Starting next Thursday, April 19, thousands of music fans will flock to Winona, Minnesota for the third annual Mid West Music Fest. Much like the South By Southwest music festival hosted in Austin, Texas, each year, the MWMF sprawls across the downtown area and into 15 different venues with a schedule so bountiful and busy that it has its own mobile app.
“We’re going to have a map and schedule for people to take with them as well, otherwise you can just blissfully walk through downtown Winona and catch all kinds of music from all different walks of life,” says organizer Sam Brown, who grew up in Red Wing and spent years working on a music festival called Wulapalooza while attending college at Willamette University in Oregon. A gig with AmeriCorps eventually brought him back to the region, and he started the new festival as a fundraising project for AmeriCorps to benefit Winona’s Head Start program.
MWMF started as a 77-band, 10-venue festival in 2010. The attendance spiked 40 percent between 2010 and 2011, and is expected to grow even more this year. Brown says he’s found lots to love about the Winona music scene, which is situated about 120 miles southeast of Minneapolis, and has uncovered a wide array of musical talent in the region since founding the festival.
“There’s quite a bit of local talent,” he enthuses. “When I first started planning the festival back in 2010, that was one thing I was most concerned about because I had just moved to town. I’m a musician myself and had played a few shows in Winona, so I had started to get to know people, but when I first put out the application I was very surprised to see how many acts there were in this whole region down here. It’s a pretty diverse community, as far as music goes. Everything from older guys who’ve been playing for 15 to 20 years to younger college and just-out-of-college bands that stick together. That was one thing I was pleasantly surprised about. We had over 200 apps in the first year, and I would say about 30-40 percent came from Winona and La Crosse area.”
Many of those regional acts will be featured in the lineup this year alongside recognizable Twin Cities names like Toki Wright, Caroline Smith and the Good Night Sleeps, and The 4onthefloor, and headliners Greg Brown and Kimya Dawson. In total, 125 acts are scheduled to perform.
“Ed’s No Name Bar, which is pretty much the cornerstone of the music scene down here, is celebrating their five-year anniversary, so we’re putting together a block party on Friday with Charlie Parr, The Feelin’, Chris Koza, and Beet Root Stew,” Brown says. “They’re one of the bands that have been around Winona for quite a while and continue to do really well down here,” he says of the latter act, who also occasionally plays in Minneapolis.
Brown also notes that it may be the last time for quite a while that people can see Tapes ‘n Tapes live; the band just told La Crosse magazine Second Supper that they will be taking a break from touring for at least a year after their MWMF set.
In addition to the music, festival attendees can participate in a disc golf tournament, an “instrument petting zoo” for kids, and a musicians’ summit hosted by the Minnesota Music Coalition. The last day of the festival, Saturday, April 21, will coincide with the City of Winona’s Earth Day celebration, and proceeds from all three days of festivities will go to Minnesota charities like Vega Productions, Coats for Character, Kids ID, and the Winona Symphony Orchestra. Festival wristbands will be available for pick-up at the Great River Shakespeare box office on 3rd and Lafayette and are available at MidWestMusicFest.org.