Hudson Wisconsin Nightlife

Fly like an eagle, hundreds saw it unfold in memory of ‘amazing four’

August 11th, 2015


A fly-over, circular fashion, took place at the memorial service for Dan Ortner, the pilot in a plane crash that tragically killed himself and three others, two of them children. Flight seemed to be the theme of that Monday night, as when the crowd gathered outside of St. Patrick’s Catholic Church to see the jet go, they first were fittingly buzzed by a wayward sparrow that flew just a few feet over their heads across the length of the assembly.
Later that evening, when I was leaving the house to go to a block-party turned extension-of-the-memorial that took place in the Cherry Circle cul de sac, a small bat buzzed me. Still later, dozens of balloons were let go in Dan’s honor, some big and some small, but they all eventually looked just like pins of light as they rose in the night sky. The cul de sac portion of the night was almost as well attended as the earlier service, with enough people there to fill several 747s.
Also dying in the crash were Eric Larson and boys Matthew and Michael; the memorial for them was held at the church three days earlier. The memory of the four has lived on, for most cases for over a week, in the signs on places that included haunts where the adults used to hang out. At the Village Inn in North Hudson, where Eric’s wife works as a bookkeeper, the sign simply says “Community Heartbreak.” Across the street at Kozy Korner, the moniker on the marquee read, “Word Can’t Express How Heartbroken We Are.” At Season’s Tavern in North Hudson, the well wishes were a simple “With You.” On Agave’s sign, there was a recitation of the first names, and at The Nova was the longest of the messages, starting with “Our Community Will Stand With These 4 Amazing Men ….”
– Planes and Automobiles, but no Trains. There have been some interesting former cop cars out on the street at night, as law enforcement meets up with the public in a different than usual way.
A State Patrol vehicle parked locally had only its front half still painted in the traditional blue colors and shield logo on the door. The back half had been turned into the yellow color and decals that go with, of all things, a taxi cab. Granted, this was last month, but at that time there were still some lights across the top of the vehicle, and on top of them was a “taxi” globe.
Oddly, in the same neck of the woods, one can still see parked late on the street what appears to be a former police cruiser, painted black except for some white doors, and turned into a private vehicle.
And then at Historic Casanova Liquors, things got even more historic, with a police vehicle parked in the lot that appeared to be from the Capone era — you’d think that was the now resort that’s Up North where he used to hole up. This car had only a small single light that used to flash, and it was set off to the side on top of the roof.

Skies and dance floors blackened, so bring on drinks by candlelight

July 27th, 2015

For the third time since year 2000, Hudson nightclubs have successfully met the challenges that go with doing business when the power goes out during the peak time on a weekend.
Sometimes, one thing ebbs while another stays on, depending on just where there’s something like a lightning strike and what area on the electric grid is effected. For instance, in the latest occurrence, the dance floor darkened at Dick’s Bar and Grill, but somehow the disco ball kept spinning and flashing. I guess that truly is “Dancing in the Dark.” Sort of.
Likewise at Pudge’s, where only one of the two main rooms went black, but a few signs touting specific drink brands remained functioning. Hence the rumors of a lightning strike nearby — and just where and how far away — kept flowing just like the tap beer.
Up the street, city crews responded quickly and put up stop signs where traffic signals had failed. After last call came and went, but rains still threatened, a motorcycle remained parked largely alone on the main drag. Wouldn’t want to be that guy (or gal). As for my car, there was a big branch tucked under the trunk, which promptly blew away after I nudged it into the street. This same wind earlier had effected a daytime concert outdoors in North Hudson, where much of the sheet music suddenly blew away. As it was, just after bar time, a friend from Hastings, Minn. said that he watched the “fireworks,” read lightning flashes, for a while from Lakefront Park near the dike road sign until the storm passed, so he would not have to drive home in it.
On one of the earlier instances, the ways bars kept the drinks flowing had even included making flaming rum drinks, all the better to see you by.
One women even came back into Pudge’s, after having left minutes earlier, and jokingly asked if anyone had “seen” the jacket she’d left behind. Staffers were able to find it, thanks in part to some candlelight that was well placed, as their just weren’t enough wicks to go around. Accurately tipping and paying for drinks proved a little more challenging, except when it involved the aformentioned rum drinks. Think of Captain Morgan, God forbid, as the guardian of your treasure.
Alas, the electricity came on right before closing time, and since clocks had been off for roughly two hours, but not on the head, patrons were in a somewhat of a quandry about just how long they had to finish that last drink.

