Don’t let the music die

Reina del Cid performs with Toni Lindgren on guitar and Adam Tucker on upright bass during a 2016 live broadcast of Aaron Brown’s Great Northern Radio Show. (PHOTO: Grant Frashier)
Aaron J. Brown

Aaron J. Brown is an Iron Range blogger, author, radio producer and columnist for the Mesabi Tribune.

If I missed anything this summer it was live music. I’m not one to pile into a crowded club or concert venue, but I do enjoy the sound of local musicians performing in parks and restaurants.

The list of people affected by COVID-19 is long, with many legitimate claims for our collective sympathies and support. But today I’d like to make a plea for musicians and for a shared future that includes more than just a return to materialistic commerce.

As the pandemic continues to disrupt American life, we hear many comparisons to 1918’s flu epidemic or the sacrifices of the WWII era. These two events bear an interesting similarity: each led to a golden age for music and the arts. Better times inspired musicians and audiences alike to escape recent horrors.

For that matter, so did the Great Depression. Not because times were good, but because they were so bad that people needed the cultural salve of music to survive. Remember the way your parents, grandparents or great-grandparents talked about dances during those times. They kept people going.

In fact, one critical element of the New Deal was federal support for artists, musicians, journalists, and photographers. Some of the 20th Century’s most important artistic work was done on Works Progress Administration grants. The achievements include some of the most iconic images of the Mesabi Iron Range during its peak of its iron ore production.

Winston Churchill served admirably as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom during WWII. His fellow Conservatives suggested he support cuts to the arts during the war.

Famously, Churchill replied, “Then what are we fighting for?”

Every once in a while I meet people who argue that the arts do not merit investments of time or money. Only the profitable arts of engineering and research, capitalism or football deserve such respect. But funerals are not

sanctified by recited equations. Dividends prove to be hollow comfort for those who have lost their jobs, who hold unpaid bills instead of stock options.

This year required sacrifices from many. COVID has now taken almost 200,000 American lives. These families paid the highest price. But beyond this suffering comes significant economic pain, especially among those near the bottom of the income scale.

If you know any professional musicians you know that they number among the economic victims of these times.

For eight years I produced and hosted a radio variety program called the Great Northern Radio Show on Northern Community Radio, heard locally on 91.7 KAXE. I hired musicians from all over Minnesota. They drove hundreds of miles for a few hundred dollars, often split among three, four, or as many as nine people.

Many local musicians perform as a sideline venture out of love for their craft. But a significant number rely on their income from music to pay bills. They work as hard as anyone, without the comforts of job security or a benefits package.

When the pandemic first hit, musicians turned to online concerts as a way to keep playing and to solicit donations to keep the lights on. These small events were an initial source of solace during the confusing early days of the stay-at-home orders.

But time has reduced the effectiveness of these drives, and so has Facebook. This month, this enormous, very profitable company announced limitations to live streams by musicians on its service.

Here we see another example of the divisions of the COVID era. Already, this social media company gives aid and comfort to unending resentments, conspiracy theories and misinformation. But here we see it also effectively controls the “public square” of the 21st Century, especially during the first of what might be many pandemics over coming decades.

From the onset, some chose to measure the COVID-19 pandemic in terms of the economic impact on property owners. That impact has been great, at least in dollar figures. However, the economic, emotional and medical toll on workers, artists, and human souls arguably exceeds that damage.

We are hurting. This becomes evident not only in COVID-19 statistics, but also in the suicides, substance abuse, and mental health suffering plainly witnessed in our community.

We must sing a song of hope and healing. To do that, we need music far more than we need markets.

Every month we tolerate the profiteering of companies like Facebook and the callous dismissal of the arts creates suffering, not only for artists, but for us all.

Support local musicians. Buy their albums. Donate to their live streams. Those of us who have done well during the pandemic owe much to those who connect us to our human culture.

Aaron J. Brown is an author and college instructor from northern Minnesota’s Iron Range. He writes the blog and co-hosts the podcast “Power in the Wilderness” on Northern Community Radio. This piece first appeared in the Sunday, Sept. 20, 2020 edition of the Mesabi Tribune.



  1. Once again trickle down is not working. Only this time there are almost zero other opportunities for those in the arts. The money grabbers got theirs. On another note. Where is the infrastructure money the orange babloon promised or the state gop talks about ? Nothing is coming. I am sure that maintaining infrastructure correctly would probably bring more jobs and keep the dollars local then polymess or other mining. Tell me what project Hibbing is putting on hold because of lack of either or both state or federal dollars ? Sorry maybe it’s just me.

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