Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Beyond the music: A photo essay from a summer band concert in Faribault July 18, 2016

The Bavarian Musikmeisters, a 35-member band, perform on July 14 at Faribault's Central Park.

The Bavarian Musikmeisters, a 35-member band, perform on July 14 at Faribault’s Central Park.

CONCERTS AND SUMMER pair like music and dancing, paint and a brush, rain and an umbrella.

 

Concert in Central Park 091 - Copy

 

All defined a recent performance by the Bavarian Musikmeisters at Faribault’s Thursday evening summer Concerts in the Park series in Central Park. To an appreciative audience ranging from youth to elders and all ages in between, the Twin Cities based group presented traditional German band music. Waltzes. Polkas. The Schottische. Edelweiss crooned.

It's always fun to photograph dogs.

It’s always fun to photograph dogs.

For 130 years, my community has hosted these free summer concerts. I’ve attended sporadically, more often now that I’m an empty nester. I typically bring my camera because, if I didn’t, I would regret leaving it home. There are always optimal photo ops both on and off stage. I challenge myself to discover new ways of photographing familiar scenes.

Colorful umbrellas popped when the rain started.

Rain chased a few concert-goers home, but not many.

It's been awhile since I've seen a rain cap like this worn by a concert-goer.

This is my favorite photo of the evening, a portrait of a concert-goer in an old-style rain cap. I lover her sweet smile, the character lines in her face…

On this evening, I photographed between raindrops and showers, cognizant of protecting my Canon DSLR. Umbrellas popped and some folks scurried under the shelter of a tree when clouds showered rain.

Faribault artist Dana Hanson paints a portrait of Bob Dylan. She's painting Minnesota Music Hall of Fame members Prince, Judy Garland and Dylan.

Faribault artist Dana Hanson creates a portrait of Bob Dylan. She’s painting Minnesota Music Hall of Fame members Prince, Judy Garland and Dylan.

Using a photo as her guide, Dana works on her Dylan portrait.

Using a photo as her guide, Dana works on her Dylan portrait.

One artist slid her art under a picnic table to protect it from the rain.

One artist slid her art under a picnic table to protect it from the rain.

En plein air artists, protected under a tree, continued creating in the rain. They are part of the concert series artgo! group, started last summer. It’s a wonderful addition, this mixing of art and music.

 

Band concert, 42 band & director

 

When the sun re-emerged, concert-goers refocused on the music of lederhosen clad men and of women dressed in festive dirndls and blouses.

 

Band concert, 55 arms linked

 

At one point, musicians directed the crowd to lock arms and sway to the music.

 

Band concert, 100 dancing

 

Later a couple danced solo in each other’s arms.

 

Band concert, 38 young family

 

Music brings so much joy and togetherness. Smiles prevail. Feet tap a rhythm. Parents wrap kids in their laps.

 

Band concert, 47 man with ear flap cap

 

In typical Minnesota fashion, though, people groused about the unseasonably cool weather, cold enough for one man to pull on his ear flapper cap.

 

Band concert, 34 huddling under Twins fleece blanket

 

Others wrapped themselves in fleece throws.

 

Band concert, 50 dog on lap

 

Dogs warmed owners’ laps.

 

This pin belongs to Lis, pictured several photos above in the fuchsia jacket.

This pin belongs to Lis, pictured several photos above in the fuchsia jacket. Oma is the German word for grandma.

And one woman, especially, warmed my heart after I photographed a World’s Greatest Oma button pinned to her colorful bag. Lis’ fuchsia lips curved into a smile as she shared in a still detectable German accent that she has 21 grandchildren. She came to the U.S. 61 years ago after marrying an American serviceman.

En plein air artist

En plein air artist Irina Mikhaylova uses pastels to capture the other artists at work during the concert. I especially like how she’s sketched her right hand into the drawing.

These are the moments that delight me—these connections, this meeting new people. And all because music brought us here. Together on a July summer evening in southeastern Minnesota.