Tavern porches are added left and right to the tried and true, and that’s not trivia

July 11th, 2015


The deck at Dick’s leads the way as far as finishing projects, and you could do worse than to bet on “Duh” and “Dodo” when dealing with trivia answers.
– The three major renovation projects at downtown bars, (more or less centered on porches), at Pudges and Dick’s — which finished first well before The Fourth — and also the Moose, continued forward as summer has started to beckon.
Pudge’s has its huge and I must say stellar streetside patio of tables, firepots and flora reduced in size but not in style, in part because of city regulations, as a large-scale, multi-faceted and multi-floored remodeling project continues. The new Dick’s patio room on the east end is done, keeping the best of the old as far as design, but shoring things up a bit in Room Four and making it more roomy, at least as far as appearance seems, and adding to the brick look. And at The Moose, the much-talked-about — including at length at city government meetings — and large deck that is on a second level and faces the St. Croix River now has more than half its flooring laid down.
(In related happenings, the latter venue around Memorial Day weekend had its patio windows that link to the inside open for the first time of the season. Is it fair to say that with the often cold temps around that time of year, it got a somewhat cool reception? Even if it did, that amenity still contributed to the place being hopping at times earlier in June, depending on the weather, and especially at many later hours when Hudson Booster Days bands let out).
And sometimes you need to let it out with a mind game, even if it requires a moniker. Success at TV trivia at Buffalo Wild Wings also can be foreshadowed by the code names chosen by the participants. A case in point most recently is the winning ways of “shark,” who just might also be a successful contestant on the reality show Shark Tank.
A man who goes by the simple moniker, “Duh,” gained mention on the leader board for having a temporary score of well, you guessed it, zero, although he redeemed himself later. (Well duh, he better). However, one of the more successful players, ranking as many as nine times in the top 10 at one point, goes by the name of “Dodo,” which perhaps goes to show that the flightless bird is not extinct after all. A bit later, there was “Bobo,” not Dodo, who got a question right about the number of ridges on the diameter of a dime. Apparently he has time to count such things when not playing BuzzTime.
And of course their is the player named “Badazz,” which is possibly intentionally misspelled because after all, this is a family establishment.

