COLUMN: Outdoor entertainment heralds the peak of summer’s empire

This is my weekly column for the Sunday, July 18, 2010 edition of the Hibbing Daily Tribune. A version of this piece aired on yesterday’s edition of “Between You and Me” on 91.7 KAXE.

Outdoor entertainment heralds the peak of summer’s empire
By Aaron J. Brown

We’re working the wheelhouse of the northern Minnesota summer. Summer, the faint hope of our much more famous February freeze, no longer seems so novel and dream-like. In fact, I reach for shorts and a t-shirt each morning much more out of reflex than conscious choice. Often, they even match, something that usually takes me a good long time to figure out and replicate. It’s hot out, or raining, and sometimes it’s hot and raining. You realize that this is what most people in the rest of the world see a lot more, if not all year, than we do here, in the place where it’s supposed too cold for culture. Ha! We’ve got cold and culture. And right now we’ve got hot.

One of the amenities of this season in this place is the large number of outdoor music events, some call them concerts, others festivals. Experienced organizers know July is the only month of the year where it certainly won’t snow, at least to the point of accumulation, so there are plenty of outdoor entertainment options. Since the Fourth of July we’ve had all sorts of shows, including yesterday’s Mississippi River Festival in Grand Rapids. Every Thursday evening this summer the Minnesota Discovery Center in Chisholm offers a free outdoor concert called Arts in the Park, featuring local bands appealing to all ages. I was encouraged to hear that these events are drawing hundreds of visitors each week and growing in popularity. Of course, the various summer festivals are going on (Hibbing’s Jubilee was last weekend). Each of them offers musical interludes as well.

These summer concerts remain to me the sort of thing that I’m glad exist, but I have, at best, a mixed history with outdoor music. I’m from the generation that grew up with the Sony Walkman and all the increasingly sophisticated personal music devices that followed. As a result, I tended to see music as something to consume personally, an event that occurs between the ears. Growing up in the country, my primary exposure to outdoor music came through the high school marching band, where we played “Hang on Sloopy” at every Bayfield Apple Fest for six years. We’d play a montage of Christmas songs for the winter parades. My trumpet froze on Howard Street, leaving me to play only Cs and middle Gs, which is actually harder than just playing all the notes.

The last outdoor concert Christina and I attended was when Bob Dylan and Paul Simon played Bayfront Park in Duluth back in 2000. I guess that would be ten years. Wow. Just realized that as I typed it. This is how you end up with underwear older than other people and then introducing that fact into public conversations. Anyway, we were at this concert and some flower children (now, just flower people) were standing in front of us, reliving some past glories. The herbal smoke and beer runs were distracting enough, but being surrounded on all sides by dudes who gave you angry looks when you bumped them made moving difficult. I mean how can you pay that much money to stand there and just be so ANGRY? Do they do that all the time? The music was good but, by and large, far away.

But my experiences might be part of the reason arts and culture faces such challenges here in northern Minnesota. It’s hard to get a few hundred people to buy tickets for something. If the weather’s good, everyone is “at the lake.” If the weather’s bad, “the weather’s bad.” Seeing our one good month of weather (“Good,” of course, being relative) we should all remember that experiencing culture together might be the most important activity for people in enjoying a place, raising a family there and contributing their talents long term. This summer, take an afternoon or evening and give something new a try. You’ll be surprised at the talent, diversity and meaning of what you experience right here in our backyard. I promise you won’t need a jacket. At least, not a heavy one.

Aaron J. Brown is a columnist for the Hibbing Daily Tribune. Read more at or in his book “Overburden: Modern Life on the Iron Range.”

Speak Your Mind


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.