This Faribault resident and novice watercolor painter set up in the southeast corner of Central Park, from the crowd so he could work solo.

This Faribault resident and novice watercolor artist set up in the southeast corner of Central Park, far from the crowd so he could work undisturbed. I didn’t notice him until the concert nearly concluded, just as he wanted, not to be noticed.

FYI: The next Concerts in the Park concert at 7 p.m. Thursday, July 21, features the Owatonna Community Band.

On July 28, Red Bank ReUnion/Orphan Brigade Band will perform Civil War era music in Faribault’s Central Park as part of the Northfield-based Vintage Band Festival. That fest features 30 bands giving 100 concerts in four days in outdoor and indoor settings. While most concerts will occur in Northfield, some are also planned for Faribault, Owatonna, Nerstrand, Cannon Falls and Red Wing. Click here for more information.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Celebrating the Fourth of July the old-fashioned way in rural North Morristown July 5, 2016

The popular bluegrass band, Monroe Crossing, performed twice at North Morristown.

The popular bluegrass band, Monroe Crossing, performed twice at North Morristown.

NORTH MORRISTOWN on the Fourth of July is grassroots Americana. It is also Minnesota’s longest running celebration of our nation’s birthday.

Vehicles lined county roads leading to the festival grounds and also filled parking areas.

Vehicles lined county roads leading to the festival grounds and also filled parking areas.

By late afternoon, the crowd began thinning a bit. Festivities began at 9 a.m.

By late afternoon, the crowd thinned a bit.

In 2015, Mathea, now one, was recognized as the youngest in attendance. Fest planners also honor the eldest in attendance and those who travel the greatest distance.

In 2015, Mathea, now one, was recognized as the youngest in attendance. Fest planners also honor the eldest in attendance and those who travel the greatest distance. I didn’t stay for that 5 p.m. announcement. My husband noted a sign up sheet showing a 9-day-old baby there as well as visitors from both coasts.

For 124 years, through generations of families, folks have gathered here in the farmland of southwestern Rice County on July 4.

The old-fashioned barrel train draws lots of riders.

The old-fashioned barrel train draws lots of riders.

Kids love the barrel train.

Kids love the barrel train complete with bicycle horns to toot.

The homemade carnival rides have been around forever.

The homemade carnival rides have been around forever.

Iolla, in her 70s, remembers coming here as a child, riding some of the same kids’ rides still operating today. Jen, in her 30s, remembers too and now brings her children, including the youngest, only two months old.

A fest-goer left this vintage wooden folding chair sitting behind the ice cream stand. In the background you can see Trinity Lutheran Church and School across the road.

A fest-goer left this vintage wooden folding chair sitting behind the ice cream stand. In the background you can see Trinity Lutheran Church and School across the road.

On July Fourth, this spot in the middle of farm fields, edged by several building sites and across the street from Trinity Lutheran Church and School, draws thousands.

The winners of the medallion hunt are introduced and presented with a $100 check.

A member of Monroe Crossing introduces the winners of the medallion hunt and presents them with a check for $100.

Players packed the bingo hall inside a poleshed style building.

Players packed the bingo hall inside a poleshed style building.

Even Superman rode the barrel train.

Even Superman rode the barrel train.

They come for the mid-morning parade, the patriotic program, the medallion hunt, the food, the music, the carnival rides, the bingo, the fireworks and much more. And they come for the reunion with family and friends. Many grew up in the area. But many didn’t. Like me.

This food stand serves tasty BBQ pork and beef sandwiches and other food.

This food stand serves tasty BBQ pork and beef sandwiches and other food. The stand was already out of roast beef when I arrived at around 1 p.m. However, several hours later the supply had been replenished.

My husband enjoys his cheeseburger.

My husband enjoys his cheeseburger.

There was always a line for the ice cream.

There was always a line for the ice cream.

That matters not. I’ve lived in nearby Faribault for 34 years now, enough to know a lot of people. When my husband and I walked onto the North Morristown festival grounds early Monday afternoon aiming for the food stands, it took us awhile to get our pork sandwich, burger, onion rings and fresh-squeezed lemonade. Not because service was slow. Rather, we ran into a lot of friends.