With nine decades-diverse bands, Booster Days will strike a chord with everyone

June 30th, 2015

Hudson Booster Days has a little bit of every sound, and is certain to strike a chord with virtually every listener, in its diverse nine-band musical lineup that will be the heart and soul of the annual festival.
The fest’s music, from the rock of the ’80s to many other genres, runs from July 2-4 at the Lakefront Park band shell.
These are bios, in order of appearance, of the Booster Days acts:
– Jeff Loven bills himself as Minnesota’s top “one man band” and has backed up that claim by winning two prominent international guitar competitions, inserting extra fills into even the toughest solos, a skill that gained him an almost successful bid by fans to get him on stage with Eddie Van Halen. He also has a voice that seems to match up with every tune he sings. Loven said that for this show, what the heck, he might even continue his practice of giving away classic Matchbox cars as part of his trademark name-that-tune contest. But don’t expect his usual guest appearances by other singers,
– Devon Worley is a Minneapolis country singer in her late teens with a huge voice and stage presence, and even auditioned for The Voice. She is backed by veteran musicians in this seven-or-so piece band who have had connections with some big names, from widely differing genres. It only took until the band’s second album, which came out a while back, to solidify their reputation as one of the Midwest’s top country acts.
– 23rd Hour, a female rock and soul duo, says online that they are “authentically fearless” in their “naked vulnerability of sound and soul” that lets them leave everything on stage and move beyond being a multi-member band and just being a standard acoustic duo.
– Alive, taking time away from their Moondance Jam gig, does as a tribute band what is called the “entire catalog” of Pearl Jam hit songs and re-creates the in-concert experience of the seminal grunge-era band.
– A Rock Brigade web site urges that when listeners are not seeing them perform, be sure to check out Arch Allies. Which makes sense, since they play back-to-back at Booster Days. Rock Brigade has some of the same tunes, and their 64-song set list features diverse numbers such as Everybody Wants You, Immigrant Song and even a couple from Lita Ford. And harkening back to the days when Tommy Tutone used to perform in Hudson, there is also on the list his classic, Jenny 867-5309.
– Arch Allies, a tribute band to Styx, Journey and REO Speedwagon, has a history of playing prominent local festivals around St. Croix County. They are one of the Friday bands that pay tribute to the Old School ’80s rock scene, complete with the soaring guitar riffs and vocals, and of course the big hair! The band members invite listeners to triple their pleasure with the trio of bands covered, as they from an early age have been honing their skills, which have been on display in gigs not only across the country, but all of North America.
– The Armadillo Jump band will play their cranked up, rockin’ blues and the band shell will be alive with Texas-style attitude, according to the band’s web site. The five-piece group is a mix of men and women even features a sax player.
– Ponzi Scheme cranks out tunes from the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s and vows to “bring back horn section” music with a six-piece lineup that includes two keyboardists, and trumpet and trombone.
– Uncle Chunk has long been regarded as one of the best cover bands coming out of the Twin Cities area, and they have a prominent and storied history of playing in Hudson, usually drawing a big crowd. They give quality, spot-on treatment to lots of broadbased pop, mainstream rock and country songs, and churn out hit after hit, redefining what a cover band should be about. Uncle Chunk has on YouTube their video renditions of Enter Sandman by Metallica and Rockstar by Nickelback.
Sponsors include the Hudson Boosters (two bands), Uncle Mike’s Em Pour E-Yum, Luther Hudson Chevrolet GMC (one of the headliner bands), Chad Carlson as a financial representative, Hudson Ford (a headliner), Pita Pit, Family Fresh Market, and Croix Gear and Machining (a headliner). There is no cover charge for any of the bands, including headliners.
For a day-by-day breakdown of the festival lineup:
– On Thursday, it’s the guitar wizardry of Jeff Loven from 5:30-8:15 p.m., and teen country phenom Devon Worley from 9 p.m.-12:30 a.m.
– Friday brings more of the rock sound with Alive, a Pearl Jam tribute band, playing from 3:30-6 p.m., Rock Brigade from 6:30-8:30 p.m., and Arch Allies as a three-act tribute band from 9 p.m.-12:30 a.m. Opening up on Friday is 23rd Hour, a female duo, from 1-3 p.m.
– On Saturday, it’s a bit more diverse, with Armadillo Jump from 1:30-4:30 p.m., Ponzi Scheme from 5:15-8:15 p.m., and popular mainstream rockers Uncle Chunk from 9 p.m.-12:30 a.m.

‘Watch ‘em come, watch ‘em go.’ One thing in common, serving fiery ‘Flamin’ Moe’

June 8th, 2015

In the bar biz, servers often switch the places where they work, for various reasons that include more lucrative financial possibilities, often bringing their clientele of regulars with them. However, in recent weeks there have been more comings and goings of longtime servers than usual, in part because new bars on the scene gain traction.

For example, there have been four such additions at the Village Inn in North Hudson recently. Bartenders Darren and Tricia have come over from the former Coach’s in River Falls, which is now under new management, and Devon traded her gig in Vegas for The Village in part to escape the high pressure lifestyle. Amanda has come from a long stint at Dick’s Bar and Grill to take over some management responsibilities at The Village. One of the other stalwarts at Dick’s for as long as anyone can remember, Terri, also made such a switch, going over to the also relatively new Stone Tap.

The addition of the Smilin’ Moose had also brought changes, as a number of people passed up their then-current gigs to go work there, and two of them later moved to Pudge’s to shore up some of their management end. And when the Moose opened, some of the longtime employees at its predecessor, Bob Smith’s Sports Club, moved along to the Willow River Inn in Burkhardt.
(Among the more compelling sidelights with the Smilin’ Moose staff was a bartender who also plays in a mostly punk band that had a combo of members who were either Christian, atheist or agnostic, which made for some interesting, if not lyrically challenging songwriting).
Jenelle, who worked at Ellie’s for years, is now at Dick’s, and a fellow bartender at Ellie’s, Fawn, had moved there from a long stint at the former Corner Bar in River Falls. And Josie, who was a fixture behind the bar at Woody’s in Bayport, is studying to get into another end of the industry, that being a chef — with an occasional stint as a bartender a block down at the American Legion hall.
Whew! All this makes it seem less over-the-top when a decades-long bartender who was synonymous with the former Dibbo’s, named Forrest, who was famous for saying life is fantastic and that every day is a good day, moved to Baldwin to get out of the bar biz and ramp up his motorcycle repair shop there.
– It’s not only your favorite bartender, who you follow from here to there, who is interesting. A cardboard cutout of “the world’s most interesting man,” as he is billed, has been showing up at local bars, and in one case, a patron just could not get over the fact that the guy next to him was this stellar gentleman. In particular, the fact that the WMIM, who was pushing beer, is about six feet tall seemed to be very intimidating. That meant he was moved by the patron to the space between the two bathrooms at Green Mill, a humbling fact to say the least. At least his newfound doorman space was shifted now and then to be closer to one bathroom door than the other, before Mr. Interesting disappeared from sight. (All this is reminiscent of a scrawling on the bathroom wall at Maverick’s Corner Saloon in downtown River Falls, which said simply “Humble me,” then gave a phone number).

