The Music Scene and The Syndrome: Two Gifts

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At Icehouse, listening to Louis and the Hunt and Fair Oaks

The very first thing Mike sent me when he learned I had decided to come to Minneapolis was a link to The Basillica Block Party’s volunteer sign-up page. He assured me that the annual Block Party was not-to-be-missed, but tickets were spendy – volunteer and you may get to hear some of the bands for free. Without knowing what we were getting ourselves into, we agreed to sell raffle tickets the first weekend I was officially a Minneapolitan. What an awesome decision that was – we had free-reign of the event, got to hear all the bands, and while selling raffle tickets met and talked to hundreds of people (mostly) in a festive mood.

And so it began.

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I met Mike’s dad, Rex Beck, when I was in college. We hit it off right away, which made me feel special – right up until I discovered that Rex hits it off with everyone. His family even has a name for it, “Rex Beck Syndrome”: the capacity to strike up a conversation (and likely a friendship) with literally anyone, anywhere – and the propensity to do so.

I didn’t notice it so much back then, but the Rex Beck Syndrome has a genetic component. At least two of Mike’s siblings show telltale signs of having inherited it. But of the five of them, Mike is the one who most readily shows markers of the full-blown syndrome. He makes friends with tourists in the downtown Target parking-garage elevator. He never leaves a party or reception without new Facebook friends. Once, we noticed a woman putting up an autumn display in her yard. Two hours later, as we drove by again and she was still working, Mike stopped the car in the middle of the street and rolled down his window to tell her, “Nice job! It looks fantastic!” When he caught me staring at him with a surprised grin, he said, “What? She spent all afternoon working on it – the least I could do was make her feel like it was worth it!”

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On a cold Sunday night we drove around the block a couple of times before finding a parking space in the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood. I was tired, having already been on my feet for an eight hour shift that began at 5:30 a.m. that day. We walked quickly past several establishments with an international flavor on our way to what appeared, from the outside, to be a generic dive bar. Once past the bouncer, wristbands and handstamps in place, we entered an electrified atmosphere. The opening set by the band MisterWives was already in progress and blowing the crowd at The Triple Rock Social Club away. Standing room only. I looked sideways at Mike, completely engrossed in the music and barely able to contain his excitement to see the headlining band for the night (American Authors). With an internal shrug of the shoulders, I steeled myself and approached the rather intimidating bouncer – who just happened to have an extra chair beside him. I explained why my feet hurt, and he nodded knowingly and let me take the chair, telling me to enjoy the show as I walked away.

We saw three bands that night, each on the cusp of big career happenings. (Just this week, American Authors announced their headlining tour. MisterWives’ EP, which came out a couple of weeks after the show, was at the top of the iTunes chart within days.) Happily seated, surrounded by people completely absorbed in the musical performances, I forgot my tiredness and chair-danced my way through the evening.

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I am, most naturally and deeply, an introvert. There was a time in my life when the very idea of speaking first to a stranger was overwhelming.¬†When Mike and I reconnected a few years ago, I noticed his ease in speaking to strangers, ¬†and marveled at it. Since moving here, I’ve had many opportunities to observe it. And, as in many things, being with an expert has allowed me to try it out myself – the expert (in this case Mike) acting as a set of social training wheels. If I got myself in too deep or too awkwardly, he could step in and smooth away the uncomfortable. In this way, I soon found myself striking up conversations with wait staff, with other pedestrians at a red light, with the people at the next table. As my comfort level grew, I began talking to strangers when Mike wasn’t around. It was a matter of great pride when an old friend told me Mike was rubbing off on me. She said, “You talk to people you don’t have to now.”

