General B & The Wiz: New Drummer, New Music, & Horror Stories From The Road


by Adam Wiltgen
photo courtesy Seth Duin

Originally published 10/28/14 at:

Adventurous Twin Cities-based blues rock quintet General B and The Wiz return to Winona this week for a “Halloween Spook ‘n Roll” costume dance party at Ed’s (no name) Bar with soul band Ali and The Scoundrels. I checked in with guitarist Seth Duin ahead of Friday’s ghoulish event to get up to speed on what the band has been up to lately, their ever-evolving sound, what keeps them coming back to Winona, and their top three “horror stories” from the road.

It’s been nearly a year since your Lie Until You Prove It EP was released. What’s next? The EP’s production was superb in my opinion; do you plan to return to Crazy Beast studio?

Hard to believe it has almost been a year! The record was fun to create, and was a welcomed challenge as we started to find our niche in the Twin Cities. Crazy Beast was a wonderful experience, working with Ben Durrant who has a rich history in the business. We’ve talked with him about potential recording in the future, but are also exploring some new spaces to record– we don’t want to pigeonhole ourselves and get too comfortable in one spot. I’d say that we like to keep on our toes, entertaining as many options as possible.

These last 5 months have been one huge transition for us, as we recently welcomed Kyle Holder to the band as our new drummer! In June, Erik Wadman relocated to Eugene, Oregon where he is studying sustainable architecture– we are super proud of the lad and miss him dearly, but are super excited about the new music we’ve been creating with Kyle. Kyle’s added a fun new element to our catalog, and we’ve been writing and hammering out new songs for the past few months. It’s been a great opportunity to redefine ourselves. We are essentially a brand new band, but still have the same “General B” attitude and spirit.

We’re now at a point where we’ll be investigating some studios and producers for this new music– we’re sitting on around 20 new song ideas and will be “road-testing” a few of them in this upcoming run of shows. Hopefully you can spot a few of the new ones at the Halloween show and let us know what you think!

How important to your overall sound or message are the various sonic and stylistic differences found within your entire song catalog? Do you feel like your sound is now established, or do you feel that it continues to evolve? Is there any tension within the band toward a certain style or another?

I think that it’s so important that musicians and bands make it a point to constantly elaborate on their sound. Think if The Beatles had never veered from Love Me Do, or if Radiohead only ever released albums like Pablo Honey?

We’ve never necessarily “settled” on a sound– we just like to play what comes out of us. Sometimes it’s quirky, sometimes raucous, sometimes it could be bluegrass or a psychedelic rock anthem. The only times that there is a certain tension present in the writing room, it’s a healthy type of tension where we discuss pieces of a song that might not jive well together. In the past, we’ve had issues with getting caught up with small details in a song– it’s hard to know when to stop adding new elements to a piece of art. We’ll often find ourselves playing some of our oldest songs from our first record and adding new hooks in small places, but we’ve really challenged ourselves in this last year to find beauty in simplicity. Overall we want to keep creating music that our spectators, friends, and fans can really connect to, and provide a good experience for them.

In the spirit of the Halloween season, I have to ask if you have any band “horror stories” from the road?

In no particular order:

We had one late night drive where no gas stations were open and we all had to go to the bathroom. As we began to relieve ourselves on the side of the road, a cop pulled up and asked what we were doing. My 3AM mind shouted “Taking a wiz!!” The cop was not amused, checked our plates, and directed us to a public restroom a few miles down the road. Good guy.

Getting chased out of a hotel by a very large, scary, and angry man [at an undisclosed location] was terrifying. Apparently we weren’t supposed to have 5 people in one room. Never going back there again. PRO TIP: Always read reviews of a hotel before staying.

We played a show for the Omaha Zombie Pub Crawl once and only talked like zombies during the show through a series of “uggghgghgh’s.” Turns out that’s not a good tactic for promoting your band.

Any surprises in store for the Halloween show at Ed’s? Which member has worn the best costumes in the past?

We will try our hand at a group costume for the first time. At past Halloween gigs we’ve really dropped the ball on this, though Quincy did make a very convincing Phantom of the Opera, and Kevin and Kai make a very cuddly Calvin & Hobbes. We’ll also be judging a very arbitrary version of a costume contest.

You’re prolific performers in general, but from your regular gigs at Ed’s to your appearances at MWMF, you’re no strangers to Winona in particular. What keeps you coming back??

Winona captured us from the first time we visited, in the winter of 2012. We were still in college at the time and were asked to open for Caroline Smith and the Goodnight Sleeps at Ed’s (no name) Bar. We were used to being an opening band for some higher profile artists at that point, but rarely did we play a venue where a community showed up with an equal amount of interest to an opening college band from Iowa.

We met some fantastic individuals at that show, sold some T-Shirts, and met Ed…there’s just some sort of endearing and wild spirit about the place that keeps us wanting to come back– and every time we’ve been back since we have met some lovely new friends. A couple even proposed at a show we played with The 4onthefloor, and ended up hiring us as their wedding band! I’d say that the friendly connections we’ve made, the supportive music community, and the natural beauty that Winona provides has made it one of our favorite tour stops.

Upcoming local gigs:

Who: General B and the Wiz with Ali and the Scoundrels
What: “Halloween Spook ‘n Roll” costume dance par-tay
When: Friday, October 31st at 9:30pm
Where: Ed’s (no name) Bar

“Live at Ed’s” Album Review: Mike Munson Done Right


by Adam Wiltgen
photo courtesy Mike Munson

Originally published 10/28/14 at:

Winona blues musician Mike Munson’s new live album successfully incorporates many of the desirable qualities of live recordings and very few of the downsides. Solid audio quality, impassioned performances, new arrangements, extended versions, delightful improvisation, a cohesive choice of songs that includes previously unreleased tracks, and a masterfully tasteful dose of ambiance from the audience, not to mention the wonderful washboard rhythms of guest percussionist Mikkel Beckmen, all reinforce the overwhelming feeling that Live at Ed’s was simply done rightThe result is a satisfying reproduction of the live Mike Munson concert experience.

And what an experience it is! Recorded at a much-hyped Saturday night release party for Munson’s self-titled studio debut on November 9th of last year (the liner notes incorrectly say November 8th), this live album is filled with energy, both from the stage and the crowd. A raucous rendition of Good Gal Gone, whose lyrics run through all the different folks that proclaim Munson’s narrator will end up dead if he “don’t quit his guitar playin’” (save his “good gal” of course), is a particularly apt example. At around 3 minutes into the song, at which point Munson is wailing about discouragement dished out by his very own sister, Beckmen opens things up considerably by ditching his washboard in favor of a tambourine and prompts the crowd to appropriately let out collective hoots and yelps of approval.

Good Gal Said is followed by a traditional, Rosie, to close out the album. Both are swampy, caterwauling stompers that are well suited for curtain calls. The rest of Live at Ed’s is more balanced. Munson’s driving electric adaptation of the Delta blues (which interweaves bass and melody lines à la John Lee Hooker), along with his more humble and unaffected vocals, are bolstered by Beckmen’s remarkably reliable rhythms. Their chemistry on tracks like Too Far Gone, Blackbird and Wanda’s Farm help bring the songs a notch above the self-titled in the intensity column, while at the same time also anchoring the music and making dynamic and emotional shifts seem effortless.

Which brings me to my personal favorite, Over Now.  At six and a half minutes long (nearly double the length of the version on the self-titled), Munson’s live rendition of Over Now features plenty of variation, including lengthy improvisational intros and interludes. The song is still pleasantly sad and somber; but trading in the studio version’s acoustic timbre for the same electric guitar tone used on the rest of Live at Ed’s gives Munson’s droning slide guitar parts a freshness and weightiness that is disarming, complex, and beautiful. Add in Munson’s melodic vocal lines and Beckmen’s galloping, meditative pounding on the hand drum and the sum product is really easy to get lost in.

In summary, Live at Ed’s is a genuine treat. Munson’s ubiquity, skill, and good character has helped make his music a part of the quintessential Winona experience. And thanks to good fortune, and some really talented audio engineers, this is the definitive document of that experience. Gaze upon the bluffs and enjoy it, people!

Upcoming local gigs:

Who: Mike Munson & Mikkel Beckmen with special guest Jaythani Kyle
What: “Live at Ed’s” Release Party
When: Saturday, November 1st at 9:30pm
Where: Ed’s (no name) Bar
How Much: $5 cover at the door


Breakaway Builds Emphatic Electronic Sound with “Postcarious”

timthumb3by Adam Wiltgen
photo courtesy The Noisy Neighbor

Originally published 05/27/14 at:

From start to finish, Postcarious feels like an album Breakaway created with both feet firmly planted in an electronic sound. With only minimal and atmospheric use of guitar, Breakaway puts his trademark operatic vocal experimentation, impressive falsetto, and infectious intensity to use over a digital landscape rife with detail and sonic stimulation.

