Videographer Tyler Aug started posting to YouTube as the Local Experiment in 2014. Each episode (there were 75 in total) follows an artist, musician, business owner or other creative type and blends interviews with B-roll footage of southeastern Minnesota.
“I just wanted to have my own version of MTV, but before MTV went to sh*t,” Aug explained. “When it was just music videos and interviews with all the cool kids in town. That’s how that whole vision started.”
Five years later, the Local Experiment has developed into something much larger, while keeping its independent spirit, and mission of uplifting the Med City’s thriving arts and culture community. The Rochester Posse (including Aug on video, Rosei Skipper on social media, and Mike Terrill on audio) facilitates social-media-based event promotion, a weekly concert series, and on-the-ground coverage of all things music and art in Rochester, Minnesota. It’s the “one stop shop” for things to do in the area explained Rochester-based musician Nick Novotny – a “hub point,” “support system,” and “fan section.”
Aug is a native of Rochester, and spent time living in Chicago, Los Angeles, and the Twin Cities, where he earned a degree in film studies and media production from the University of Minnesota. After working on several commercial productions including “an awful Prince doc that got sold to the Real Channel,” he returned to his home town to catch his breath. It was in Rochester that he learned essential production skills outside of higher education: how to build community and connection, and how to make your own opportunities.
Since Rochester’s main visitor draw is the Mayo Clinic, and so much of what the institution is up to isn’t publicly visible, Aug saw a gap in how the city was being represented to residents and outsiders. “If you go on YouTube [and search] Rochester you’re seeing these outdated videos about shopping,” Aug explained. “You need to show that all off in the best way because that’s going to be part of the record of this city.”
Rosei Skipper, the Posse’s social media guru and event organizer, was a resident at Mayo for five years before undergoing a major career shift. For Skipper, working at Mayo was isolating. It was only when she had the time to step out into the Rochester community that she felt reconnected with her passions — community and music — was able to follow them. She says that because Mayo is the the area’s main employer, its intense work ethic seeps into the rest of the city.
“I think a lot of Mayo doctors — they just want to get out of town when they want to relax,” Skipper said. “But I think a big part of that is not knowing that there are things to do. When I worked at Mayo, I didn’t know a single person who wasn’t a Mayo employee. That was [me] just being really ignorant to the fact that I lived in an actual city.” On the flip side, Skipper says Rochester has a lot of potential to be an exciting place by nature of its transient population; and cheap prices and less traffic make seeing shows easy.
Additionally, those who visit Mayo aren’t occupied by the clinic all the time, and Skipper says the arts can provide a welcome distraction for patients. During her residency, she worked with occupational therapists to facilitate exercises with patients that involved doing joy-filled things. “I remember thinking ‘this is ridiculous, what’s the point of fun?’ Now I think ‘Oh my gosh, of course. What else are we working so hard for?”
Don’t think, just do
On a good week, Skipper says she’s adding every single event that goes on in the area to the Posse’s social media channels. But promoting events is one thing, and the Posse makes an effort to physically show their support for artists and musicians by showing up wherever they can. In 2018, they orchestrated independent coverage of Winona’s Mid West Music Fest — interviewing artists, taping sets, and editing 30 hours of footage into six minutes for upload the following day. The quick work got the attention of Rochester’s Riverside Concert series, and the Posse now runs their social media and makes video promotions for that summer series.
“I don’t have the best DSLR, but I put a lot into the work that we’re doing,” Aug explains. “Even if we’re getting paid to cover certain people’s things, I always believe in being able to support anybody who needs support.” Aug is no stranger to festival coverage. During his early years of moving back to Minnesota, he drove down to Lollapalooza annually and called Mark Wheat in The Current’s studio to report back. Wheat began referring to Current fans around greater Minnesota as “posses,” and the name stuck in Rochester.
Last year, members of the Posse began the first intimate weekly concert series in Rochester — the Rochester Art Heads — which puts on shows every Tuesday night at a local paint and wine bar. The experience has allowed the Posse to connect with both area-based and traveling musicians, and filled a gap in live music venues in Rochester — while the Civic Center seats 7,200, the step below that for musicians is typically breweries and bars, where attendees generally aren’t focused on the music. Skipper says the organizers also place emphasis on booking performers outside of backgrounds and genres that are well-represented at larger music events in the area. Sometimes visual artists and musicians are paired together to create an entirely unique performance experience.
Even if a night only draws a few, Skipper said she enjoys the ‘sitting around the camp fire’ vibes Tuesday nights invoke for her and other attendees. For those looking to connect with a community, the series is a way to consistently gain human interaction, or to simply sit in the presence of others. “It’s not like a bar where you have to talk to someone; there’s music to listen to, things to look at,” she said. “That’s how I can handle doing a bunch of stuff on social media; I really see it as a tool to get people together in person.”
Novotny is a drummer in Rochester-based group Loud Mouth Brass. The band held their album release show at a Tuesday night event. “As a new group in town, it was really great to have that kind of support right away,” he said.
When Novotny was a touring musician based in Winona, he said Rochester was not a priority stop on the way to Duluth or the Twin Cities, but there’s been a sea change within the last couple of years. “Within town here people are willing to go to shows and spend money on shows… the Posse is a really good product of that mentality shift within town.”
“There’s all these groups that are doing so much more and are able to do so,” he explained, citing the Rochester Jazz Fest and indie music promotion platform My Town My Music as Posse compatriots. “Now it’s a completely different experience as somebody who plays music or tries to put on shows.”
Last March, Novotny founded a music festival of his own to fill the “gap in the year” between Rochester Jazz Fest and ROCKchester. The Rochester Thaw was held at a new brewery in downtown Rochester. The event had good attendance and featured nine regionally-based bands. Novotny is already making plans for next year’s event — which will be even bigger and feature two stages and at least eleven acts.
In Aug’s words: “You have to create a scene if you want a scene. You can’t just wait around for it.”