Since opening in 2015, Winona’s Mid West Music Store has emerged as a premier destination for live music, offering truly unique concert experiences; Gaelynn Lea’s sold-out performance on Friday, Jan. 13 was no exception.
The Duluth native and 2016 NPR Tiny Desk Contest winner returned to play the intimate 80-person venue for a second time. “I love this place,” said Lea enthusiastically. “Sam and Jacob are so passionate and have created such a cozy and magical space!”
Sam Brown, the owner of the store and founder of the Mid West Music Fest, welcomed concertgoers as they arrived, greeting most by their first name. “There’s something to be said about the people and the store,” he said. “Our hearts are in the store — they pulse with the artwork on the walls and with the CDs in the racks. The team of people we’ve built is crucial to our success.”
One of those people is Jacob Grippen, the chair of the Mid West Music Fest Board of Directors. Grippen, who happily ushered people in to the tune of Charlie Parr’s “Cheap Wine,” is responsible for booking artists at the store Parr, the Duluth acoustic singer-songwriter, played the store on Jan. 19 as part of the Signature Series — a brand new series where fans will have the opportunity to mingle with performers before shows.
Parr’s inaugural performance kicked off the first quarter of the series. Dosh will follow him Feb. 25, and Dave Simonett (Trampled By Turtles, Dead Man Winter) will round out the first quarter of the series on March 7.
As the night neared 7 p.m., the crowd of people filled the entire front room of the dimly-lit store. Making their way past the store’s merchandise — including a signed Haley Bonar CD, Mike Munson t-shirts, regional artwork, and hand-crafted goods — the crowd anxiously marched towards the back room to see Lea play her fiddle.
Upon entrance, a laminated sign above the door read: “This is an alcohol-free event,” another defining characteristic of the all-ages venue.
Lea and I talked about that after the show. Without knocking venues that serve alcohol, she talked about how having a substance-free space can create a heightened, authentic connection between performers and audience members.
Captivating the audience’s attention at all times, Lea kept concertgoers on the edge of their red-cushioned chairs, crying one minute and laughing the next. One particularly powerful moment was when she read a poem about self-acceptance — loving yourself for who you are and letting go of personal insecurities and anxieties.
Lea ended her set by sharing a Scottish parting song, and by acknowledging a fan who nodded her head, confirming its origin.
“The people here are so genuine,” said Lea after the show. She took time to talk with everyone who wanted to converse with her. “As performers, we make a point to come to Winona; the people really appreciate and support music.”
The Mid West Music Store is a testament of the love and support the community shares for of the Arts, and for music lovers, it’s a dream come true — or at least a venue most worthy of a drive down Hgwy. 61.
Writer Michael Flicek and photographer Kortney Wobbe are both students at St. Mary’s University of Minnesota.