Layered vocals and aggressive beats are the source of a few of the album’s most climatic moments as well. Track 2, The Crashers and The Smashers, ends with a wavy sea of airy crooning over a stripped down, yet fervent, early-Nine Inch Nails style beat. The track featured in episode 24 of All Lights Off RadioYou Can Understand, builds into a dense euphoric wall of echoed vocal phrases over a heavy dose of dance inducing modular synth. In summary, Postcarious is an outstanding document of Breakaway’s vast vocal talents and bold new direction. I hope to see him guesting on other artist’s records in the future too! Click here to listen to Breakaway on All Lights Off Radio.

All Lights Off Radio airs Wednesdays at 5pm in Winona on KSMR 94.3 / 92.5 and online at

The Ultrasounds Champion Pixie-Goth Sludge Rock on “Lost My Mind” EP

timthumb2by Adam Wiltgen
photo courtesy The Noisy Neighbor

Originally published 05/21/14 at:

The Ultrasounds’ Lost My Mind EP is a solid debut recording that leans heavy on deft distorted guitar work — just like their raucous live performances. The EP is a polished snapshot of this co-ed quartet’s ’90s rock-influenced sound. And while the guitars are indeed prominent, the mix shifts from song to song, and Megan Hanson’s bittersweet vocals never lose their inherent dreaminess. Coinciding with the release of their EP, the band also embarked on a mini-tour that took them into Wisconsin, Illinois, and Iowa — no doubt winning over some new converts to the holy gospel of Winona-bred pixie-goth sludge rock. Click here to listen to The Ultrasounds on All Lights Off Radio. All Lights Off Radio airs Wednesdays at 5pm in Winona on KSMR 94.3 / 92.5 and online at

Polish Pays Off Big on Debut EP from Jake Ilika & The Heavy Set

timthumbby Adam Wiltgen
photo courtesy of The Noisy Neighbor

Originally published 05/13/14 at:

The new self-titled EP from Jake Ilika & The Heavy Set is a sophisticated and impressive debut. It boasts both high production value and well crafted songs, and for good reason. The songs and their arrangements benefited from the luxury of developing organically at Jake’s weekly residency at the friendly Ed’s (no name) Bar in Winona. The band also sought out top-notch recording environments in Minneapolis, with producers Dylan Nau (Apolla Cobra, Nicholas David) and country singer-songwriter Erik Koskinen also contributing musically.

This polish pays off in a big way right from the get-go on the opener, Hate Coming Here. Jim Trouten’s lush melodies on the lap steel guitar, along with spacious back-up vocals and pensive lyrics, really help this song land a quick gut punch of emotional weight that both sound and feel similar to the heaviness, heartbreak, and desolation found in Beck’s 2002 album Sea Change or Mazzy Star’s 1993 hit Fade into You. Musically, this is alt-country at its finest.

Thief of a Lover, along with the other song featured in this episodeMinnesota Homegrown, were the two tracks recorded with Koskinen. Both songs showcase Ilika’s warm delivery and vocal dexterity in a big way. Imagine a cocktail party where the guest-list includes the sensitive world-weariness of Neil Young’s falsetto, the laid back softness of Jack Johnson’s baritone, the fullness and pride of Johnny Cash’s lower range, and a modest dose of John Mayer’s raspiness. Add in Koskinen’s country-fried plucking underneath Ilika’s versatile crooning on the chorus of Minnesota Homegrown, and it’s obvious that something special has been captured here.

At 6 minutes in length, the song I played in episode #6Beggin’ for a Taste, still looms large for me and is arguably the EP’s most powerful accomplishment. Another Neil Young comparison is warranted here, this time for the relaxed intro and solos, in addition to the bittersweet minor-key cadences found in the verses. The song ends on an especially robust note with Trouten and bassist Jamie Groth joining Ilika for a build up of repeated group vocals that climaxes at 5 minutes and 30 seconds into the song with a soulful vibrato on Ilika’s lead vocal part.

It’s been a real pleasure to get to know, and really listen to, Jake Ilika and the Heavy Set’s music since their formation in January of 2013. Their debut EP is stellar snapshot of not only their talents and experience, but also some serious potential. I’m looking forward to enjoying a full length release sometime in the near future! Click here to listen to Jake Ilika and the Heavy Set on All Lights Off Radio.

All Lights Off Radio airs Wednesdays at 5pm in Winona on KSMR 94.3 / 92.5 and online at

Leo “Bud” Welch brings the blues to Winona

by Adam Wiltgen
photo by Shannon Porter

Originally published 01/24/14 at:

Leo “Bud” Welch may have been donning his best Sunday suit at Ed’s (no name) Bar on January 19th, but the 81 year old musician, with decades of experience playing in gospel groups around his home in rural Mississippi, was clearly here in Winona to sing the blues.

Equipped with a microphone headset and perched on a chair next to savvy percussionist Mikkel Beckman, the gravely-voiced veteran belted out a superb set of joyous blues tunes on his sparkling red guitar with the confidence and stage presence to draw in music lovers of all ages and tastes.

Particular highlights included impassioned renditions of blues standards “Got My Mojo Working“, “I Believe I’ll Dust My Broom” and “Sweet Home Chicago.” Welch also offered up some colorful banter between songs and often enthusiastically recited the titles, or first lines, of the songs he was about to play. Naturally, and in trademark blues fashion, one such announcement ended up consisting of the song’s entire lyrics: “Baby, put your red dress on / Cuz we’re goin’ out tonight!”

Playing at least his 10th show in Minnesota that week (and at least his 3rd performance that day), Welch showed no signs of fatigue on stage. He even earned some of his loudest responses from the crowd when, on several occasions, he rose to his feet for the final few choruses of a song.

After a brief encore, Welch’s set concluded appropriately after his manager hopped on stage and expertly relayed a dirty joke / tall tale about he and the bluesman going rabbit hunting — much to the amusement of the diverse and numerous patrons in attendance.


Gripping The Book of Love: Q&A with Jacob Grippen on Music Politics Love

grippen_bookloveby Adam Wiltgen

July 2, 2013

Acoustic singer-songwriter (and southeastern Minnesota native) Jacob Grippen will be returning to the area Saturday, July 6th for a performance at Some Sum Studio in downtown Winona with Savannah Smith and Austin Weatherhead. Grippen recently released an original studio recording of The Book of Love from The Magnetic Fields’ epic 1999 three-volume concept album 69 Love Songs.

Grippen’s rendition is truer to the source material than the more-famous Peter Gabriel version, featured in the 2004 film Shall We Dance? Grippen maintains the wistful intimacy of the original, but deftly utilizes his own wonderfully quavery vocal crooning (think Colin Meloy of the Decemberists, but without the quasi-British inflection) instead of attempting to re-create Magnetic Fields singer Stephin Merritt’s deep baritone. In fact, the lush, layered harmonies Grippen adds to the song’s majestic chorus are a highlight of his recording.

While covering a respected love song featured on one of indie-rock’s classic love albums is hardly out of context for a lovelorn songster like Jacob Grippen, it is particularly poignant for both him and this moment in our state’s history. Last year, Grippen worked to defeat the Minnesota Marriage Amendment as the Community Organizer in the Winona area for Minnesotans United for All Families. This past May, legislators passed full marriage equality for LGBTQ Minnesotans.

As others have reported, MN United focused their message in both of the campaigns on love and families, not civil rights or preventing other Minnesotans from marrying their loved ones. Emblematic of that focus on love (and demonstrating the relevance of Grippen’s recent recording), seminal Minneapolis rock band The Suburbs’ 1984 new wave hit “Love is the Law” was offered to MN United and used as part of its campaign, becoming an “unofficial theme song.”

I caught up with Jacob in advance of Saturday’s show at Some Sum Studio to chat about love, the Magnetic Fields, marriage equality, and the crossroads of music and politics.

Q: What do you like most about the The Magnetic Fields? Have you listened to any of the Absolutely Cuckoo: Minnesota Musicians Cover the 69 Love Songs album that was released this past December? It seems to me that The Magnetic Fields is a band much like Neutral Milk Hotel — inexplicably a bit more popular in Minnesota than compared to other parts of the country.

I’ve known of The Magnetic Fields for a while, and of both the original and Peter Gabriel’s version of The Book of Love. I am aware of the Absolutely Cuckoo album, and have listened to parts of it, it’s great –what I’ve listened to. I love Neutral Milk Hotel as well. The Book of Love is such a great song, and it’s such a testament to love, he’s singing it to someone he loves, it’s not “gay” love, it’s love.

: Talk about love, in the context of both your own music and MN United’s campaign for marriage equality in Minnesota.

Love is love. Love is a gravity that draws you to certain people. Love creates family, whether biological, chosen, or both. Love is in a lot of my songs, and it is sometimes manic, sometimes melancholy, sometimes an unrequited thing. Love throughout the Minnesotans United campaigns drove thousands of people to have conversations with their families, friends, co-workers, and legislators about the freedom to marry. Love, in part, drove people to do something about it, even if it was just to vote. One of my favorite quotes is “Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that; Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.” Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said that.

: What was it like organizing in the Winona area against the Marriage Amendment?

