Local Current Blog

Minnesota celebrates Monty Lee Wilkes’s life

Monty Lee Wilkes; via Robert Langhorst on Facebook

Monty Lee Wilkes, born in Sandstone, Minn., passed away on Friday at the age of 54. He was diagnosed with terminal cancer last fall, according to the Star Tribune, and had returned to his parents’ house (in the Kettle River area; about 50 miles southwest of Duluth) for hospice care two weeks ago.

Wilkes was a sound engineering star locally and nationally, working with First Avenue from the 1980s, when he started there with sound company Southern Thunder, until December 8, 2015, a John Lennon tribute and his last First Ave gig. In addition to running sound, he managed Nirvana’s 1991 “Nevermind” tour and taught at McNally Smith. He worked with the Replacements, the Suburbs, the B-52’s, Alice in Chains, the dBs, Scissor Sisters and the Commodores, Lisa Marie Presley, the Go-Go’s, Britney Spears, and many more.

Since Wilkes’s passing, friends and community members have shared stories about his impact on music and their lives. Here are a few examples, and if you’d like to share more, please leave a comment on Facebook or below.

  • Chris Riemenschneider of the Star Tribune wrote a comprehensive story about Wilkes’s life, detailing his accomplishments and personality with quotes from former First Avenue GM Steve McClellan, Replacements ex-manager Peter Jesperson, and more.
  • The Current’s Morning Show concentrated Monday’s Coffee Break on artists Wilkes worked with, including the Suburbs, Babes in Toyland, and Siouxsie and the Banshees.
  • Cyn Collins, of KFAI’s Spin with Cyn, dedicated a two-hour show to Wilkes’s memory, playing music he loved and bands he worked with.
  • According to Riot Fest, “When [Nirvana] told an angry Wilkes they smashed a TV in a hotel room because they couldn’t get the window open to throw it out, the unimpressed tour manager famously replied, ‘A real punk-rock band would’ve thrown it through the window.’”

Other resources about Wilkes and his work:

  • Trouble Boys, a biography Bob Mehr wrote about the Replacements. Mehr interviewed 230 people for the book, and Wilkes figures into the story quite prominently.
  • Lighting & Sound America quotes Soundcraft Studer’s Katy Templeman-Holmes as saying, “Monty is one of the most accomplished front-of-house engineers in the industry.”
  • FOH Online reports that “Wilkes began doing sound for the Leisure Brothers, his dad’s band.”

A celebration of Wilkes’s life will be held from 1 to 5 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 3, in The Elmwood Inn, 2145 Highway 61, Carlton (Atkinson) 55718.