Compared to other festivals, there’s something different about the interactions you have with people at the Mid West Music Fest (MWMF). Whether you’re posting up next to someone at a stage or just passing them on the street, people greet you with a smile — as though you might be a friend, because you probably are.
This past weekend, the festival hit the bluff country of southeast Minnesota for the ninth year, bringing dozens of regional artists to venues across Winona for another unforgettable experience. Organizers, artists, and audiences were relieved to find the weather sunny and clear — after the festival’s first leg, in La Crosse, Wisconsin, was pummeled with an epic springtime blizzard.
During their sets, bands would cite the number of years they’d played the festival like badges of honor. Artists love to come back to MWMF, which is starting to feel like an annual family reunion. They’d play one stage, then stroll over to another to catch a set by friends, or to see a band they’d been hoping to experience live. Attendees would trade hugs and highlights, catching up and clinking glasses.
One of the reasons Winona works so well for a music festival is that there are such a variety of venues within strolling distance; between sets, you mosey down Main Street or along one of downtown’s commercial corridors, looking up at Sugar Loaf.
One venue, Island City Brewing, is right down by the Mississippi River levee: while I stood watching singer-songwriter Rachel Hanson play a country-tinged set at the brewery, I chatted with Emma Deaner — of Superior Siren, who had played a sublime set earlier that evening — and the two of us looked out the window to see the lights of a riverboat passing by. It was A Moment, one of many.
The city’s Masonic Temple was a venue once again, just days before shutting down for renovations that will make the structure more accessible and concert-ready. This year, it retained all the character MWMF fans have come to expect: a wide carpeted floor, a balcony that affords a sweeping view of the organ pipes flanking the stage, innumerable nooks and crannies that you stumble into trying to find the bathroom or the bar.
Among the sets I saw at the temple was a pristine solo performance by the socially conscious singer-songwriter Humbird, stepping in after a scheduled Thomas Abban appearance fell through. Reina del Cid performed a typically warm set to open that venue on Friday night, and the party ended Saturday night with an outrageously fun set by the brilliantly costumed GGOOLLDD — who enlisted The Current’s Jill Riley and Brian Oake to help them festoon the stage with a quartet of plastic flamingos.
Singer Margaret Butler apologized for the fact that her gold sneakers didn’t light up; she was selling an old pair to raise money for new kicks. “What size?” called a woman from the front row. “I’m a nine!” Fist pump. Sold.
Meanwhile, Ed’s No Name Bar was hosting a raucous “karaoke” cover jam by local supergroup A Little Too Short To Be Stormtroopers. As always, Ed’s was home to some of the weekend’s most joyfully celebrated sets, including hometown heroes like Sleeping Jesus and the Ultrasounds as well as “Minnesota Girls” barn-burners the Shackletons.
Eau Claire’s Waldemar brought a taste of cinematic storytelling to Ed’s, while Matt Monsoor built a sonic tower of loops recorded from a motley collection of keyboards, percussion instruments, an accordion, and…well, toys. Bad Bad Hats played both Ed’s and Island City, playing shimmering versions of songs from their debut Psychic Reader and previewing material from their next record.
Buzz at the friendly Eagles Club surrounded the guitar gods of Tabah (Friday night) and the chooglin’ Dirt Train on Saturday. Meanwhile, the streets of the city reverberated with music blasting from the tent stage, where the lineup ranged from the blistering blues of Black Eyed Snakes to the effervescent R&B of Lady Lark to a singalong Neil Young tribute.
Next year will mean double digits for the fest founded by Sam Brown and now run by a busy board of directors. Organizers are musing on ways to make the tenth annual MWMF a particularly special occasion; that might include high-profile headliners, or ways to plan for the kind of spontaneous collaborative jams that broke out at the snowed-in La Crosse weekend this year. One thing organizers I spoke with said they can promise: it’ll be another great time, and they will announce the lineup.
Afflatus at Island City Brewing
Loud Sun at Ed’s No Name Bar
Reina del Cid at the Masonic Temple
Loud Mouth Brass at the Eagles Club
The Shackletons at Ed’s No Name Bar
Charlie Parr at the Masonic Temple
PHO at Island City Brewing
Sleeping Jesus at Ed’s No Name Bar
Black Widows at Ed’s No Name Bar
Bad Bad Hats at Ed’s No Name Bar
Jaedyn James and the Hunger at the Tent Stage
Karate Chop, Silence at the Tent Stage
Superior Siren at Island City Brewing
Tabby at Treedome Studio (unofficial show)
General B and the Wiz at the Masonic Temple
Topo/Port. of the Chemist at the Masonic Temple
Ignite at the Tent Stage
The People Brothers Band at the Tent Stage
A Little Too Short To Be Stormtroopers at Ed’s No Name Bar