Winona has always been a great place to find many different perspectives. It was wonderful working with so many great leaders and volunteers, some who were getting involved politically for the first time. There were over 40 Winona and southeastern MN businesses and organizations that were part of the Minnesotans United Coalition. The Winona State GLBTA did a great job working on campus, making sure that group of potential voters turned out to help defeat the amendment. So many people showed up to make history last fall, and I was pleasantly surprised to see that EVERY SINGLE PRECINCT IN WINONA VOTED NO on the amendment, how cool is that?!

What did you learn about your yourself or others through all those conversations?

I learned that people are willing to have conversations, but you have to meet them where they’re at, and hope to slowly come to an understanding.

: Do you feel vindicated now that marriage equality is a reality in Minnesota?

I’m not sure vindicated is the right word. I feel that the moral arc of the universe is still bending toward justice. I’ll admit it felt great to be among thousands of people to watch Governor Mark Dayton sign the bill into law. But, there is much work to still be done, across the country, across the state, throughout the world. You can never rest on what you’ve accomplished, you have to keep going. The anti-bullying Safe Schools for All Bill passed the MN House this last session, but was held up in the MN Senate, that’s an issue that still needs work next year.

We need to defend the seats of the people who voted for marriage equality. Representative Joe Radinovich from north central Minnesota is coming under a lot of fire for his yes vote on the bill. Here in southern Minnesota, Representatives Shannon Savick and Jeanne Poppe are going to need our continued support because of their yes votes. Beyond that, if you were happy marriage equality passed, send thank you notes. Representative Gene Pelowski here in Winona voted yes, Senator Matt Schmit who represents Goodview and Wabasha and Red Wing, he voted for marriage equality as well. Find out who represents you: And then find out if they voted for the marriage bill:

Nationally, the same week the Supreme Court knocked down the Defense of Marriage Act, it gutted the Voting Rights Act, a very important piece of legislation that was passed during Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr’s time. Transgender issues are another piece of the puzzle that still need a lot of work. And, of course, there are 37 states that don’t have marriage equality, and some national republicans are trying to legislate against the Supreme Court’s DOMA decision.
Internationally, Russia just adopted a very extreme anti-gay bill. There’s always more to be done.

: You’ve been both a performing musician and an active community organizer/politico (currently the DFL Party Secretary) for sometime now. What are your thoughts on the intersection of music & politics?

Music and politics have long intersected, every social movement has its share of music. Music and all forms of art are used as commentary on current events. This week is the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg. Julia Ward Howe wrote her lyrics to The Battle Hymn of the Republic in late 1861 to the earlier song of John Brown’s Body. More modern musicians such as Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, Joan Baez, even Bob Dylan, though he doesn’t like to admit it, wrote many of their songs about injustices and work that needed to be done.

Music is a commentary on what is happening and what should be done. Music can inspire people to action. Macklemore and Ryan Lewis wrote “Same Love” specially for their home state to help pass marriage equality in Washington last November.  Music can be commentary, and music can help get you through.

Jacob Grippen will perform Saturday, July 6th at Some Sum Studio with Savannah Smith and Austin Weatherhead. 7pm, All-Ages, $5 at the door. RSVP / more info HERE.


Downtown Businesses Get Boost from Earth Day Event at Levee Park, Renews Enthusiasm for Revitalization

steve_kaulby Adam Wiltgen

April 22, 2013

Photo at right by Franklin Hessler – Musician Steve Kaul making some new fans.

Sunny skies graced throngs of both tourists and locals taking in the activities at the Winona Park & Rec Dept.’s lively Earth Day Celebration at Levee Park this past Saturday. Although with an estimated 1,200 in attendance over the course of the afternoon, the sunshine and action also extended to nearby businesses. Mister Groovys, Dibs Cafe and the Computer Dock all reported above average sales and foot traffic that day.

The boom in business that some downtown merchants experienced Saturday during the Earth Day Celebration has sparked renewed enthusiasm amongst those businesses for Levee Park revitalization efforts.

Mike Bird, a cook at Dibs Cafe, said he sees the keystone of initial efforts as simply continuing to use park for community events. Mister Groovys owner John Shriver, who also operates another store in Decorah, IA, offered similar sentiments as well, mentioning that “the Decorah Downtown Betterment Association sponsors a well-attended outdoor music series downtown during warmer months that takes place every Thursday, a night when businesses stay already open later,” adding “it’s possible a regular event like that would help draw people to downtown in Winona.”

Thinking long term, Mr. Bird opined that drinking fountains might make the park more inviting during hot weather. Jason Dicus, owner of the Computer Dock, cited improved accessibility around the Union Pacific rail storage yard tracks that border the park to the south as one component of revitalization, saying “Whether its building a pedestrian bridge, relocating the tracks or creating additional walking paths for when trains are parked there, hopefully a solution is found.”

Editing & Layout: MWMF 2013 Listener’s Guide


In the spring of 2013, I created The Listener’s Guide for the 4th annual Mid West Music Fest (MWMF) in downtown Winona, MN. The Listener’s Guide is a 44 page half-fold booklet that contains complete schedule info, a map of festival venues and stages, and an artist directory for each of the 100+ acts performing.

My work mainly consisted of laying out all the content for print, designing (or editing) nearly half of the 21 advertisements that were included, designing the centerfold map with all the venues and compiling, editing, and/or writing all the artist descriptions. I saw it as a way to monetize the festival, expand its reach, foster community support and encourage attendees to bounce between different performers.

MWMF ordered an initial run of 1,500 copies that were ready for distribution about 10 days before the festival started. They were so popular that MWMF eventually ended up ordering another run of 500 copies several days later. I received lots of positive feedback and MWMF founder Sam Brown described The Listener’s Guide as “the single biggest improvement or step forward” from last year’s festival.

A low-resolution version of The Listener’s Guide, paginated for printing, can be downloaded by CLICKING HERE. I plan to upload a hi-res version, paginated chronologically, to in the future. Check back.

City Pages MWMF Write-Up with Quote

Mid West Music Festival in Winona

The three-day music event featuring more than 100 local artists celebrates its fourth year

By Erik Thompson Wednesday, Apr 17 2013
view original post here.

When it’s time to ditch the Cities, the southern Minnesota college town of Winona is a gorgeous getaway with limestone bluffs towering over the mighty Mississippi River. For music enthusiasts, this weekend’s Mid West Music Festival (MWMF) adds even more enticing scenery and sounds to justify the two-hour drive.

Astronautalis is one of the Mid West Music Fest's 2013 headliners

Photo at right by Kris Krug
Astronautalis is one of the Mid West Music Fest’s 2013 headliners

Now in its fourth year, the festival will feature more than 100 artists from the region, who will perform on more than a dozen stages in downtown Winona as part of the three-day event. All of the welcoming venues are within easy walking distance of each other, creating a communal, music-inspired atmosphere that courses through the downtown area of the city through the three days of the festival. This year’s familiar faces include Minneapolis rapper Astronautalis, jam rock staples the Big Wu, folk experimenters the Pines, Duluth psych-rockers Retribution Gospel Choir, soul-imbued roots act Caroline Smith & the Goodnight Sleeps, and electro-pop group Halloween, Alaska.

“We’ve always believed that it’s important to try to get out and play some of the other towns in Minnesota,” says BNLX singer-guitarist Ed Ackerson, who had a great time playing MWMF last year. “I grew up in Stillwater, and it was such a huge deal to me as a kid when I got to see original rock bands play there — it was a rare and cool thing.”

The person who made this cool thing less rare is festival director Sam Brown, who was stationed in Winona with AmeriCorps beginning in 2009. Brown needed to come up with a summer service project, and in February 2010, he hatched an idea for a music festival that would put money back into the local arts scene for the city’s 27,000-plus residents. Backed by an initial $2,000 donation from the Winona Fine Arts Commission, a branch of the Winona City Government, the event — originally a two-day affair in July — featured performances from Dessa, Rogue Valley, and many others. The festival has donated over $20,000 to seven area nonprofits during the past three years. Attendance at MWMF nearly doubled from 2011 to 2012, with 3,000 music fans taking part last year.

In addition to giving Winona bands exposure, the MWMF has tapped Kimya Dawson (whose the Uncluded side project is signed to Rhymesayers Entertainment), Tapes ‘n Tapes, the 4onthefloor, Haley Bonar, Toki Wright, and countless others to fill out their lineups. Festival organizer Adam Wiltgen, a former Twin Cities resident, confirms that the overwhelming majority of artist submissions they receive are from Twin Cities-based acts. “I know how difficult it can be sometimes to simply get out of the metro area with all of the events that are constantly going on,” he says. “That makes the support we do have up there all the more valuable.”

Production director Jim Trouten oversaw MWMF’s sound during the festival’s first few years, which presented some distinct challenges since some venues don’t host any music during the rest of the year. “It’s all in a day’s work,” he says humbly, and credits Ben Assef, the festival’s technical manager, and the legions of local volunteers who turn out to help. “[They] can turn a pasture into a festival, can turn a small storefront into a venue, and a gymnasium into a rock concert.”

One of the cultural hubs of the MWMF is unquestionably Ed’s No-Name Bar, which last year hosted an expansive block party. Chris Koza, Charlie Parr, and The Voice‘s Nicholas Mrozinski and the Feelin’ Band played its parking lot stage, and Apollo Cobra closed things down indoors. The bar’s owner, Ed Hoffman, is happy to play such a prominent role in the ongoing success of the MWMF, with his dedicated staff working double shifts throughout the weekend to handle the influx of activity.