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The Cactus Blossoms at First Avenue

My “Minneapolis Music Scene” education, initiated at the Block Party, has not only continued but accelerated during this winter season. It has taken me to Roy Wilkins Auditorium to see Envy Corps, The Neighbourhood, and Imagine Dragons. But it has also seen me at Old Chicago in Eagan for the Friday night set (in bad lighting with horrible acoustics) of a young musician just starting his solo career. One Saturday evening began with a flamenco guitarist over dinner and ended with a CD release party for Fair Oaks, a band whose leader lives just up the street (though we didn’t know it until Mike introduced himself to the band). My education has included tickets to a Studio C live recording session with Walk Off the Earth. Most recently, it led to a two-night music binge at the granddaddy of all Minneapolis music venues: First Avenue, Prince’s main stage as well as performance venue for many musical legends over the years.

The thing is, I am neither a musician nor that much of a fan-girl. But I have always loved live music, and I’ve been loving the “educational” experience. Mike is both a musician and a self-described indie band junkie, so his¬†excitement about the music scene and his enthusiasm for supporting young talent is contagious – it is fun to be around people who are jazzed and fully enlisted. More than that, I love being in a space where smart, talented, creative people are putting themselves and their work out there for public consumption and response. While I definitely appreciate and enjoy the more savvy performers we see (Caroline Smith, Grace Potter, Matchbox Twenty), some of my favorite moments occur when listening to or interacting with the less well-known, less polished, but no less passionate performers at the beginning of their careers (Jamison Murphy, He Who Never, Fair Oaks). Music performance offers such immediate consumer feedback – either the crowd is feeling you or it isn’t! When it works, the exchange of energy between musicians and their audience is powerful and heady. As someone aspiring to put myself out there, whether creatively, in a job search, or as the newbie in a new city, I get the courage that takes.

On our second night at First Avenue (it was a two-night birthday party for local radio station The Current), I found myself jostling for a better standing position when I noticed that the extremely tall man who had just pushed in front of me, partially blocking my view, was scribbling in a notebook. As you might expect from a Beck protege, I leaned forward with an opening salvo of, “You’re taking notes at a rock concert?”

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Mike, outside First Avenue, next to the stars of musicians/bands who’ve played there (the stars cover the outside of the building)

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Yesterday, I sat in The Boiler Room, sipping a piping hot Americano. ¬†I had just initiated conversations with Michael, the owner, and with Linwood Hart, the artist whose work is on display there. I had sent a message online to someone I’ve admired from a distance, just to tell her that. I felt expansive, open to the world around me in a way that once would have felt frightening.

My thoughts, and the rightness of this feeling, suggested¬†a confluence of sorts between my fledgling Rex Beck Syndrome and my Minneapolis music education. Mike thinks he’s been introducing me to the music scene, helping me to understand his love for it and spreading the contagion. And he has been – my enthusiasm is my own, not just a reflection of his. At the same time, it has been an education in how to feel a sense of agency – to be a swimmer in the ocean of people that is this city rather than a bit of flotsam carried about by random ebbs and flows. I’m still an introvert, but I am no longer confusing that with my irrational fear of putting myself forward. It turns out that people like – actually prefer – to connect. It turns out that I prefer to do so.

I’m thrilled that I have acquired at least a mild case of Rex Beck Syndrome – and I hope to pass it on! Speak up, my friends, don’t hold back so much of your enthusiasm and curiosity. There are a lot of people out there, aching to connect in ways big and small. Be the agent of that connection – be a swimmer not a floater!

As for my music scene education, I intend to continue that as well – Friday we’re checking out two new bands, then its two Jeremy Messersmith shows in two very different venues. Below is a list of bands/musicians I’ve seen whom I believe are definitely worth checking out and supporting. You can find most of them online – and if you like them, send them some love by way of purchase and/or social media!

Envy Corps. MisterWives. The Royal Concept. Jamison Murphy. He Who Never. Fair Oaks. Walk Off the Earth. Actual Wolf. Lizzo. Cactus Blossoms. Heiruspecs. Caroline Smith.

