As the days inch shorter and temperatures begin to drop, Minnesotans settle in for the inevitable yearly freeze. Just as locals can expect a cold spell in the winter months, the local music scene has come to expect a particular seasonal trend — winter residencies.
A residency usually involves an artist playing a weekly show at a venue for one month. Although the concept isn’t unique to the Twin Cities, in recent years, local venues have been steadily increasing their number of residencies, especially in the winter months. Last year we noticed the trend and took a dive into five residencies of January 2018. This year, we followed up with local musicians and industry folks in search of some answers — just why are residencies so popular, and who is playing them?
The Turf Club is a popular spot for residencies; this year the venue hosts Dead Man Winter, All Tomorrow’s Petty, Charlie Parr, the Cactus Blossoms, and Andrew Broder, all within the short span of December through January.
Icehouse is another hotspot for Minnesota artists seeking to land a coveted residency slot. Diane Miller began working as a music booker at Icehouse this fall. “One of the number-one questions that I’ve gotten from musicians in general about getting booked is, ‘How do you get a residency?'” she says. “I think the interest for it is very high among artists.”
If they are so highly sought-after, how does an artist land a residency? “For one, you have to have some pull among the community,” says Miller. “For Icehouse, if we’re going to book an artist, we want to know that the artist will invest time into making sure every night is going to bring out people and be interesting. Other smaller factors are: Do they attend other shows that we book here? How well-rounded are they? Are they well-acquainted with other musicians in the community? But the biggest thing is: Are you an established artist? Are you dedicated?”
The Cactus Blossoms are a band that is certainly well-established in playing residencies. Brothers Page Burkum and Jack Torrey began playing weekly shows at the Turf Club in 2011. The pair noticed that the club was closed on Mondays, so they pitched the idea of hosting weekly concerts. In years since, the Cactus Blossoms have continued to hold Monday night residencies on their home Turf. They are continuing the tradition with a January 2019 residency featuring guests Frankie Lee, Alpha Consumer, Under Violet, and Zoo Animal.
After performing at the same venue for almost a decade, the Cactus Blossoms can count on seeing some familiar faces. “There are people who have come to the Turf Club way back then who still come out and have seen us through the years,” Page Burkum says. “That’s a fun, special thing for us — that it’s really easy for people to find out about the weekly shows and make it down to one of them if they want to, and see a lot of faces in the crowd,” he continued, calling the Cactus Blossoms residencies a “love fest.”
A defining aspect of a residency is its routine. Compared to the constant shuffle of tour, or even playing different venues in town, a residency can provide a premeditated sense of calm: of playing the same night each week, in the same venue, on the same stage.
“That routine, I think, can make the creative part more fun,” Jack Torrey says. “You kind of know where you’re going and how to load into that building — you know what your night will be like if you’re doing it every week for a while, so then you can focus on the music you’re playing and not so much where you’re going.”
Having that sense of routine can also encourage artists to take more risks musically, by switching up their sound or debuting new material. “When you’re in such a comfortable situation, I think it opens up the doors to being a little more experimental or off-the-wall. It just lends itself to a different approach,” Burkum says. “With that being said, we kind of just play the songs that we play,” Torrey adds. “We’re not exactly an experimental band who’s throwing out all the rules each night.”
One group more likely to throw away the rules is local music collective Kremblems, who are hosting a residency at Icehouse this December. Kremblems operates as a collective and independent record label, divided into four main projects: Lucid VanGuard, 26 BATS!, Warren Thomas Fenzi, and Christian Wheeler.
The format of a month-long residency seems catered to a collective like Kremblems. With one night for each of the group’s four bands, the month-long residency highlights the individual flavor of each group, as well as their collective energy. “We knew that it worked really well just because there are four bands, and each band is a different style, so we could just individually reach out to the artists we want to have play with us,” says Bailey Cogan, who leads 26 BATS!
Cogan explains that unlike the typical show protocol, when hosting a residency, artists typically have the responsibility of booking all of the opening acts. Giving artists the opportunity to curate their own shows means that residencies often have pairings of artists who may not otherwise appear on the same bill. Having artists book their own support also means that they are able to give those opening slots to artists who don’t have as much exposure and might go overlooked by talent buyers.
Looking at residencies from the past few years, the names on the rosters typically only represent a sliver of the local music scene, both in terms of genre and demographic. Giving artists the opportunity to book their own opening acts can be one way to include a wider variety of races, genders, and abilities.
“When I go out — if I go out to see shows — it’s only for queer events, or events that include people of color,” says Cogan. “But that’s just because those are the shows I want to support and the shows I want to go to. I don’t know if I’m at all the majority; I don’t think I am. I think I’ve found a really special part of the scene.”
Cogan adds that by booking their own openers, they can curate the kinds of spaces that they want to see. “It allows me, as someone who really wants inclusion and change, to be surrounded by a good energy [and] to book people with those similar beliefs as me,” they say.
One question still remains: Why winter? While the concept of a residency isn’t bound to any one season, in the Twin Cities, the phenomenon has been largely confined to the winter months. The Cactus Blossoms speculate that touring acts may shy away from the Minnesota chill. “January and February aren’t necessarily the months that California bands want to travel up to the Twin Cities,” Torrey says.
For local artists, booking winter residencies may also provide some security against unsafe travel conditions. “If we’re thinking about planning a tour we’ll say, ‘Let’s wait until after January,’ or something, because we don’t really want to find out what the roads will be like,” says Burkum. “You just can’t predict it when you’re booking.”
Either way, it doesn’t look like the residency trend is dying down any time soon. Here’s a list-in-progress of the Minnesota residencies going on this winter:
Dead Man Winter @ Turf Club – Dec.
All Tomorrow’s Petty @ Turf Club – Dec.
Kremblems @ Icehouse – Dec.
Region 2 Region @ Nomad World Pub – Dec.
Jack Klatt @ Icehouse – Jan.
Charlie Parr @ Turf Club – Jan.
Cactus Blossoms @ Turf Club – Jan.
Andrew Broder @ Turf Club – Jan.
Mary Bue @ Aster Cafe – Jan.
Becky Kapell and The Fat Six @ Hook & Ladder – second Wednesdays Feb.-May
Plus several TBA at Icehouse in February.
Colleen Cowie runs the blog Pass The Mic.