Hoffman says this festival has proved to be a catalyst for local pride, especially for the arts community.

“In the past, there had always seemed to me there existed a sort of defeatist attitude here,” he says. “We never got the droves of Twin Cities tourists that Red Wing, Stillwater, the North Shore, or lakes area got, and our downtown commercial/historic area was on the ropes. But somewhere in the last decade, I feel we turned a major corner. People are beginning to recognize that Winona has as much art and natural beauty going on as anywhere else in the out-state without feeling touristy at all. Winona is real. Winona is fun.”

Winona Daily News Mister Groovys Write-Up with Quote

Winona Daily News – view complete original post here.

Change aplenty downtown: New records, broken ones, and other comings and goings

by Amy Pearson
December 26th, 2012

There have been plenty of changes in downtown Winona business recently. Here’s a look at some of the arrivals.

Mister Groovys

Shelves of movies and music in nearly every genre line the walls at 79 W. Third St.

Some of the titles are recent enough to be considered new releases. Others date back several decades.

Mister Groovys, which recently opened in Winona, buys, sells and trades used CDs, DVDs, vinyl records and video games.

Most DVDs for sale are priced at $4 and CDs less than $6.

It is the second of two stores under the same name opened by owner John Shriver. The other is in Decorah, Iowa.

“The idea is to recycle your stuff,” said Winona manager Adam Wiltgen.

Wiltgen, a 2008 graduate from Saint Mary’s University, met Shriver after moving to Iowa to work at a radio station. The two hit it off, and Wiltgen decided to manage Shriver’s new store.

Mister Groovys’ selection, along with its prices, sets the store apart from other retailers, Wiltgen said.

Anyone looking to downsize their collection can bring items into the store, where an employee will asses them and make an offer for cash or store credit. More usually is offered for items in good condition or high demand.

“We try not to cherry-pick,” Wiltgen said. “We try to take everything. … Good stuff keeps coming in. You never know what you might find.”

Store info

Hours: 9:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday; 10:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Sunday

Location: 79 W. Third St.

Contact: 507-429-5401,

Decorah Newspapers Farewell Reception Write-Up with Quote – original post available here

6/18/2012 1:54:00 PM
KPVL Radio hosting open house reception
for former station manager, Adam Wiltgen
by Julie Berg-Raymond

46709The Board of Directors of 89.1 KPVL Community Public Radio is hosting a farewell reception for Adam Wiltgen, who recently resigned as station manager and is moving to Winona, Minn. to pursue new opportunities.

The public is invited to attend, and refreshments will be served.

“We’re hoping Adam’s friends and fans of KPVL will come out and wish Adam well in his future projects,” board member Rob Hervey said.

The reception is Saturday, June 23, from 3-5 p.m., at the radio station’s Decorah studio (207 E. Water St.)

Wiltgen thanked all the station’s volunteers, members, supporters, and listeners in a recent release, adding “It’s been a very rewarding two years and a pleasure to be a part of rebuilding a such a dynamic, nonprofit community-based organization.”

Over the past two years the station has established itself as a diverse and eclectic, format-free radio alternative. During that time, 45 different community members have been involved in producing on-air shows, news announcements, or sports broadcasts. The station has also developed a reputation for supporting and promoting local and live music.

The nonprofit station’s mission is to “build community, connect people, and communicate the human experience” and Wiltgen encourages listeners and supporters, both new and old, to get more involved in order to ensure the station continues to fulfill that mission.

KPVL Program Director Carl Cooley is promoted to interim general manager while the Board of Directors seeks out a permanent replacement.

A native of southeastern Minnesota, Wiltgen is editor/manager of Driftless Music, a blog and independent promotions company focused on inspired and progressive musicians from the Twin Cities and Driftless Region of the Upper Midwest.

Book Editing & Layout: “Modes of Being” by Michelle Lynn

amazon_bookFrom the fall of 2011 til the spring of 2012, I edited a book by Decorah-based musician Michelle Lynn. Entitled Modes of Being: Lyrics from the First Five Albums, the book is 124 pages and contains lyrics for 65 songs, as well as a question and answer exchange with nearly 50 local artists. My work entailed proofreading & editing all of the copy, formatting all of the images and laying out all of the content for print. I also wrote the “About the Author” page in the back of the book, in addition to contributing one the many questions Lynn took the time to answer.

To view Modes of Being on, please click here.

Click here to view an article about Modes of Being by Julie Berg-Raymond in the Decorah Newspapers. My work on the book is mentioned in a paragraph toward the end of the piece (along with a quote boasting about Lynn’s new album) and is pasted below.

The book also is a lovely companion to Lynn’s latest album, “Without an Outline” — which she calls her “most playful album to date,” and which her friend and book collaborator (he picked the art work and helped edit, organize and lay out the pages), Adam Wiltgen, says is “the most fully artistic, fleshed-out project she’s done.”

And finally, here’s the book description from the back cover:

A prolific songwriter and diligent musician in her own right, Michelle Lynn is nonetheless an artist focused on language and known for her literate, yet relatable lyrics. “Modes of Being” is a vivid collection of ideas and stories featuring 65 songs from the first five albums. Also found within this book is an engaging question and answer exchange with local artists and musicians. The creative process is thoroughly discussed along with details on how different songs and albums developed. Michelle talks about the dynamic journey of her first 7 years as a self-supported musician in an honest and insightful manner. Anyone who has enjoyed the CDs throughout the years will equally enjoy “Modes of Being.”

Decorah Newspapers’ Charlie Parr Show Write-Up with Quote – view original post here

5/4/2012 10:16:00 AM
Charlie Parr in concert at the Steyer
Opera House Friday, May 11
by Julie-Berg-Raymond

cparrweb89.1 KPVL PRESENTS Charlie Parr, as he makes his long-awaited return to Decorah for a special performance at the Steyer Opera House in the Hotel Winneshiek Friday, May 11.

Tickets are $5.

Charlie Parr plays original and traditional folk and Piedmont-style blues, accompanying himself on National resonator guitars, 12-string guitar and sometimes a banjo — all of which he taught himself to play.

His albums have received critical acclaim and have sold well into the thousands. He’s toured the UK, Ireland and Scotland countless times; and he was a guest musician on “A Prairie Home Companion” (April 2004), starred in Travis Wilkerson’s independent film, “Who Killed Cock Robin?” (2005, also contributed to the soundtrack) and has had his UK releases represented on the UK independent music charts.

His music also was featured on a PBS special (2004) and can be heard on regularly on KPVL 89.1 The Blend, as well as many other radio stations throughout the United States and Europe.

“We’re very excited about bringing Charlie Parr back to Decorah after a five- or six-year absence,” KPVL General Manager Adam Wiltgen said. “KPVL’s mission is to build community and Parr’s ‘old-timey’ blues sound appeals to a broad cross section of music fans. The Opera House is a perfect venue for his style of music and a dancing crowd.”

Advance tickets are available at Mister Groovys in Decorah and at the Hotel Winneshiek Front Desk.

This concert is presented by Northeast Iowa’s community radio station, KPVL 89.1 The Blend. For more on how you can get involved — from hosting your own show to becoming a card-carrying member–visit

This event is supported by the following community-minded businesses: Hotel Winneshiek, Albert’s Restaurant, The Tap Room, Oneota Community Food Coop, Funny Bone Productions. McCaffrey’s Dolce Vita, Oneota River Cycles, The Irish Shanti, Pizza Ranch of Decorah, Blue Heron Knittery.

Fall 2011 KPVL Fundraising Letter

web_reporter-meeting_B&Wby Adam Wiltgen

This letter was sent to a list of 200 prospects ahead of the station’s Fall Membership Soiree at the Decorah Elks Lodge.

Dear John Q. Listener,

Nearly eighteen months after moving its main studio to Decorah, KPVL has much to be grateful for. As you know, non-profit non-commercial stations like KPVL are vitally dependent on listeners and supporters like you. Our progress to date wouldn’t have been possible without your support. As the station now enters its next phase of development, I urge you to continue to help fuel the station’s growth—and become an even stronger stakeholder in its future—by making a contribution today.

A community like ours—rich in culture, incredibly diverse, and full of ideas—deserves a media outlet with similar attributes that it can call its own. At KPVL, nearly twenty volunteers regularly produce seventeen original programs that showcase a broad range of content, music, guests, and topics. A community like ours also deserves a radio station that respects the listener’s intelligence and doesn’t always cater to the lowest common denominator. At KPVL, passionate music-lovers broadcast ALL styles of music and also educate listeners along the way. Just like you, we value the variety in life.

Additionally, KPVL is a proud affiliate the Pacifica Radio Network. This allows us to broadcast critically-acclaimed, nationally syndicated shows that are also free of corporate influence and totally unique to our region such as Democracy Now!, Al-Jazeera English, and Free Speech Radio News.

We’ve also been busy adding the local content listeners expect from radio: KCRG now provides us with local weather forecasts; our new News Coordinator produces local P.S.A.s and a community calendar; and the Decorah Newspapers now provides local headlines that air as soon as the paper hits newsstands.

