All aboard the MN Express, a new touring program hosted by the Cedar Cultural Center. Featuring artists who have participated in the organization's 416 Club Commissions program, which is designed to support the creation of new work by local emerging artists, the tour will travel to different small cities and towns in Minnesota for ticketed performances as well as free impromptu pop-up gigs at libraries, farmers' markets, and public spaces.
MN Express is modeled after Africa Express, which brought 80 artists on a tour across Britain by train. For Minnesota Express, vocalist Aby Wolf, bassist Nick Gaudette, songwriter Kyle Sobczak, fiddler Sarah Pajunen, and saxophonist Nathan Hanson, all of whom compose music, will travel by bus together from October 9-19, visiting the cities of Austin, Grand Rapids, Duluth, Morris, and Northfield.
Grace Evenson, the booking assistant for the Cedar, says she's looking forward to venturing outside of the metro area. "Engaging new communities is really exciting," she says. The tour is funded by the Minnesota State Arts Board, so in addition to ticketed performances, the group will give free performances as well. For example, they plan to perform at the Northfield Riverwalk Art Fair, which is a combination of a farmer's market and art fair. The free shows, Evenson says, help get rid of real or perceived barriers for communities.
The 416 Club started in 2009 with funding from the Jerome Foundation. According to Evenson, the program supports artists creating new work, culminating in a performance at the Cedar. For MN Express, five of the commissioned artists were selected to work together. They will each bring their own material, some of which was created during their commissions, but will also collaborate on new material with each other.
As of right now, the five touring cities will be the only places to see the program (there are no plans to have an additional show in the Twin Cities), but Evenson says they hope to do a lot of recording during the tour.
Vocalist Aby Wolf was one of the first artists to participate in the 416 Club. The program, she says, challenges artists to put together a brand new ensemble and to push themselves beyond their comfort level. When she participated in 2010-11, she had just come out with her first album, where she had played acoustic guitar as accompaniment. With the 416 Club, she challenged herself to create music with electronic backing, which freed her to put the guitar down and concentrate on her voice and lyrics. "It was hugely transformational for me," she says.
It was the first time she worked closely with a producer. Before that, she had done all of her composing alone in her room. "It was one of the first times I put myself in a position to collaborate thoroughly with other people in the midst of the songwriting process," she says.
One of her goals for the tour is to challenge herself to listen more. "I think what's the most important thing to being a good collaborator is really listening to what's going on in the moment with someone else's tune. I'm looking forward to quieting down my mind and not thinking so much about what I'm doing next."
Wolf grew up in a small community herself, outside of Dubuque, Iowa. She didn't have much access to anything beyond Top 40 music. "It's not easy to just drive into town to get access to the avant garde." So she sought out other types of sounds at house parties and drum circles created with her friends and neighbors.
After putting out three albums, Wolf is in between projects right now, so she hopes the MN Express Tour will inform what kind of music she will create next. "I'm looking to get inspired by the open-hearted vulnerable quality this tour will bring to the table," she says.
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