” and “Sweet Caroline,” (who can resist?), I watched. I am an observer. Taking in the setting and the people and the experience.
All ages attended the concert, with more young families than I’ve seen in past years.
What a beautiful evening for a concert with pleasant temps and a stir of a breeze as the day edged toward sunset.
Most people arrived via vehicle. But some also walked and biked.
I noticed a difference in this year’s crowd with more young families in attendance. Typically, these concerts draw older folks like me. But I watched kids arrive—in red wagons, on trikes, in strollers—with parents and grandparents. And then dance, play, toss balls. Simply enjoying the exceptionally beautiful summer evening outdoors. It reminded me of all the years we brought our own three children here to do the same.
I saw quite a few dogs, all under control and well-behaved.
Little Chicago’s homemade sign banners the base of the bandshell where folks enjoy the music.
I watched as people swayed their hands, as a couple danced, as dog owners circled their dogs around the park. It all looked so normal. If not for the lawn chairs spaced far apart, the face masks, the reminder in the back of my brain, I would have considered this just any other Thursday summer evening in Central Park. For a few hours, it felt that way, as if COVID-19 had exited and only the music of summer played.
One final look at the crowd-pleasing band, Little Chicago.
FYI: The Lakerlanders Barbershop Chorus performs at the next free concert set for 7 pm Thursday, July 2, in Faribault’s Central Park.
A July 2015 concert in Central Park. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.
DURING A TYPICAL SUMMER, the City of Faribault features free Concerts in the Park on Thursday evenings. I’ve attended for decades, taking our kids when they were growing up. It was a family night out. Years later, Randy and I still pack our lawn chairs and head to Central Park for music and visiting.
Another past concert. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.
Nine additional musical groups—from Little Chicago to the Lakelanders Barbershop Chorus to Bend in the River Big Band—are on the Thursday schedule from now until August 20. It will be interesting to see how these musicians social-distance in the confined space of a bandshell. For the smaller groups, it shouldn’t be an issue.
I photographed this scene in Central Park on Sunday morning, just days before this week’s concert. Park benches had been pulled out of storage, but are obviously not spaced to allow for social distancing. Hopefully they will be moved apart prior to tomorrow evening’s concert.
Because these concerts are outdoors in a park that covers a city block, Randy and I feel safe attending. We can easily social-distance. That, and adherence to all Minnesota Department of Health guidelines related to COVID-19, are expected.
But after the concert, we won’t linger to visit with friends, as we usually do. We’ll fold our lawn chairs, carry them to the van and head home, thankful for the evening of music in a safe environment. Yet missing the sense of community that comes from interaction and conversation.
On a corner along Division Street in historic downtown Northfield, Minnesota.
WE ARRIVED IN NORTHFIELD to find the city abuzz. Or rather abuzz and resounding with the sound of music.
Randy swung the van into the first open parking spot, surprisingly just off Division Street and a short walk from Bridge Square, headquarters for the Vintage Band Festival. On this lovely August early evening, we headed toward the sound of music, rounded the corner by the post office and observed an audience packing the square and spilling onto the closed street. At that moment I wished for lawn chairs. These obvious seasoned fest attendees brought theirs. Without chairs, we settled onto the curb just a door down from the former First National Bank (now the Northfield Historical Society), site of the famous Jesse James-Cole Younger Gang bank raid. We listened to a few songs before deciding we couldn’t sit like this any longer. Maybe if we were younger…
Territorial Brass performs in Armory Square’s green space.
From there we aimed toward our destination, Reunion, a new restaurant in town. But first, we decided to check out another concert, this one in the Armory Square green space. Here, Arizona’s official historical brass band performed territorial period music. Territorial Brass band members, dressed in period attire, replicate the music of vintage brass bands in Arizona and New Mexico. And bonus, a vocal soloist, “Violet,” sang along with the instrumentalists. What a delight to hear the band, among some 40 performing during 100 concerts over the four-day Vintage Band Festival.
Soloist and band spokesperson, “Violet,” walked through the crowd while singing.
After listening for awhile, we left to dine at the new eatery. But, once inside Reunion, we learned the wait would be 45 minutes. I was disappointed, too hungry to wait. Had we known this, we would have reserved a dining spot earlier and awaited the text that our table was ready. Live and learn.
Among those listening to Territorial Brass.
Anyway, no matter, we appreciated the vintage music that added another reason to stop in Northfield on a beautiful Minnesota summer evening.
TELL ME: Have you ever attended Northfield’s Vintage Band Festival or a similar vintage band festival?