Most importantly, Decorah’s gift of stability and support has allowed residents in Postville to continue regular high school athletic broadcasts—and soon utilize a newly refurbished Postville studio.

With our collective progress and well-being in mind, I invite you to do more than just listen to 89.1 KPVL—become an active participant by making a contribution during the station’s pledge drive October 2nd–8th . Memberships start at $25, but even a gift of only $5 or $10 would go a long way in supporting original programming that builds community, connects people, & communicates the human experience. KPVL’s vast potential is matched only by the vitality and goodwill of our community.

Adam M. Wiltgen
General Manager, KPVL 89.1 The Blend


by Adam M. Wiltgen

Originally published 9/05/11 at

imagesSaint Paul, MN alternative-folk quartet, The Brilliant Beast, will be in Decorah to open for Luther College blues-rock darlings General B & The Wiz on Saturday, September 24th at the Americana Bar & Grille. The concert is sponsored by Norheast Iowa’s independent community radio station, KPVL 89.1 The Blend.

The Brilliant Beast is led by siblings Jordan and Hannah Porter; the former handles lead vocals and rhythm guitar, while the latter adds vocal harmonies and lead lines on both fiddle and guitar. The brother-sister duo is backed up by an experienced rhythm section that includes Driftless Area native Eric Whalen.

The band regularly performs throughout the metro and has gotten some attention of late by Italian music blog OndaRock. Click HERE to check out an apparently positive Italian-language review of the band’s 2010 EP “Bestiary“. Click HERE to listen a cover of Waylon Jennings’ “I’ve Always Been Crazy” that the band recently contributed an OndaRock compilation of Outlaw Country covers entitled “Oneway Ticket to Nowhere“.

In the time since I blogged about them in late July, General B & The Wiz have steadily continued to build their reputation as one of the more exciting young rock bands in the area. Their back-to-back Nordic Fest gigs were extremely lively and well-attended; with the band debuting new lights and stage props during their Club Pyramid show. In August, the band rocked Steve McClellan’s Wild Tymes DEMO showcase in downtown Saint Paul and also performed at a Monday night Afton Presents show at the Fine Line Music Cafe in downtown Minneapolis — which has led to a more desirable Friday night gig at the venue on September 23rd. Lastly, the band also submitted an interesting (albeit losing) entry to Koo Koo Kanga Roo’s cover song contest.

So come on out to the Americana Grille on Saturday, September 24th and catch two great bands with roots in both the Twin Cities and the Driftless Region.

General B & The Wiz Will Rattle Your Cage

by Adam Wiltgen

Originally published 07/24/11 at:

General B and The Wiz is a gritty blues rock band led by Luther College seniors Seth Duin and Quincy Voris. I hesitate to use the phrase “gritty blues rock” here, because their sound is so much more compelling than your stereotypical white-boy-on-a-slide-guitar dive bar act, or ubiquitous gang of nappy-haired garage rock wannabes. While their sound is indeed evocative of bands like The Black Keys, Cream, The White Stripes, Led Zeppelin, and The Doors; it’s their flawless execution and songwriting prowess that jumps out and rattles your cage like a good rock band should.

As evidenced in the video below of the band performing at my Driftless Music Showcase back in June, vocalist and rhythm guitarist Quincy Voris possesses a surprisingly mean falsetto and a smooth, commanding wail. The timbre of Voris’ voice–along with a vulnerable, yet confident demeanor and a small, yet forceful stature–brings to mind comparisons to actor/musician Mr. Jack Black. In fact, Voris and Duin started out together as a duo that covered a lot of Tenacious D songs. While the band is fun, I don’t want to pigeon hole Voris–a native of Alaska–as a “yuk-yuk man” here, because his lyrics and vocal style also carry the credibility of someone like former White Stripes front-man, and Third Man Records “music mogul,”  Mr. Jack White. Lastly, I think a portion of the band’s originality also stems from the fact that Voris is huge fan of fellow Alaskan-reared band Portugal. The Man; a rock group with a wholly original Psychedelic / Indie / Glam / Art sound that signed to Atlantic last year and has only recently started to receive mainstream attention.

Lead guitarist Seth Duin is a nimble-fingered man trained by a true jazz cat; and he certainly has the guitar chops to show for it. He is also a voice student and does provide contrasting vocal harmonies throughout the band’s debut self-titled release. A self-professed fan of Beethoven and Bach, Duin is also the current student station manager of Luther College radio station KWLC and is well versed in both classical and contemporary rock music. This virtuosity is key to General B and Wiz’s sound, which incorporates both interweaving blues riffs and flourishing lead licks. Of course, having a consistently killer guitar tone never hurts either.

The band is rounded out by a talented and versatile rhythm section, but Duin and Voris are definitely leading the charge. In fact, the two leaders’ nicknames during their days as a duo is what give the whole band its namesake. As the guys told KPVL in an interview back in April, Voris had returned from time spent commercial fishing in Alaska with a beard that he first styled in the fashion of General Ambrose Burnside, before shaving it off entirely. Alternately, Duin’s technical guitar skills earned him the the nickname “The Wizard” from Voris. And when the rest of the band members joined, they liked the name “General B and The Wiz” so much that they opted to keep it.

For a small Iowa town of approximately 8,000 people, Decorah certainly has an attractive live music scene. Solid traditional folk acts like The Foot-Notes, Contratopia, Switchback, and Maritza are complemented by unique singer-songwriters like Michelle Lynn, Ember Schrag, Amalia Vagts, and Mike McAbee. Damsel Fly, Done Doin’ Laundry, and Joe & Vicki Price are also talented local groups. Furthermore, touring acts of all stripes come through town as part of either the The Baker London Presents series at Art Haus, the Luther College Center Stage Series, or the healthy house concert community.

Despite these assets, a lack of talented, original ROCK bands can not be avoided. There are many things about living in the Twin Cities that I miss, but being taken by surprise and having my mind melted by a hard-hitting rock group, playing their own songs, is certainly toward the top of the list. The random jam / cover bands that play the Haymarket can no doubt be fun, but there is definitely something about the tasteless, predictable depravity of those shows that leave me feeling flat. Judging by the mythic nostalgia some locals regard Baker London‘s 2007-2008 shows in Decorah, I’d like to think I’m not alone here…

So, thank goodness for the gentlemen in General B and The Wiz! They have effortlessly attracted an audience in Decorah and have also made promising in-roads into the Twin Cities music community. They will be performing a pair of shows in Decorah during Nordic Fest, including a show on Friday July 29th at Club Pyramid with Michelle Lynn & The Bad Passengers. Their new album is available via bandcamp for download on a pay-what-you-want basis. Choice tracks include “There Was a Time”, “In The Trees”, “Desperate Woman”, and the epic “The Wind”. You owe it to yourself to check it out.

Decorah’s Damsel Fly: Youth + Sheer Talent

by Adam Wiltgen

Originally published 12/05/10 at:

Damsel Fly is an amazingly talented, all-female, teenage folk quartet from Decorah, IA. Their heart-swelling, four-part harmonies induce chills, warm feelings, and collective healing in all who are fortunate enough to experience them. The group’s lethal combo of youth & sheer talent is less perplexing when one considers that they are the daughters of a few of Decorah’s more progressive and musically-oriented families. The band consists of Kasi Misseldine on mandolin, Rose Reed-Maxfield on cello and bass, Ingrid Rotto on guitar, and Ida Rotto on banjo.

While Damsel Fly largely performs music written by others, their selections are always in good taste and their arrangements are incredibly unique. Many of their covers are of traditional folk songs or familiar classics from acts like the Beatles or Simon & Garfunkle. I had the pleasure of doing sound for the young women at last month’s KDEC Open Stage Night at T-Bock’s in Decorah and was able to record a video of their last song, a passionate rendition of “Devil’s Paintbrush Road” by the Wailin’ Jennys, which I have posted below. Best wishes to Damsel Fly and their bright musical future. Word on the street is that they are looking for performance opportunities within the greater Driftless Region. Booking inquiries can be sent to:

Rearview Mirror 2010 Reunion Shows: Reflecting the Past

by Adam Wiltgen

Originally published 09/27/10 at:

Nostalgia: it’s delicate, yet potent,” is a phrase Don Draper once uttered in an episode of Mad Men. September’s Rearview Mirror reunion shows balanced this dynamic elegantly–serving up the songs old-school fans pine for, while also allowing the band to have some fun as well. The crowd at JB’s in La Crosse on September 3rd was very enthusiastic and it made for some good chemistry. Check out the beginning of the Dead Air video below for some of the reminiscent banter lead singer Adam Ptacek provided throughout the night. The band played with an impressive amount of passion and abandon–visually losing themselves within the music at times.


The show on September 25th at the Winneshiek County Fairgrounds in Decorah, IA for Per Capita Entertainment‘s “Recession Fest 2010” was a little bit different environment–but a success nonetheless. The event was plagued by poor weather and a lack of coalition-building, grassroots-style promotion, but sure enough–come 9:30pm on Saturday night–Rearview Mirror had the most respectable and enthusiastic crowd of the weekend packed close to the stage. They gave one heck of an honorable performance despite the frosty nighttime temperatures. I imagine they felt less than stellar the next morning, however  they certainly could rest easy knowing they left it all on the stage. Check out a partial video (sorry) of Blown Out’s Hold Your Eyes below.

