Local Current Blog

416 Club Commissions: Cedar Cultural Center presents “super interesting ideas” from Minnesota musicians

Kyle Sobczak. Photo courtesy Cedar Cultural Center.

For the past three years the Cedar Cultural Center has been hosting and organizing a series of performances showcasing local Twin Cities musicians who compose new pieces that cross genre boundaries. The 416 Club is a program, funded by the Jerome Foundation, to support the production of new works by emerging artists.

“Each year the Cedar has relationships with a lot of local artists, because we present 200 or so shows every year,” said Adrienne Dorn, the Cedar’s director of development. “The Jerome Foundation is interested in this because the organization seeks to support emerging artists, and that’s the purpose of [the] 416 [Club].”

The program takes its name from the venue’s address: 416 Cedar Avenue. Participating artists are each given $2,500: $2,000 for the commission, and $500 for production expenses.

This year’s seven participants were selected by a panel of Twin Cities music industry professionals including record label owners, music educators, local musicians, and Cedar staff. This year’s participants are Jackie Beckey, Joe Horton, Sara Pajunen, Kyle Sobczak, Noah Keesecker, Nicolas Carter, and Greg Brosofske. The performances range from a musical memorial for the late University of Minnesota professor John Berryman (Brosofske) to a choreographed ping-pong game that will trigger audio, video, and lighting installations (Keesecker).

“It’s so interesting to see talent that we have here locally,” Dorn said. “In the first year we specifically said, we want you to do a collaboration with another artist, and then in the second and third years we kind of said, ‘Tell us what you would do.’ I was a little bit concerned that wasn’t enough direction, but we got 104 applications this year, and there’s just some super interesting ideas.”

One unique idea came from Kyle Sobczak—known for his guitar work with Sleeping in the Aviary, among other bands—whose piece was inspired by John Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley.

“I just sort of combined some things that I had been wanting to do.” Sobzak said. “I had been in a lot of touring bands and hadn’t done that in a while, so I was really craving traveling around and living and sleeping in strange places. I’m also not very good at talking to strangers, so I liked the element of doing something that would be challenging or out of my comfort zone.”

Sobczak traveled to Duluth, Superior, Rochester, La Crosse, Hastings, and Grand Rapids, among other places, to find and interview local residents. Those interviews became the basis of his new music.

“Essentially I’d go to the main street and using some element of chance I’d walk around and find somebody and say, ‘Hello, I’m Kyle. I have a commission from the Twin Cities to write songs about people. Do you have any stories you’ve ever wanted turned into a song?’ Some people would say yes and some no, and I would just do that.”

The end result is songs based on the stories Sobczak heard from a cross-section of individuals from surrounding Minnesota and Wisconsin towns.

“I’d say it’s pretty different from music that I’ve made before.” Sobzak said. “It’s more lyrically oriented, and the instrumentation is more minimalist acoustic guitar, drums, and keyboard, just a lot more minimalist. My other stuff usually has tons of instruments going on and has some type of goofiness too, and this doesn’t have that, really.”

Sobczak admits that it was a bit of a challenge to balance the creative process with a hard deadline.

“The stress of the grant was something that I’d never experienced before,” Sobczak said. “You have to perform in this concrete, finite way but at the same time being creative requires some type of free spirit—not criticizing, just creating something. So it’s like balancing the creative process with the concrete deadline. It was a challenge to get those two things to work together.”

Another piece commissioned this year comes from Joe Horton of No Bird Sing. Created with fellow rapper Kristoff Krane as well as with dancers Blake Nellis and Taja Will, Horton’s piece—according to the Cedar’s website—is inspired by “ancient rituals, yoga, and chanting.”

“I’ve been improvising music for a while,” Horton said. “It’s something that I’m really passionate about, but it normally doesn’t get supported the same way that rehearsed music does. It’s just not that feasible to tour as a project and try to make money off of it in like a bar scene.”

The commission allows artists the freedom to draw their inspiration from anything they see fit, as long as they are able to compose at least 30 minutes of new material.

“A lot of people have said that they’ve been sitting on ideas for awhile but just didn’t have the means to make them possible,” said Sage Dahlen, artistic director of the Cedar. “Sometimes they’ve been thinking about it for years, and sometimes they just come up with an idea because the opportunity presents itself.

“If this can continue to be a springboard for transformation that would be really cool,” Dahl continued. “I would like the series to continue to make these kinds of performances possible.”

This year’s 416 Club Commissions will be presented on successive Monday evenings beginning January 13 and running through February 25. Tickets and additional information are available at thecedar.org. 416 Club artists will also be featured on the Current’s Local Show this Sunday, January 12 (6:00-8:00 p.m.).

Kaitlin Lokowich is a born-and-raised Minnesotan, currently finishing a double major in journalism and communications at the University of Minnesota—Duluth. Apart from writing she is an aspiring world traveler, Seinfeld lover, and pizza enthusiast.