Rocking on the courthouse lawn – for now
Amid uncertainty over the venue, the Red Willow Arts Coalition is not holding back on programming as it launches its yearly Concerts on the Courthouse Lawn summer series at 7 p.m. Thursday, May 23.
It's not holding back on commentary, either, as the county considers converting the lawn to a parking lot.
"I may be preaching to the people, to see if we can't prevent it from happening," said concert organizer Chuck Wencl, noting that he has a "bully pulpit" when he welcomes concert-goers to the weekly events.
More and more, local residents and visitors are building the Thursday night concerts into their routines, he said, drawn less by the genre than about the ability to sit on lawn chairs on a pleasant evening listening to music. Last year, he said, they brought in a jazz group to "stretch" what the audience will listen to and still had a good crowd by the end of the evening.
"If we'd done that five years ago, by the end we would have had 15 people," he said.
Four new bands will make their appearance this year, although some may be familiar from other local venues. The new bands are Dana & The Bottlerockets, Billy D & the Crystals, Stone Road and 70's Magic Sunshine Band.
This year also will have five rain-or no-rain bands, the most in the organization's 11 years. These bands are the priciest, and will move into the Alexandria Area High School's Performing Arts Center in case of rain. All other shows will be canceled in the event of rain.
Dana & The Bottlerockets, from Sauk Centre, will open the 2019 series.
Location in flux
County commissioners announced this spring that they were looking into turning at least part of the lawn into parking. This winter's heavy snowfall cut into available parking on nearby streets, creating a need for more parking spots, said Commissioner Keith Englund.
"We do need to do something," Englund said.
Englund lives outside Ashby and said he hasn't been to the courthouse concerts, but that he doesn't believe they would be pleasant on asphalt. Putting in more parking does appear to be likely, he said.
One option would be to leave most of the lawn, while two other options would eat up most of the lawn. But he said the concerts can move to Lake Brophy County Park.
If the work does take place, it won't be until later in the year, so that the concerts won't be interrupted, he said.
"We want them to know the nice lawn might not always be there," Englund said. "We're definitely not trying to chase them away."
It doesn't sound like the Red Willow Arts Coalition will go easily.
"We hope we can be on the courthouse lawn next year and five years after that, but we'll see what it looks like," Wencl said.
Here's the lowdown on this year's concerts:
May 23: Dana & The Bottlerockets. You might know this Sauk Centre group from Ole Oppe Fest or the Eagles Club. They specialize in rock and country from the 1960s through the '90s.
May 30: Loose Change. This traditional country band covers artists such as Hank Williams, Emmylou Harris, and Johnny and June Carter Cash.
June 6: Nathan's Old Time Band. Started about eight years ago by Nathan Neuman, this group of young musicians has years of experience and thousands of fans.
June 13: Red Letter Band. This Long Prairie group combines folk, blues and rock. They were nominated for 2016 Band of the Year and 2016 New Artist of the Year for the Inspirational Country Music Awards.
June 20: Green Lake Bluegrass Band. This band got its start at Green Lake Bible Camp in the mid-'90s. Besides bluegrass, the five-member group plays gospel, country, folk and Irish music with their own style.
June 27: Robby Vee. The son of rocker Bobby Vee, Robby Vee plays rock 'n' roll across the globe. He is recognized by both the American and Canadian Rockabilly halls of fame. In case of rain, this concert will move to the high school.
July 4: Patriotic Concert. Sing-alongs feature patriotic tunes.
July 11: Billy D & The Crystals. Jay and Jan Vagts, brothers from the Wahpeton-Breckenridge area, started this long-running act that plays a variety of music from the 1950s and '60s, as well as modern material. In case of rain, this concert will move to the high school.
July 18: Cassie & The Bobs. Take a musical journey to the early 1960s to a concert featuring the biggest female singer in the country: Patsy Cline.
July 25: Bob & The Beachcombers. The Midwest's rock 'n' roll beach party band, features 1960s surfing hits, '50s classic rock'n'roll, and '70s and '80s favorites. In case of rain, this concert will move to the high school.
Aug. 1: Stone Road. This St. Cloud/Clearwater band features country with rock 'n' roll and a phenomenal fiddler. In case of rain, this concert will move to the high school.
Aug. 8: '70s Magic Sunshine Band: Wearing tie-dye and bell bottoms, this band describes itself as "the ultimate tribute to '70s AM radio." They cover artists such as the Bay City Rollers, Tom Jones, Elton John, Jim Croce and the Partridge Family. In case of rain, this concert will move to the high school.
Aug. 15: WoodPicks. From Thief River Falls, this band offers a mix of gospel, bluegrass, country and Americana.
Aug. 22: Cimarron. The country rock band performs renditions of the Eagles, Crosby Stills & Nash, Dan Fogelberg, and Simon & Garfunkel among others.
Aug. 29: Pure Country. This group covers country music from the 1940s to the '70s, with a goal of bringing back fond memories for their audience.