So, good job guys. You still got it. Here’s to the next RVM reunion show–in 2011?!?!

Meet the Unseen Ghost Brigade

by Adam Wiltgen

Originally published on 08/13/10 at:

Meet the Unseen Ghost Brigade: a theatre ensemble dedicated to the proliferation of communal joy through the arts that is currently in the midst of an ambitious 2,000 mile performance-journey down the Mississippi River on a raft. Utilizing street theatre to infiltrate everyday life, each member of the group has assumed the persona of a character based on various archetypal, vagabond-like characters. The result is a spontaneously delightful public fusion of acting, comedy, puppetry, music, acrobatics, and other art forms that manages to infiltrate everyday life, connect people, and reclaim the river culture of yore.

Beginning in Minneapolis, where the group originates, they’ve spent the last week or so in La Crosse, WI. Running into motor problems, their stay in La Crosse was longer than expected. But whatever went awry has been remedied and the Brigade just posted an update yesterday stating they’ve reached Lansing, IA. Talking with co-artistic directors Walken Schweigert and Chad Stender via phone earlier this week, they shared plans to stop in Prairie du Chein, WI in the next couple days; hoping to perform around St. Feriole Island and / or the Main Entrance.

Another aspect of their travels is a documentary they are filming. In addition to covering the ups and downs of their journey, they hope to capture dying art forms & trades and the essence of the river and its river-town inhabitants in the year 2010. Stender briefly mentioned to me two people they’ve met with and filmed: an 84-year old gentleman in Alma, WI that still produces rare steam-powered piano players and Dr. Bob in Winona, MN, a madcap puppet-master with a crazy club house and an amazing amount of talent and creativity.

So yes, rejoice and check out some of the performance videos below. You can follow the group’s updates HERE, HERE, and HERE. Seeking justice for the injustices that have been done, and are continuing to be done, you can contribute to the group’s mission and travel expenses HERE. A more in-depth piece on this story appeared in the Rochester Post Bulletin recently and can be read HERE. Much thanks to Root Note co-owner Alex Johnson for putting me in touch with these incredibly inspiring artist-activists.


by Adam Wiltgen

Originally published on 07/01/10 at:

317146_233356860055141_791937816_nJonathan Miller creates exactly the kind of music I had hoped to encounter when I formally launched this site in January. The Minneapolis-based multi-instrumentalist will be bringing his psychedelic trance-pop act Hands to the Acadia Cafe for the Driftless Music Showcase on July 16.

Jonathan graciously sent me a hard copy of his recently released album Docks and Robes; an epic nine-track, 42-minute collection of meticulously crafted ambient freak folk. While packaged in a decidedly DIY-style (complete with a crayon-colored one-sheet), the recordings sound consistently lush, dynamic, and, well, professional.

This speaks particularly well of Hands, as independent trance / jam / psychedelic recordings often suffer, in my opinion, from garage-centric, lo-fi production value. On one hand, these kind of vibe-based audio collages can be hard to capture on tape. On the other, the kind of people who do it well tend to emphasize the creative process–sometimes at the expense of the end result.

At any rate, Docks and Robes recalls the best elements of Animal Collective, Radiohead, and Grizzly Bear. Pensive, emotional, quirky, and always stimulating. From the frog samples, loops, and Yorke-ish wailing at the beginning of Oblong to the percussion section of  rattle snakes, claps, snaps, and bells at the beginning of Brusk no. 3, Miller wastes no time setting the tone of each piece and creating rich timbres to build layers of off.

Versatile, loaded with reverb, and complimented by expansive harmonies, Miller’s voice deftly cuts through the sometimes dense soundscapes underneath it. In tracks like Clergy and Short Smile / Homely Children / Don’t Ask How, the atmospheric colors are blended excellently with tenor guitar and live drums.

I’m very much looking forward to how Hands’ music translates to the stage. I’m not even sure what the band / live act consists of, but as a vote of confidence, Hands also has upcoming gigs later this summer in the Twin Cities at trendy venues like Medusa, the Turf Club, Sauce, & Lee’s, as well as in New York City at the Trash Bar and Pianos NYC.

Turn off your lights, turn up your speakers, and listen to the entire album via the widget below. You won’t regret it!

Docks and Robes by Handsandhands

Nigel Egg is Best Straight From the Heart

by Adam Wiltgen

Originally published on 06/23/10 at:

Nigel Egg is another one of those kind souls that seem to keep popping into my awareness. I met Nigel at one of my first DEMO shows as an intern in the summer of 2007. The Twin Cities-based Englishman’s self-depreciating sense of humor, skillful slide-guitar work, and passionate harmonica playing (along with a being a relentless DEMO performer) have made a lasting positive impression on me.

So it is with great pleasure that I blog about his first proper album, the appropriately titled, Big Bang Baby Boom. The aforementioned sense of humor comes across very well on tracks like the delta-blues number You Can’t Sing The Blues With an English Accent, the folky pot comedy The Birds and The Bees and The Bud, and the rootsy home-owners’ tune Going to Home Depot.

Although, all good satirist sometimes bomb and Nigel is no exception. I’ll never forget the time I heard Nigel perform the well-intentioned, yet uncomfortably honest and politically incorrect blues song Black Man at the Door before an unreceptive mixed race audience. Also, despite some interesting gang-style vocals, title track Big Bang Baby Boom stumbles upon its own irreverent baby boomer references…maybe I’m just too young to care.

In my opinion, Nigel is at his best when singing straight from his heart. Tracks like the harmonica-driven Lucky Man Blues, the soulful When I Was You, and the sentimental finger-picker I Wish I Knew Where Katie Was; showcase a feel-good singer-songwriter skilled at communicating how grateful he is for everything.

Watch the video below to see Nigel earn some laughs performing You Can’t Sing The Blues With an English Accent at a DEMO showcase in August 2009.

The Johnson Twins Capture Emotional Power of Live Show on New CD

by Adam WiltgenOriginally published on 06/06/10 at:

The Johnson Twins are lead by identical twins Patrick and Sam Johnson. The brothers both attended Perpich Center for Arts Education and share vocal duties. Pat plays violin, while Sam handles bass and accordion. They are frequently joined on stage by Sara Horishnyk on drums and Joe Reeves on banjo and keys.

After seeing Pat perform in Josh Von Mink‘s back-up band at a DEMO show in early ’09, I booked the nascent act, without having heard them, to play an Acadia gig I was putting together a few months later. I was delightfully blown away by the duo’s interweaving vocal harmonies, somewhat unconventional instrumentation, and gripping, contemplative lyrics.

So it was an absolute pleasure to hear / see the The  Johnson Twins again (with a full backing band) at the last Driftless Showcase at Acadia on May 21st. The group has made a minor splash in the local music community, winning a battle of the bands at the Hat Trick Lounge and regularly performing at hot spots like the Kitty Cat Klub and the 501 / 331 clubs. And now just recently, they’ve just released their debut recording: Mississippi Monster.

At eight tracks and 30 minutes in length, the recording successfully translates the heavy emotional power of the band’s live show. The opening track Incendiary Times provides a balanced introduction to their style. I like to describe their sound as the bastard child of Iron & Wine and Simon & Garfunkel, but the earnestness in their lyrics and the somber, yet driving mix of fiddle and bass give the act a style that is uniquely theirs.

Predictably, the stand out tracks in their live show are the ones that grab your attention on Mississippi Monster. If Insane has Pat crooning a quirky, scat-inspired melody in between the line “If insane I’d like to make this disclaimer about the state of my mind.” My favorite track, Babe, features a fat, angular bass line repeating underneath scores of stomach-swirling fiddle screeching. And the melancholy Hard Luck Town builds to a captivating ending where the music cuts out and the twins continue to sing the chorus in perfect, spot-on harmony.

Singing is sometimes described as “baring one’s soul” and the (biologic) compatibility of the Johnson Twins voices (and vision?) makes this particular axiom especially ring true.

Good Diction: Authentic Blues

by Adam Wiltgen

Originally published on 04/10/10 at:

Regularly booking and promoting shows can sort of make one feel jaded at times–especially if the acts your working with are “developing” or “emerging” ones. Of course that is the mission or purpose of the shows I do with local non-profit DEMO. Great, organic moments can happen unexpectedly, but the opposite can occur just as frequently….

With that in mind, I must say that I’m continually astounded and delighted by the sheer talent and passion of the musicians that have seemingly come out of the woodwork to contact me about performing at my Driftless Music Showcases at Acadia Cafe on the third Friday of each month. DEMO serves an essential & vital role in the music scene; the DM shows simply attract a different crowd.

Local husband and wife folk blues duo Good Diction is a great example of the kind of group that reaffirms my commitment to independent music and provides an ever welcome source of inspiration. The pair describes their sound on their myspace page as “American potatoes churned up in a post-post-modernist hot dish at a Norwegian Lutheran pot-luck held in a African-American Baptist revival tent.” After seeing them perform at the DM Showcase on March 19 and subsequently absorbing their five song EP Petulie, that description resonates with me.

