Local Current Blog

Spider John Koerner to headline Cedar Cultural Center benefit show for victims of New Year’s Day fire

A woman crosses an ice-covered sidewalk near the site of the fire. Photo by Jeffrey Thompson/MPR.

Tragedy struck the West Bank in Minneapolis on New Year’s Day as one of Cedar-Riverside’s historic buildings burst into flames. The fire took the lives of three apartment residents, and also destroyed a grocery store. This Friday, January 24, Augsburg College, the Cedar Cultural Center, and KFAI Radio will host a benefit concert that will bring community members together to support the survivors of this calamity. Doors open at 6:00 p.m. Tickets ($20) are available here; donations to support the families affected are also being accepted here.

The West Bank rightfully prides itself on its exciting, eclectic culture. It is home to college students galore, the largest Somali-American population in the country, and lingering hippie-bohemian vibes from its glory days in the ‘60s. Unbeknownst to many, the building that burned was formerly home to the Electric Fetus record store from 1969 to 1972, and was the home of Bedlam Theatre from the organization’s founding in 1993 until 2006.

The Cedar selected artists to represent a wide range of the area’s thriving music scene. Among the musicians who will take the stage on Friday is St. Paul singer-songwriter Martin Devaney, who was eager to give back to the area that has given so much to him. He recounts fond memories of Willie Murphy’s Monday night performances, attending the final farewell show at the Viking Bar, and releasing his first full-length album during an unexpected March blizzard. “I think it’s one of the only areas in the Twin Cities that has retained its quirkiness,” says Devaney. “I definitely have an affinity for the history of that neighborhood.”

Perhaps the most anticipated act of the night is the legendary Spider John Koerner of Koerner, Ray, and Glover. A mainstay of American folk, Koerner as been strumming his guitar in this region for over four decades. “I’m always excited to play with Spider John just because of the history he brings to the table,” Devaney says. “If you’re going to talk about the West Bank, he and Willie Murphy are the first people that come to mind.”

Aside from the classic roots, Michael Rossetto, the Cedar’s marketing director, emphasizes that it was vital to add talent from the current residents of Cedar-Riverside. “We absolutely wanted to include Somali performers in the show. There are a lot of really talented performers in the neighborhood that many people don’t know about.” Somali artist DJ Go Getta will be laying down beats while dancers from SYAV tag along. Augsburg JIVE will also be collaborating with Dalmar and Hodan of Waayaha Cusub.

Since the show was announced, the lineup has expanded to include the Brass Messengers, Southside Desire, Cactus Blossoms, Phil Heywood, and Jon Rodine.  “It’ll be awesome to see the 40-year history of the West Bank in a couple hours on stage,” Rossetto says. “You never want to [have reason to] host an event like this, but what comes out of a tragic event is hopefully something really beautiful.”

Selena Carlson is currently tackling a double major in journalism and music business at Augsburg College.