In a mid-size Midwestern city not so different from Minneapolis, a nonprofit music promoter is bridging the distance between Winnipeg and the Twin Cities by helping local artists bring their music to new audiences—not an easy feat when its closest tour cities are either a 20-hour drive away or in another country.
Manitoba Music’s first foray into Minneapolis promises an eclectic mix of Winnipeg acts—including singer-songwriter Greg MacPherson, electro-rock group the Revival, and fresh-faced indie-rock duo Sc Mira—at the 7th St. Entry tonight.
With a lineup of artists representing different genres and experience levels, Manitoba Music hopes to find new listeners and put Winnipeg in people’s minds, program manager Sean McManus said.
Though the city’s music scene is vibrant, outside performing opportunities are sparse and far apart, McManus said. For a $50-$75 membership, the organization offers artists resources like recording grants, seminars, and showcases to help them find success away from home. The company paved the way for bands like the Weakerthans, Propagandhi, the Wailin’ Jennys, and Royal Canoe.
A non-governmental organization that has been around a quarter century, Manitoba Music is largely funded by the Canadian government and foundations. It is one of a bunch of organizations in the country dedicated to giving financial support to their local music industries. Similar companies exist in Australia and smaller European countries where music is focused on as an export, McManus said.
Songsmith Greg MacPherson has been touring since the late nineties and is the most established artist on the lineup. Coming from a do-it-yourself punk background, he said realized only recently how much Manitoba Music cares about the region’s music and building audiences for it elsewhere.
“It’s really helpful to have that infrastructure behind you,” MacPherson said.
In an age when it’s tough to make it as a young musician, the organization is getting new bands like indie-rock duo Sc Mira out of their basements and into higher-profile venues. For a band that has yet to release its first EP (their debut, Waiting Room Baby, is awaiting release), they have already broken out of the Winnipeg scene and are touring Canada and Wisconsin on the way to Minneapolis.
“If you want to be a musician, you should leave your hometown,” frontwoman Sc said.
But it can be difficult to make that happen without money. Manitoba Music helps bands keep gas in their tanks, said Jay Jensen of rock outfit the Revival, which came out of Winnipeg’s underground party scene in 2008. Through a grant from the organization, the band secured funding to record an album with a producer and music mixer—a difficult move for emerging groups.
“They give people a chance to actually be taken seriously,” Jensen said. “They’re pretty persistent about making a name for Manitoba.”
Though Minneapolis is relatively close (a seven-hour drive versus the 20 hours it takes to get to Toronto), the United States-Canada border is a challenge for indie bands, McManus said. It can be tough for artists to get work permits and the application process can slow them down.
The showcase is a way for the bands to break that barrier into a scene that has many similarities. Both Winnipeg and Minneapolis have creative indie and roots communities and are small enough for artists to do as they please, McManus said. Winnipeg’s nonprofit venue West End Cultural Centre echoes the West Bank’s Cedar Cultural Center.
“It seems really obvious that Minneapolis and Manitoba should be more connected,” he said.
Post-punk group Les Jupes were also initially scheduled to join the tour, but they have since disbanded.
Manitoba Music at the 7th St. Entry opens its doors at 7:oo p.m. The event has a $5 cover.
Hailey Colwell is a journalism major at the University of Minnesota and a co-director of Theatre Corrobora.