The key to the blues (or any style really) is authenticity. Frontman Peter Bodurtha’s lyrics have strong mythical and literary qualities to them. At the same time, songs like If I Were a British Man or I Just Want to Talk (the song in the video below) display an earnest sense of wit and cleverness that make their stories personal. Much like Meg White (and I mean that in the best way possible), Percussionist Julie Bodurtha’s minimalist approach adds a certain amount innocence and playfulness to the music that really ropes the listener in and highlights the nuances. As the lengthy stomp-fest 1789 Broadway Ave N Blues demonstrates, all of the intangibles are present and Good Diction successfully accomplishes what all good blues bands must do: trick you into not realizing your hearing the blues. Wholehearted showmanship goes a long way and the overall effect is the temporary illusion of experiencing something new, raw, undiscovered, and–most importantly–real.

Clear Skies for Birds of Virginia

by Adam Wiltgen

Originally published 03/10/10 at:

The thoughtful folks in Minneapolis alt-country act Birds of Virginia sent me a copy of their debut album Trees at Dusk in advance of their appearance at the Driftless Music Showcase at Acadia on Friday. Recorded by Chad Weis at the Devil’s Workshop Sound Studio in Minneapolis, the album is sonically impressive. As the songs (and their superb production value) grew on me, I was curious to see how their material would stand up live at Acadia, particularly with drummer Mike Bybliw unable to perform….Well, any doubts I had flew out the door along with singer Leonard James’ smooth tenor by about halfway through the first verse of Stilt of Tomorrow, the perfect scene-setting opener for their set and album.

Mature songwriting, lush vocal harmonies, and adage-laced lyrics keep things fresh from start to finish and make Trees at Dusk the kind of album that is well-suited for long drives and focused listening. The sort of warm neo-folk found in tracks like Soul vs. Meat and Trains Across My Past makes it easy (for me) to make comparisons to Fleet Foxes or Sea Change-era Beck. Although after experiencing the Birds of Virginia live, I think a more accurate description of their spirit & sound would be Neil Young. The confident vulnerability of James’ voice in songs like Irresistable Force and Girl From Myanmar also calls to mind Minneapolis’ own crooner Matt Wilson (of Trip Shakespeare, The Twilight Hours).

You can purchase Tress at Dusk via CD Baby HERE. I think this is a very strong statement for a debut release–So here’s to clear skies ahead for the Birds of Virginia.

Akai Heats Up with The Coldest Hour

by Adam Wiltgen

Originally published 3/4/10 at

Akai was kind enough to give me a copy of their debut album, The Coldest Hour, after their performance at the Driftless Music Showcase on February 19th. The eight-piece ensemble immediately commanded the room’s attention with an intense set of sweeping alt-pop. (Scroll down for a video I shot of their performance). Thankfully the nuance and warm energy of their live show is well represented in this recording.

The album’s opening tracks smoothly introduce the band’s key strengths: male-female dual vocals, expansive textures, and incredibly diverse instrumentation. Gradually building a thick wall of sound, the lush vocal harmonies and layered lead lines in When the Sun Goes Down showcase songwriters Hiromi and Robbie Matsumoto’s keen ability for arrangement. On the other hand, the epic gang vocals at the end of Breath evoke the best of the Arcade Fire, harnessing the spontaneous while also tastefully celebrating the unnecessary.

The stand out track in my opinion is the mid-tempo electro-drone rocker Not in My Head. Trading stanzas during the chorus like “the FBI has tapped my phone” and “the mail came a little light today“, the Matsumoto couple elegantly communicate the slightly subdued, eerie paranoia in the lyrics. The call and response vocal contrast has an almost playfully schizophrenic aspect to it that works well over the polished, yet positively postmodern soundscape underneath it. The Coldest Hour is not so cold after all…

This is band has magnetic chemistry and I wish them nothing but the best in the months ahead. Their CD release party will take place March 20th at the 400 Bar. Click here for more info and /or to purchase a bundled CD & ticket package for the show.


by Adam Wiltgen

Originally published 02/17/10 at:

I’ve been following the stories of two vacant Saint Paul theatres for a while now and they both seem to be catching my attention more and more lately…

One is the Victoria Theatre located at 825 University Ave, between Victoria and Avon, in Frogtown. As THIS article in the Star Tribune explains, it used to hopping place back in during the prohibition era and an amateur historian recently discovered that one of the 84 songs from the 1952 “Anthology of American Folk Music”–a collection cited as a major influence of the Grateful Dead, Bob Dylan, the Byrds, and the whole folk music revival of the late 50’s and early 60’s– was recorded there. The song is actually called “Moonshiner’s Dance” and was recorded by the house band as an”audio flier” Needless to say, the tactic garnered the unwanted  attention of authorities and the speakeasy was eventually raided.

This new found history has been successful in moving forward the efforts of a Save the Victoria Theatre group seeking historical designation from the St. Paul Heritage Preservation Committee for the space. With the Central Corridor line traveling down University by 2014, their goal is to renovate and re-open it as a community-driven nonprofit performing arts center. Keith Johnson, a leader of  the New Victoria Theatre Project Trust, gave me a tour last summer. There is a lot of potential as the core architecture is in intact and structurally sound (there is even a mural on the second floor), but it needs A LOT of work.

Read all about the theatre’s history and the push to re-open it in an unbelievably comprehensive MPR piece by Madeleine Baran HERE. (There are even pictures of the mural.) (The photo used above is by Glen Stubbe – Star Tribune.)

The other theatre is one I see nearly every day, as it is located adjacent in the 7th Place pedestrian mall in downtown Saint Paul. The Palace Theatre is immensely huge  (the elegant, but neglected marquee in the mall only houses the lobby) and the actual theatre spans a large portion of the block it sits on.  I’ve missed several opportunities to take a tour, but am told there is plenty of potential here too. The location alone makes it compelling enough. But alas it has been vacant since at least 2005 and the renovation costs run into the millions. In 2007, DEMO artistic director Steve McClellan was part of a group that unsuccessfully tried to secure funding to re-opening the Palace as a rock club. Read more about his effort in THIS very brief City Pages piece.

Mr. McClellan, along with company M3 Productions, recently began booking weekend shows at the Wild Tymes bar and grill, a restaurant & bar in the same building as the Palace. And who knows — if things go well — there’s always a chance music could move back into the “mainroom” (Contact Steve at for booking inquires).

A Tale of Two Steves

by Adam Wiltgen

Originally published 01/21/10 at

Driftless Music got a nice little write up in the Second Supper today (page 5).

Choice quote: “Many of the events take place in the Twin Cities–which our geographer friends may not classify as being in the Driftless Region–but La Crosse gets lots love too, and in a city as digitally dry as our own, we’ll take what we can get.

Aww, that “can-do attitude” is what makes La Crosse so lovable. And while the Twin Cities and the Driftless Region may not be connected geographically, I like to think there is some sort of cultural connection between the two. Minneapolis and La Crosse certainly share a strong commitment to live music, regardless of their differences.

For instance, Minneapolis’s landmark music venue is First Avenue & 7th St Entry. The club is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year. I’ve been serving on the DEMO board for the past year with Steve “the last independent” McClellan, who worked as a booker, and ultimately as general manager, at First Avenue from 1973-2005. Anyone who knows Steve can attest to his passion for independent music. His monologues and rants can be both hilarious and brutally honest. Most of all, he is operating on the grassroots and genuinely cares about the bands he books and rooms that host them.

Check out a vintage Steve diversity rant (with a kind quote from Bob Mould) in the First Avenue: HayDay movie trailer HERE. Read his “night out” blog post HERE.

In some ways, he reminds me of another Steve…

La Crosse’s landmark music venue has honestly got to be the Warehouse. The club is celebrating its 19th anniversary this year. Its owner and sole proprietor Steve Harm is quick to note that the Warehouse is the nation’s longest running all ages, no alcohol music venue. I’m not sure how one would verify that claim, but club’s longevity is very impressive. Like McClellan, Steve Harm is also good with words, rants, monologues, and opinions (i.e. There are signs all over the Warehouse explaining and spouting many different things). While some people are put of by their “grouchy teddy bear” demeanor, McClellan and Harm are really just gentleman that can sometimes come off as slightly intimidating. The reality is that they are the two most passionat, intense and honest supporters of the independent music community I know.

Of course honesty and passion doesn’t always translate to monetary success. Nowadays most shows are still decidedly geared toward the high school crowd, but Steve-o still manages to bring in great touring bands (Meat Puppets coming back in April, Toki Wright & Ari Herstand in March). More importantly, the Warehouse is still rockin’…for now.

First Avenue declared bankruptcy in November of 2004 and was forced to briefly close. A few months later Steve McClellan parted ways with the club; forming DEMO and teaching Music Business courses at McNally Smith College of Music. Hopefully La Crosse’s Steve can avoid a similar fate in his current situation with the Warehouse. I’m not against for-profit businesses requesting donations–bands do it too. I simply think the Warehouse would be better off in the long term as a non-profit organization. I just see a natural connection there. All Ages venues provide a valuable service to their communities. That is all. Thanks La Crosse, I’m yours.