Ice cream to eat and ice cream to

Ice cream to eat and ice cream to go.

Signs mark the various food booths.

The pie shop is always popular given the homemade pies.

The barrel train engineer was so busy that he had to eat on the job.

Marlin the barrel train engineer was so busy that he had to eat his sandwich on the job.

North Morristown was the place to be this Fourth of July as organizers reported record crowds. I don’t have stats to share, only knowledge that food stands were running out of or low on food. That’s a good problem to have given more people equals more income for Trinity Lutheran School, the beneficiary of this annual fest.

North Morristown will be celebrating its 125th Fourth of July in 2017.

North Morristown will be celebrating its 125th Fourth of July in 2017.

There’s something about this rural celebration that is uniquely charming and appealing in the sort of old-fashioned way that makes you want to return every summer. Nothing really changes much.

These vintage plastic jumpy horses were repurposed decades ago into a carnival ride.

These vintage plastic jumpy horses were repurposed decades ago into a carnival ride.

The food stands and kids’ rides seem from another era.

No fancy bingo cards here.

I wonder how many generations have used these vintage bingo cards.

Even the bingo cards feature sliders rather than daubers.

By the time I decided I needed a slice of pie, the selection was dwindling. However, I enjoyed a slice of blueberry-peach.

By the time I decided I needed a slice of pie, the selection was dwindling. However, I enjoyed a slice of blueberry-peach.

The pies are still homemade. The oily scent of crispy onion rings drifts through the air, drawing crowds to the hamburger stand. Polka bands still play in the beer shed.

Musicians performed throughout the afternoon and into the evening.

Musicians performed throughout the afternoon and into the evening. The names imprinted upon the boards (the stage backdrop) are of past parade grand marshals.

Music blasts a bluegrass beat.

Looking toward the festival site among farm fields.

Looking toward the festival site among farm fields.

It is an idyllic place to celebrate the Fourth of July, in the heart of rural Minnesota.

FYI: Check back for a second post on North Morristown’s July 4, 2016, celebration.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Unlike Tiny Tim, I never tiptoed through the tulips May 23, 2016

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A row of vibrant ukuleles are suspended in the front window of Eastman Music in historic downtown Faribault, Minnesota.

A row of vibrant ukuleles are suspended in the front window of Eastman Music in historic downtown Faribault, Minnesota.

I REMEMBER PLAYING a ukulele in junior high school. I had no clue what I was doing; I could not read a musical note. Somehow, though, I managed to strum my way through a concert and pass a music class. Interesting how I remember that all these decades later. And interesting how the teacher failed to notice that I was not learning to read notes under his instruction.

Unlike nearly every other student, I never had the opportunity to play piano or a band instrument. I was the second oldest of six children in a poor farm family. There was no extra money for music anything. Plus, my elementary school didn’t offer a band program and the junior high school, at 20 miles distant, was too far away for me to be involved in band.

I’ve always regretted not being able to read music or play an instrument. I cherished the toy accordion I received one year for Christmas. It is the closest I’ve ever come to owning a musical instrument. When my sister, three years my junior, took flute lessons, I taught myself to play “Mary Had a Little Lamb.” Yes, my parents somehow scrimped money for musical instruments for my younger siblings.

How about you? Can you read music? Do you play a musical instrument? If not, why not?

NOTE: I took this photo a year ago and just now pulled it from my files.

Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

 

 

 

 

Part III from Wanamingo: The connection to a beloved hymn March 23, 2016

The Lars Larson log cabin sits next to the water tower in Wanamingo. The information center can be seen to the right

The Lars Larson log cabin sits next to the water tower in Wanamingo. The blue grey structure to the right is the information center.

IN THE UNLIKELIEST OF PLACES, beneath an aged water tower and next to an historic log cabin, an unexpected bit of Wanamingo’s history is revealed. It is typed on sheets of paper sandwiched under Plexiglas in a handcrafted case labeled Information Center.