Night Joyriding

Today’s post was written jointly by Mike Beck and me. Since my arrival in Minneapolis in early July, one of our favorite activities together is cycling at night throughout the city. While we both enjoy nighttime riding, we came to it from different places, and our experiences are our own – hence the format of the post. In the end, we hope you’ll be encouraged to get out on your bikes – especially after dark! ¬†
¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† –Jenion
Minneapolis By Night, photo by Mike
Minneapolis By Night, photo by Mike

M: I love riding my bike – I always have. ¬†When I was a boy on the farm in Iowa, my siblings and I escaped into made-up worlds on our bikes. ¬†As a father of young boys, meandering on suburban trails with the tots was always pleasurable. ¬†Now, biking is more than just fun; it’s a way to get outside, be active, and a key component in my quest for a healthier lifestyle. ¬† But, with a full-time job, and other activities that often book weekend days, the ONLY time I have to ride is in the evenings. ¬†And it’s still fun, especially when I have someone to ride with.

J: Biking has been such a significant part of my life these past several years that I considered a bike-friendly culture one of the “must haves” for any city I finally chose to settle in when I left Cedar Rapids. By all accounts, Minneapolis fit the bill. When I arrived here, I couldn’t wait to explore the bike trails and greenways I had read and heard so much about. And I looked forward to doing so with Mike – we had talked about cycling for years, but living in different states made it impractical for us to ever actually ride together.

M: Introducing Jeni to her new city has been one of the things I enjoyed most this summer.  I have lived in Minneapolis since 1993, and I know the town quite well.

J: That’s an understatement, by the way!

M: But, as I was saying before I was interrupted, biking in Minneapolis is relatively new to me.  I started riding my bike last fall, after a long hiatus, and I usually stayed close to home.  But now that Jeni lives here, we want to ride as often as possible.  As I mentioned, the only time in my busy schedule is late evenings.  This posed a difficulty though:  Jeni was adamant that if we were going to ride in the evening, we were going to stay put on designated bike lanes and trails.

J: I¬†had my reasons for insisting. If any of you have ever lived in a city that is unfriendly to bicyclists, you’ll understand my reluctance. I had been shouted at, honked at, and had motorists purposely swerve toward me only to pull away, laughing, at the last moment – all as I crowded as far into the gutter or alongside parked cars as I could. Other times, motorists were just so unused to cyclists that near-misses occurred. In that environment, why would one EVER get on the street – especially at night when visibility is even further reduced?! It was a sign of trust that I allowed Mike to talk me into it.

M: We live on Franklin Avenue, a busy street morning, noon and night. ¬†For us to get to a designated bike lane, we have to maneuver off our own street first. ¬†Fine. ¬†We can do that! ¬†Just a few blocks west we can catch a dedicated bike lane on Blaisdell Avenue. ¬†That will take us to the Midtown Greenway, a bike “freeway” that connects to just about every trail in South Minneapolis. ¬†From there, we can connect to the Chain of Lakes where the trail is not only exclusively for bikes, but also one way. ¬†Thus began our foray into night bike rides! ¬†We could get a short ride in just by circling Lake Calhoun, or if we had enough time, we could also ride around Lake Harriet and Lake of the Isles. ¬†This was quickly our routine, and safe and easy for my reluctant partner to navigate. ¬†Plus, it gave us a few opportunities to “practice” street riding. ¬†We had to obey traffic rules on Blaisdell, lest we get taken out by a right-turning vehicle. ¬†We had to leave the comfort of our dedicated lane so as to make a proper left-hand turn onto 29th Street to get on the Greenway. ¬†As beautiful as the lakes route was to ride, though, it quickly became as boring as it was routine. ¬†But I was patient, and that patience paid off! ¬† Imagine my excitement the night Jeni said “Let’s head downtown instead of to the Greenway.”

