First Published in the Brainerd Daily Dispatch April 18, 1996
From meager origin eight years ago, Grassroots Concerts has evolved to become a reputable venue for acoustic musicians across the country.
As the series marks its 100th concert Friday in a return of the revamped bluegrass quartet Stoney Lonesome, these facts stand out:
- More than 90 artists have generated interest across generational and climatological lines, as patrons come from as far as Grand Forks on nights when weather is chaotic.
- The intimate, listening-audience gigs of the heart have attracted rising stars and international figures, folks such as John Gorka, Greg Brown, Ann Reed, Tom Paxton, Peter Ostroushko and Dean Magraw, Bill Staines, Garnet Rogers, Neal and Leandra, James Keelaghan and Michael Smith.
- In collaboration with Brainerd Community Education, large-venue concerts have featured Leo Kottke and Richie Havens.
-While known as "folk musicians," the artistic styles of performers is diverse, ranging from storytellers such as U. Utah Phillips and Rosalie Sorrels to comics Peter and Lou Berryman to Native American hoop dancer Kevin Locke to cowboy poet Pop Wagner to environmentalist Walkin' Jim Stoltz.
In the fall of 1988 the first season was announced by Ron Miles and Gary and Janice Bradshaw. They were then joined by Denise and Roy Grunzke and more recently Jane McLandress as the corps of volunteer hosts.
Grassroots has evolved. It is rooted in the Mississippi River Revival concerts, house concerts and the need for options on the live music scene.
"Our friends, the Tonders, were doing house concerts in Little Falls," said Janice Bradshaw. "When they moved away we really missed being able to hear these great songwriters perform in this small, intimate setting." Musicians wanted to perform in the area, so the Grassroots series evolved.
The official series starter was Jim Miller, a fixture in the Brainerd music scene of 20 years ago. He played in the cozy Long Lake Town Hall. He has since returned for solo and ensemble concerts. The Known Only Locally Reunion Extravaganza of 1993 is one of several standing-room-only nights to remember.
Grassroots Concerts describes itself as "nonprofit cultural offerings of a small, happy society of largely omnivorous but gentle folk dedicated to the preservation of live entertainment in vicarious times."
Janice Bradshaw says simply, "I love to hear a good story, and folk musicians all have that in their songwriting. They tell the stories of their lives, of the people they meet and the places they've been." Each brings a unique perspective, and the good ones make it connect, showing what we have in common.
"That's the magic part for me," she said. "To feel that connection through our emotions."
At each concert, first in the Odd Fellows Hall in Brainerd and now based in the Nisswa Community Center, you'll find Janice Bradshaw taking the $6 per person admission fee. Her husband Gary is attached via headphones and knobs to the sound system rented from Bridge of Harmony.
"When Tom Paxton's wife said our sound system ran as well as the best, that said a lot" Miles said. Artists value the listening venue. Occasionally, one is moved to debut a song. Paxton did.
Miles and his assistant, Jane McLandress, post flyers and put up the banner on concert night. Miles has opened each of the shows in his sagacious, eloquent Georgia accent. A DNR naturalist by day, he often intones a naturalist tidbit ("Saw my second robin today" or "The herons are back") and eventually invites his audience to "Help me make welcome..."
After an hour or so, the first set closes, and guests stretch, buy cans of flavored water, check the "product" table where most artists have their recordings for sale and a mailing list to sign. The second set and at least one encore end the show about 10 p.m., with many patrons helping to stack chairs before they leave.
Some nights when the concerts were held in Brainerd, winter weather kept many folks from enjoying superb entertainment. As few as 20 brave souls have ventured out on snowstorm nights to savor the artistry of veteran artists such as Bill Hinkley and Judy Larson.
Gary Bradshaw has been a steady sound man for the concert series.
"We shoveled sidewalk snow that was up to our waist before that concert, then had to shovel again at intermission all the snow that drifted in," said Gary Bradshaw.
He said it is a love of music that brought people together as workers and audience members. "Without the audience, we wouldn't be in existence," he said.
The Five Wings regional Arts Council, Brainerd Area Arts Alliance and District 181 Community Education all provided financial backing to get through the tough start-up. From an average of 40 patrons in the first year to 100 the second and close to 150 today, the trend is positive.
Miles said that one his joys is being able to provide a well-respected forum for the minstrels who travel the insecure road of the itinerant entertainer. Scheduling performers now is a matter of recalling those who've been especially well-received with the relatively unknown rising stars.
"I get three or four calls or letters a week," Miles said, from artists or their agents wanting to book a concert here.
