The musicians had already taken the stage in one of the most idyllic settings you can find at this time of year, the gardens area on the Legacy of the Lake Museum grounds, and we were all waiting for the concert to begin.
It was one of those July evenings that you breathe in and savor with all of your might, knowing that you will soon be forced to call on it and other nights like it when the north winds start to howl and the snow begins to fly, and you question the wisdom of choosing to live in a place where the climate is so inhospitable for so long.
Yet, this was a Friday night in the prime of summer, with the weekend dead ahead, and you really couldn’t imagine anyplace else you would rather be than next to Lake Agnes. We were quite content in waiting for the show to start.
Before Joyann Parker – a first-rate singer with powerful pipes that took you places – could summon her best Patsy Cline voice, a man was called up to the stage to handle the introductions. It was a job he has handled flawlessly hundreds, if not thousands, of times before.
Lowell Pickett has been doing that for years at the Dakota Jazz Club and Restaurant, as the co-owner of one of the foremost music venues in the nation. But here he was doing his thing in Alexandria, not downtown Minneapolis where I have seen him so often, for the benefit of all of us in Douglas County.
Pickett, who serves on the museum’s board of directors, is just one example of someone who may not live here full-time, but whose love for the area leads him to get involved. The Dakota was one of two main sponsors for the Music in the Gardens series, and Pickett produced the shows, which included another big get, veteran Twin Cities musician Mick Sterling.
Turns out Pickett has roots in the area, having spent summers here as a kid, and all these years later he still cherishes his time on Lake Carlos. Carol Swenson, executive director of the Legacy of the Lakes Museum, says the board includes others with similar stories. Carl Mammel and Sharon Stephan each visited Douglas County in their youth and continue to come back.
“That commitment and love they have for the area, that began with their connections to the lakes, is deep and they have really stepped up to become active community members — in year-round things, in addition to being here in the summer,” she said.
As kids grow up and head off into various directions, both within Minnesota and across the country, Douglas County continues to hold a special place in the lives of many.
“In this day and age when everybody is sort of spread everywhere, the coming back together at the family lake home has really anchored them,” Swenson said. “It’s more of a home than other places are. Those ties carry on from generation to generation.”
Dozens of people who make a difference in the art scene and other areas gathered on another beautiful evening last week on the Theatre L’Homme Dieu grounds for its Summer Soirée. The theater’s second annual fundraising event featured fine food, drink, entertainment, auctions and several surprises.
But unlike last month, I wasn’t at all surprised in spotting Pickett among the TLHD crowd. The man who has brought more legendary jazz musicians to Minnesota than anyone was clearly at home in Douglas County.
Those contributions that he and others are making are part of what makes this area special.
That goes both ways, too. This area and its organizations have embraced the men and women who are only here a limited time, and that’s a credit to those who are here 24/7, 12 months a year.
“It speaks to the sense of community that Alexandria has,” Swenson said. “They’ve created a friendly and welcoming community that invites everyone to become a part of it.”
"It’s Our Turn” is a weekly column that rotates among members of the Echo Press editorial staff.