The song: It Is Well With My Soul.

The song: It Is Well With My Soul. The writer and composer’s names are highlighted in blue.

It is the story of the beloved hymn, It Is Well With My Soul, and its link to this Southeastern Minnesota farming community of nearly 1,100.

When peace, like a river, attendeth my way, When sorrows like sea billows roll; Whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say, It is well, it is well with my soul.

My lips move in silence as I read the familiar words, the familiar melody chorusing comfort. It is well, it is well with my soul.

The story of the Spaffords and the hymn, along with images, is posted.

The story of the Spaffords and the hymn, along with images, is posted.

I’d never considered the story behind the words. But now that I’m reading about Horatio and Anna Spafford’s personal tragedy, I am deeply moved. The couple lost their four oldest daughters at sea when the Ville du Haure collided with an English sailing ship en route to Europe in 1873. Only Anna survived, cabling her husband, who remained back home on business, with two words: Saved Alone.

During his voyage to see his grieving wife, Horatio penned It Is Well With My Soul. Three years later, Philip Bliss composed the accompanying music.

This sign marks the log cabin.

This sign marks the log cabin.

But what does any of this have to do with Wanamingo? The connection begins about two decades earlier when 14-year-old Anna Larson journeys to Wanamingo Township from Chicago to be with her ill father. Lars E. Larson moved to Minnesota the year prior in hopes farming would improve his health. He died in the spring of 1857, within a year of Anna’s arrival. That same year, Anna, 15, met her Sunday School teacher, 29-year-old Horatio Spafford. In 1861, she married Horatio, a then successful Chicago attorney.

Within 10 years, the Spaffords have four daughters. And then those girls are dead, drowned at sea. Their mother, Anna, survives, kept afloat by a plank until she is rescued.

How many people drive by this log cabin on Main Street in Wanamingo and never stop? We were tipped off by a local to the story I've shared here, thus my husband and I stopped.

How many people drive by this log cabin on Main Street in Wanamingo and never stop? I was tipped off by a local to the story I’ve shared here, thus I stopped.

Having read this story behind the familiar hymn while standing in the shadow of the Wanamingo water tower next to the Larson log cabin, I am moved. I am moved by the faith of Horatio Spafford who, in sorrow rolling like sea billows, penned such profound and comforting words. It is well, it is well with my soul.

FYI: Check back tomorrow for another post in my “from Wanamingo” series. I will take you inside Trinity Lutheran Church.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

When the polka music fades in Seaforth December 10, 2015

Northbound on Redwood County Road 7 just minutes from Seaforth.

Northbound on Redwood County Road 7 just minutes from Seaforth.

ON MY LAST VISIT back to my native southwestern Minnesota in late October, my husband and I drove through Seaforth. This community of 86 residents lies seven miles to the east of my hometown of Vesta in Redwood County.

A farm site along CR 7 near Seaforth.

A farm site along CR 7 near Seaforth.

When I was growing up, my school bus passed Seaforth en route to Wabasso, stopping along the way to pick up farm kids.

The former post office in Seaforth. Like so many small town post offices, the one in Seaforth was closed.

Like so many small town post offices, the one in Seaforth was closed by the U.S. Postal Service.

On occasion I attended a funeral, bridal shower or wedding at the Lutheran church in Seaforth at a parish that, because of diminishing congregational size, closed years ago. The church is now a house.

One of the many buttons my mom saved from Seaforth Polka Days.

One of the many buttons my mom saved from Seaforth Polka Days.

As a teen and young adult, I sometimes attended Seaforth Polka Days, an annual July event featuring, as you would expect, polka bands. For 42 years, Seaforth has hosted this celebration and billed itself as “The Smallest Polka Town in the Nation.” That will be no more, I learned from my mom, who today resides in an assisted living apartment in Belview the next town north of Seaforth. Mom didn’t know details. So I turned to the internet and found this July 14 entry on the Seaforth Polka Days Facebook page:

It is the end of an era, the booster club has decided that this will be the last year for polka days. Every year becomes harder to find enough volunteers to work and crowds have been smaller as well. Let’s make this year one to remember. Spread the word that it will be the last, for those who always planned to come one of these years or for those who have fond memories from years past this weekend will be your last chance to celebrate polka days in Seaforth!