Concerts draw old hippies, retirees and even a few flannel-shirted Generation Xers. Couples, married or otherwise, attend to bond with friends who share a love of acoustic music and poetic lyrcis.
They share a yearning for the peaceful, thoughtful, humorous and passionate sides of life. Each entertainer brings a singular gift to the stage, sharing a heartful of treasure. Every concert is recorded for the archives, so the rare and the unique can perhaps some day redefine the moment.
These performers (by number of appearances) have played Grassroots Concerts:
5 - Peter Ostroushko and Dean Magraw, Bill Staines and Spider John Koerner.
4 - Lou and Peter Berryman, Jim Miller.
3 - Larry Long, Bill Hinkley and Judy Larson.
2 - Pat Donohue, Steve Cloutier, Neal and Leandra, Walkin' Jim Stoltz, Jerry Rau. John Gorka, Garnet Rogers, Prudence Johnson, Kate MacKenzie (once with Stoney Lonesome), Greg Brown, Bill Morrissey, Clairseach, Trova, U. Utah Phillips, Rosalie Sorrels, John Van Orman, Clay Riness, Jay Peterson (once with Tom Paxton).
1 - Clay Riness, Eddie Allen, Sherry Minnick, Grant Wilcox, Greg Theisen, Analee Shoemaker Scully, Skip Jones, Peter Lang, Pop Wagner, Adam Granger, Patty Larkin, Norman and Nancy Blake, Dan "Daddy Squeeze" Newton, Kevin Locke, Stoney Lonesome, Bob Bovee, Gail Heil, Larry Penn, Cathy Winter, Dakota Sid Clifford, Claudia Schmidt, Dr. Mike Hildebrandt, John Berquist, Carrie Newcomer, Gary Rue, Known Only Locally, Fyder & Everhart, Willy Porter, James Keelaghan, Suzi Katz, Ann Reed, Leo Kottke, L.J. Booth, Anne Hills, Priscilla Herdman, dave Moore, Tom Paxton, Michael Jerling, Carla Sciaky, Richie Havens, Chris Silver, Michael Smith, Small Potatoes, Catfish Keith, Brooks Williams, Lee Murdock.
The Brainerd Daily Dispatch April 18, 1996
By Steve Waller
When: Friday, 7:30 p.m. (doors open 6:30 p.m.) Where: Nisswa Community Center, Nisswa. Cost: $10, at Bridge of Harmony, Rainy Days, Brainerd Daily Dispatch, and at the door of the concert.
It is fitting for the Grassroots Concerts 100th event to have Stoney Lonesome perform.
For the last 15 years, Stoney Lonesome has been regarded as the Midwest's premier bluegrass band. The band's tours have taken them to the stages of clubs, performing arts centers, festivals and theatres across North America, Europe and Japan. Stoney Lonesome has indeed earned an international reputation as a remarkably versatile and talented group of musicians.
Voted "Best Bluegrass Band" eight times by the Minnesota Music Academy, Stoney Lonesome also captured top honors in 1987 and 1991 for "Best Bluegrass LP." They may, in fact, be one of the most "listened-to" bluegrass bands in the country through several years of regular appearances on Garrison Keillor's "A Prairie Home Companion." Several live performances were included on Garrison's "10th Anniversary Show" and "Tourist" LPs.
With their feet planted in traditional bluegrass, Stoney Lonesome has broadened their musical horizons and influences to include elements of swing, jazz, country and gospel music.
A Stoney Lonesome performance showcases the group's remarkable ability to synthesize these musical styles into a delightful program celebrating the diversity to be found in traditional American music.
Not surprisingly, Stoney Lonesome's resume is dizzying in size and scope. In addition to several years as the house bluegrass band on "A Prairie Home Companion," Stoney Lonesome has worked with an impressive group of musicians over the last 15 years, including: Chet Atkins, Bill Monroe, Johnny Gimble, Minnie Pearl, Mac Wiseman, Chubby Wise, Greg Brown, Peter Ostroushko, Taj Mahal and many others.
The group has been featured on The Nashville Network's "Fire on the Mountain" in addition to their numerous Public Television appearances (including a 1993 production of "Showcase" on Twin Cities Public Television).
Recordings include the group's 1992 release "Blue Heartache" (named one of the top 10 bluegrass albums of 1992 by Bluegrass Unlimited), the group's first Redhouse Record's release "Lonesome Tonight" (named one of the top country albums of 1991 by the Saint Paul Pioneer Press), and the group's gospel recording "Walking With My Lord" (released in 1989). The members of Stoney Lonesome have appeared on over 50 other recordings.
... this band gets my unqualified, highest, five-star rating. Don't miss them!"
- Pacific Bluegrass & Heritage Society