Payton Doesn’t Hit What He’s Aiming At

by Adam Wiltgen

Originally published in the Rochester Post-Bulletin sometime between Sept 2003 and June 2004. Exact publishing date unknown.

I thought it would be fun to share here one of the negative reviews I wrote for the Post-Bulletin. Those were always the hardest to write. I should revisit this album sometime with the benefit of hindsight and deeper appreciation of jazz and fusion.

Click the image to read at full size.


High School Paper: Rearview Mirror Show Review

by Adam Wiltgen

This was originally created for a writing assignment in an English class during my junior year of high school. It was also later published on various Rearview Mirror fan sites / forums. I submitted this piece, along with another I wrote in the same class (my review of Silverchair’s Diorama), to the Rochester Post-Bulletin when I applied for the Teen Beat writing position I held during the following academic year.

Show Review: Feb. 14 & 15, 2003
The Warehouse La Crosse, WI
Note: This review was written in the days following the shows. Not long afterward,
the band decided to continuing using the name Rearview Mirror. They’ve stuck with it ever since.


Friday’s and Saturday’s shows at the Warehouse in La Crosse, Wisconsin marked the beginning of the end for seven years and two plus CD’s worth of music for a band called Rearview Mirror. It was well known by all going into the shows that the band would be moving on and undergoing some much needed changes. To understand the future however, one must understand the past.

The four original members of Rearview Mirror grew up together in Cresco, Iowa, forming the band in 1996. The band started out with: Matt Olson – Guitars, Adam Ptacek – Vocals, Jason Ptacek – Bass, and fan favorite, TJ Kammer – drums; who was replaced by the more talented, former tour manager Andy Blessing in September of 2002. By 1999 they had enough material to put out an independent CD. They used the cash made by playing gigs to pay for the 2,000 copies of Blown Out that were printed. Blistering and powerful, the disc is very impressive, especially considering it was released when they were all still in high school.

In 2000 the band got their big break. Acclaimed producer Steve Lillywhite discovered the band on the internet and flew to La Crosse to see them play at the Warehouse. Rearview Mirror signed with his label, Gobstopper records, which is a subdivision of a very large independent entertainment company called Palm Pictures. After months in the studio their major label debut All Lights Off was released to the public on June 4th, 2002. From late 2000 until late 2002 Rearview Mirror set the Midwest rock scene on fire with their single In the Beginning getting significant area radio play and with a hoard of shows and tours with the likes of Nonpoint, Flickerstick, Days of the New, the Toadies, Sevendust, P.O.D., The Blank Theory, and Filter among others.

However, fame and good fortune in the music industry are not easily attainable these days. About six months after the release of All Lights Off, Gobstopper/Palm was deteriorating from the inside out and didn’t have the cash to push the album the way they should have. So Rearview Mirror didn’t get any lucky breaks that let bands explode onto the rock scene; Things like critical radio/TV/internet promotion or hooking up with the right band on a large scale national tour.

So now Rearview Mirror stands upon the dawn of a record label change. To do that however, they have to terminate their current contract by changing their name and retiring all of their previous music. That brings us to the present: a band giving themselves and their fans one last hoorah with the music they built their careers on and a peek at the music they plan to start new careers on.

Friday the 14th’s show:
To set RVM’s scene for you, Matt had grown a cool looking, big wooly beard that drew some comparisons to that of a lumberjack’s. Adam was wearing a thrift store style Hawaiian type shirt he claims to have stolen from a friend. The two of them also were, as usual, playing barefoot. Rearview Mirror opened up with four songs from their indie CD: Hold your Eyes, Stain, Other, and Beautiful Like You. These songs are really guitar driven and show off their amazing early song writing skills. The band kept reminding the crowd that these were old songs, that they don’t like playing them anymore, and want to put them behind them.

Friday’s versions of the Blown Out songs were a bit shakier, but still powerful. Adam earned a few laughs when emphasizing the lyrics in the song Stain referring to his former drummer, “TJ! Where the **** are you at?!?!” The concert continued as they burst into the songs from All Lights Off. They played pretty much the whole album except for the overplayed single In the Beginning and the monotonous mosher Animal. Some of the highlights included the extended ending on City Walls, the combining of Like They Were and Guilty into one powerful opus, and an intense performance of Stronger Before. The energy and enthusiasm of the crowd was impressive especially during Stronger Before.

The band returned onstage for an encore of two songs. The first was a totally unexpected
version of the song Fame from the album Blown Out. You could tell they hadn’t attempted to play it in years, although everyone there enjoyed hearing it. RVM finished the night with a new song called On and On. It was the only new song they sang Friday and, of course, it was fantastic.

Saturday the 15th’s show:
RVM opened up with 5 songs from Blown Out. The same ones from Friday’s show, only this time they played Fame first. You could tell a night’s show and a days worth of practice had been put in. The parts of the old songs were much more fluent and powerful. The confidence that was lacking in the older songs on Friday was definitely there Saturday night. The band knew this was their last show as Rearview Mirror and they were pulling out all the stops along the way.

They continued that into the spectacular All Lights Off portion of the concert; right before
the intense outro of Stronger Before, Adam made a call out to a small group of people sitting in the back of the venue, asking “Did you pay to come and sit on your ass back there?…..Get the **** up!” He continued to do things his way by saying after the song that, “For seven bucks you could sit on your ass at home.”, and then started to compliment and high-five the mass of people near the stage. The All Lights Off set was the same as Friday’s only for this show they chose to omit the song City Walls also.

The encore was the most pleasing part of both the shows as they came back to sing six new songs. Two of them were brand new and had never been performed live at all. The new songs were more powerful lyrically and vocally. Melodies were exchanged on and off with the typically amazing guitar riff. All of them were impressive, especially the song they said Matt wrote called Solutions. The song is kind of an anthem for the changes the band is making and their “We’re doing it our way” philosophy to music. This is gratifying for the all the fans, because that is the only way to make it with original music.

The crowd was much, much larger on Saturday than on Friday. Probably because of the bad
weather Friday, the fact Friday isn’t a weekend and people might work, and Friday night’s show wasn’t technically their last show anyway. At any rate, it was great to see all the people there being excited about something positive like RVM’s music.

It is great the band is moving on and it’s great they went out like they did. Giving everyone
another chance to hear them is great for the fans. When Adam was asked about the direction of their new sound after the show Friday, he said “Do you like the Beatles?…Well, we want that sound, but we still want our edge too.” The band is heading to the studio very soon and should have a CD under a new name/label by the end of the year. Good luck guys.

16 yr old Rearview Mirror Show Review

RVM_4-12showby Adam Wiltgen

RVM’s manager at the time, Norbert Nix, found me through an RVM yahoo group (these were the early internet days) and asked me to write the show review below for posting online in various places. I was 16 at the time.

Friday, February 1st, 2002
The Warehouse – La Crosse, WI

The first band that played was Irreligion. They were terrible. 80’s hair metal mixed with 70’s punk. It was bad; the lead singer was wearing a see-through fishnet shirt and tight leather pants! Although, I do have to complement their spot-on cover of “Blitzkrieg Bop” by the Ramones.

Next a local band from La Crosse called Phixface played. They were much better. The crowd seemed more enthusiastic and the music was much more intense. They sounded kind of like Korn, Adema, or Mudvayne. They even covered Mudvayne’s hit “Dig.”

Finally at 11:00pm, on came Rearview Mirror. They jumped right into the title song off their new album “All Lights Off,” which was great. The crowd kept getting bigger in this little third story apartment-like building. The third song RVM played was their new single “In the Beginning.” The energy singer Adam Ptacek throws into each song is amazing.

Then, when I thought it couldn’t get any better, Adam introduced “Guilty” and they jumped right into that familiar intro. Everyone there seemed like they knew the song, as well they should. It’s still my favorite Rearview Mirror song and probably always will be. They played a newer, reworked version of “Guilty” that was a little bit heavier than the version that appears on “Blown Out.”

After a little break and a couple more songs they played a new song, a ballad called “City Walls.” Adam even sat down on the floor indian-style and moaned out the lyrics to this great song for a bit. A bunch of us took out lighters and held them up for this tune. It was about that time that I noticed Adam and Matt were playing barefoot and drummer T.J. had already thrown off his t-shirt. Right around the middle of the set, the band jumped into another familiar song, “Animal.” This song was also tighter and reworked than the original version. RVM continued playing fresh new songs, not losing their intensity at all. They ended their set with the explosive “28/7.”

After RVM thanked thanked all and walked offstage, the crowd started up. Everyone was screaming for more. No one was going to leave until they got more. So then, after only a couple of minutes, they came back out for an encore. I wasn’t let down when they jumped into an old favorite, track 2 on their indie CD, “Blown Out”, called “Stain.” Everyone went wild, it was fantastic. A friend snagged a set list and its typed out below.

All Lights Off
Stronger Than Before
In the Beginning
Study Me
City Walls
Final Thoughts
Like They Were
Dead Air
Thank You