Still open or shuttered, I don't know.

Still open or shuttered, I don’t know.

Such decisions to end large-scale small town celebrations are not uncommon. Year after year, the same locals often find themselves planning and working these events.

A scene in the heart of Seaforth.

A scene in the heart of Seaforth.

Yet, Seaforth isn’t totally giving up. Area residents are still planning a 2016 community celebration during the last full weekend in July: softball games, bean bag toss competition, the fire department fundraising supper, tractor pulls, a DJ and one polka band (instead of many) and “buckets of beer.”

On the north edge of Seaforth, even the grain elevator is closed.

On the north edge of Seaforth, even the grain elevator is closed.

Now they’re soliciting names. Online Facebook suggestions thus far include C4th Small Town Days, C4th Clear Creak (sic) Days, C4th Clear Creak (sic) Fest, C4th Hometown Days, C4th Summer Days, Polka Days Part 2 and, finally, Redneck Fest.

Look closely, and you can see the faded words "Farmers

Look closely, and you can see the faded words “Farmers Grain Co.”

Thoughts, on any of this?

Last I knew, my Uncle Milan owned this grain elevator complex. I don't know whether he still does.

Last I knew, my Uncle Milan owned this grain elevator complex. I don’t know whether he still does.

Do you help plan and work at a small town celebration? Do you attend small town celebrations? Let’s hear. Why are such events important to rural communities like Seaforth?

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

In Faribault: When music inspires art September 21, 2015

"The Music Nut," a ceramic sculpture by Tami Resler.

“The Music Nut,” a ceramic sculpture by Tami Resler

I AM A PERSON WHO DELIGHTS in art, like the devoted sports fan loyal to a team.

"The Music Man," oil on canvas by Dana Hanson

“The Music Man,” oil on canvas by Dana Hanson

Perhaps it is the absence of access to the arts in my formative years that causes me to so appreciate art today. I can’t recall ever visiting an art gallery while growing up in rural southwestern Minnesota. If there were any galleries, I was unaware. Art, for me, was limited to school art projects. Life was about the basics, not the arts.

"Central Park Notes," an oil on canvas by Pat Johnson

“Central Park Notes,” oil on canvas by Pat Johnson

I especially celebrate occasions when the arts are brought to folks in an unpretentious way. For years, Faribault, my home of 33 years some 120 miles from my prairie hometown, has offered free weekly outdoor summer concerts in Central Park. This year, visual art was added, much to my delight. It’s important, I think, to expose people to art in a relaxed setting, where they feel comfortable approaching artists, watching them create and asking questions.

A snippet of Linda Van Lear's "Girl & Violin" watercolor pencil

A snippet of Linda Van Lear’s “Girl & Violin” watercolor pencil

Local artists set up their easels, pulled out their supplies and created music-themed art as musicians performed. It was perfect, this melding of music and art in the park.

A poster posted at the initial exhibit.

A poster posted at the initial exhibit.

And then, to honor the participating artists, a several-day “Nature of Music” exhibit was staged in a connecting space between the library and community center to showcase selected pieces. I missed that event. But the en plein air art will be exhibited again, this time from September 22 – November 10 in the Lois Vranesh Boardroom Gallery at the Paradise Center for the Arts in historic downtown Faribault. An artists’ reception is slated for 5 – 7 p.m. on Friday, September 25. Other gallery openings are also set for that evening.

This shows one of the many faces in Irina Mikhaylova's "Faces in the Crowd" done in soft pastels.

This shows one of the many faces in Irina Mikhaylova’s “Faces in the Crowd,” done in soft pastels.