J:¬†¬†I won’t lie: that first ride in the dark, guided only by the spot of light offered by my headlamp, was scary. But it was also strangely exhilarating.¬†Like all new experiences, it took a while to develop a comfort level with riding after dark. The night city has a very different look and feel than the day-lit one. On our second circumnavigation of Lake Calhoun, Mike nearly collided with a silver fox, its coat irridescent in the moonlight reflecting off the water, as it streaked past. Where, during the day, you smell suntan lotion and picnic lunches, at night the exotic scents of flowers and rich soil are noticeable. It wasn’t long before I was hooked. And I wanted to experience much more of the city than just the chain of lakes, as wonderful and beautiful as they are. We¬†began to take different routes about the city, revisiting spots we had both seen before, but not at night or by bike. One wild Friday night we headed to the newly opened Dinkytown Greenway and, with road construction and detours, ended up in unexpected neighborhoods. We didn’t have a map, but somehow a bike lane or part of a trail always opened in front of us. In one incident of serendipity, we were in what I would describe as a “sketchy” neighborhood and we hadn’t a clue what to do next. We found a sign for the Greenway, but when we followed it we discovered the trail gated and locked securely. Suddenly, I saw a ¬†woman emerge from a weedy lot about a block ahead of us. I felt certain we would find a path there – what woman walks alone in a random weedy lot at 10:30 p.m. on a Friday night in the city? Sure enough, it was a paved trail, and it took us over the interstate and back downtown…

M: … where we navigated traffic departing the Metrodome after the first pre-season Vikings game. ¬†The streets were clogged with drunk suburbanites, most of whom didn’t have a clue what a bike lane was. ¬†(That’s the first time I heard Jeni actually yell at a motorist!) ¬†Our dedicated lane wasn’t remotely passable, so we zigzagged through the traffic jam and found a cross street out of that mess…and straight towards the Guthrie Theater where the evening’s show had just ended. ¬†Now our nemeses were taxi cabs picking up theater-goers dressed in tuxedos and evening gowns. ¬†Dodging that mess, we headed into the heart of downtown, where out-of-towners apparently assume people riding bicycles on a Friday evening must know their way around. ¬†We were stopped and asked directions several times.

J: And, of course, Mike always knew how to direct them!

M: Anyway, that evening sealed the deal for Jeni.  She had now grown fond of our night bike rides, and had taken it off the trails and into the streets!

J: Ok, so that makes it sound like I went from a Nervous Nelly to an Adrenaline Junkie in one crazy night! The truth is, I had learned some important things about riding in this city. First, with the exception of the out-of-towners, assorted cab drivers and pizza delivery persons, motorists here both understand the laws of sharing the road and they respectfully adhere to them. Second, you develop “eyes” for night riding – essentially, you develop a comfort-level with using the combination of your headlight and ambient light available from the city. Third, most of our night rides end with a stop at our neighborhood Spyhouse Coffee. I love the arc of these rides – the excitement of choosing a new path, riding and spontaneously adjusting as we go, then – whether we’re refreshed or sweating buckets – a coffee and chat before the last blocks home.

M: For me, night riding is about getting outside after a long day at work. ¬†It’s doing something active, and it’s sharing time with a friend. ¬†It’s an opportunity to bond with our city, from a perspective we don’t see from our cars. ¬†And it’s being part of a unique, vibrant community. ¬†We are never alone on our night rides. ¬†Minneapolis cyclists are loyal and dedicated kinfolk and it’s not uncommon to share a greeting or a brief conversation with fellow riders when our paths cross.

J: ¬†Agreed. But some nights, riding is for the pure experience and adventure of it; a celebration of the spirit of biking. It makes me feel the way I did in junior high when I raced my sunshine-yellow ten-speed all over the small town of Hastings just because it was fun, and I could. In adult life, those reasons are rarely considered sufficient for activity – which makes me wonder: why not? We night joyride – because it’s fun and we can. You should join us sometime!

A night ride must: Spyhouse coffee before heading home, photo by Mike
A night ride must: Spyhouse coffee before heading home, photo by Mike