The Paradise is a wonderful center for the arts. Sometimes I can’t believe how lucky I am to live in a community with an arts center and a library. You see, I also grew up in a town without a library…although today Vesta has a Little Free Library.

"At the Bandshell" in soft pastels by Barbara Bruns

“At the Bandshell” in soft pastels by Barbara Bruns

Murphy's face in "Murphy at Central Park," acrylic on hardboard by Julie Fakler

Murphy’s face in “Murphy at Central Park,” acrylic on hardboard by Julie Fakler

A section of Nicole Volk's "Camelot Calls," inktense on watercolor paper

A section of Nicole Volk’s “Camelot Calls,” inktense on watercolor paper

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling
Artwork was photographed with permission of Jeff Jarvis, Faribault Park & Rec Enrichment & Communications Coordinator, who organized the en plein air program.

Note that unavoidable glare on glass shows up on some of the photos. That is the reason I sometimes did not photograph an entire work of art. But sometimes I wanted only to show you a snippet peek at the entire piece.

 

Festival celebrates Faribault’s cultural diversity August 20, 2015

Adding to the artsy aspect of Car Cruise Night, was this colorful attire worn by Faribault

Faribault is becoming an ever diverse community as shown in this photo from a recent Friday evening Car Cruise Night. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo July 2015.

Neighbor meeting neighbor.

I like that phrase tagged by the International Festival Faribault planning committee to an event celebrating my community’s cultural diversity.

Conversation and connecting..., no other words necessary.

Conversation and connecting…, no other words necessary for this photo taken at a previous fest. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

When we personalize, then we begin to see beyond the differences. We see individuals rather than skin color or clothing. We hear the person and not the language. We connect. We become neighbors.

A member of Ollin Ayacaxtli dances at Faribault's International Market Day celebration.

A member of Ollin Ayacaxtly Aztec Dancers performs at a previous International Festival Faribault, Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

From 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. this Saturday, August 22, the Faribault community comes together in Central Park for this 10th annual celebration of diversity. International Festival Faribault aims to promote an understanding between cultures and to unite the community with music, dance, art, ethnic foods and merchandise.

A little girl stands on the opposite side of the group of children waiting to swing at the pinata.

A little girl stands on the opposite side of the group of children waiting to swing at the pinata during the 2012 festival. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo. I won first place for this image in the “personal heritage” category of the 2014 Faribault Heritage Days Photo Contest.

I’ve attended the festival numerous times and delight in this opportunity to meet others, to sample ethnic foods, to listen to music, to check out the art and more. My favorite has always been observing children gathered to break pińatas. It is then that I see the possibilities for Faribault. We can learn from these kids who care not about differences but rather are focused as one on a single goal.

On Saturday, let that goal be neighbor meeting neighbor.

A woman, without my prompting, took this mask from the table manned by Bashir Omar and Asher Ali and asked me to photograph her.

Art showcased by a vendor at the 2012 festival. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Here’s the International Festival Faribault entertainment schedule:

  • 10 a.m. – 11 a.m. – Steve Huber on acoustic guitar
  • 11 a.m. – 11:30 a.m.- Otto & Celia – Guatemalan singers on keyboard; Patti Letona – Guatemalan singer; and Eliana Tobar – El Salvadorian singer
  • 11:30 a.m. – 11:45 a.m. – Selvin – Guatemalan dancer
  • 11:45 a.m. – noon – Children’s Dance Performance by Florecitas de Dios
  • noon – 1 p.m. – Ollin Ayacaxtly Aztec Dancers
  • 1 p.m. – 2 p.m. – Flag Ceremonies (national anthems and salutes)
  • 2 p.m. – 2:30 p.m. – South Sudanese music and dancers
  • 2:30 p.m. – 3 p.m. – Cambodian dancers
  • 3 p.m. – 3:30 p.m. – Hula Hoop Performance by Adrienne Lee
  • 3:30 p.m. – 4 p.m. – Breaking of piñatas

FYI: Admittance to International Festival Faribault is free.