Why did the ‘Cow’ cross the river? It was illegally herded to get to the other side

May 10th, 2015

Police have a cow, and I know it sounds cheesy, but they milk their chances when a rival tavern skims off some Spotted Cow.
– Bartender Whitney at Pudge’s got a lot of face time on Fox 9 News when a TV crew came over and asked opinions about a sting operation targeting a Maple Grove tavern. It seems they had “spotted” the owners illegally buying and transporting the New Glarus Spotted Cow beer brand over the river — multiple times — and allegedly serving it in their own place, which is a violation of trade practices, as well as Border Battle decorum. Then feds actually order a brew in the Twin Cities tavern as evidence. Whitney said she thought that doing such a sting was a bit too much drama. Which apparently still rings true, as Spotted Cow is still listed as a special on their beer board.
So, dramatically, what was shown on TV was all Whitney, despite the guys at the bar who were queried too, and they speculated that the male TV crew was smitten by her short shirt.
One of the reporters who interviewed her said he wrote for scores of other publications as well, maximizing her exposure. My mom in Milwaukee even called me to say she had seen such a report in the Journal-Sentinel. Ouch! I am a tipster for that paper, and I could have collected a paycheck in regard to this, but the editor I deal with was out for days on end. With that tip, I could have paid it forward and given Whitney a better tip.
Despite all the publicity, Spotted Cow is also still on tap at places like Emma’s Bar in River Falls. A sign promoted a special that incorporates that brew and another Wisconsin staple, pretzel and I’m assuming cheese sauce, (maybe that’ll be the next Cheesehead item to be essentially kidnapped and brought across the border). Whatever happened to Minnesota nice?
Speaking of tips, the sign at the Agave Kitchen gave this one: Pac Man over Mayweather, and it provided the hashtag “freetip.” That message runs counter to the possible idea you could link to it that you don’t get tipped very well when working at Agave. I’m sure that is not the case. And you don’t even have to “fight” it.
On fight night itself, there weren’t that many people checking in on the round-by-round updates on sports news channels. By contrast, there were many more people in the sports bars watching the Wild’s Swan Song on Thursday.
– Just goes to show that you can’t believe everything you hear, especially if the speaker has had a few beers. The main word that was going around the bars was that Adrian Peterson being traded was a done deal, but now after his reinstatement, his agent says the star running back should get a new long-term contract. One fixture at a local bar, who asked not to be named, said a close relative has enough of a sports background to smoosh at parties with some pretty bigtime Twin Cities power brokers, and they told him after getting loose lipped because of, again, a few drinks, that sending AP to Dallas was a done deal, and the only reason it hadn’t been officially announced prior to the NFL draft was because of holding back for strategic reasons. (The same guy turned out to be right about the end of the Minnesota career of a certain basketball player named Love). Similarly, a patron at Green Mill said a few months ago that his father knows the Peterson family, and that going to Dallas was a sure thing. The apparent lack of truth to these rumours no doubt is a big relief to a friend of mine who knows AP socially and wouldn’t want to see him go.
– A sign at Woody’s in Bayport says that “Old Style is now on draft.” Would that be the NFL Draft, much ballyhooed on sports bar TV, or a reference to what’s on tap? By the way, all I saw of the draft while at this Vikings establishment was Minnesota’s first pick (and it wasn’t a running back).

The Madness of March is here, with spring and Easter merrily mixed in, too

April 18th, 2015

On Wisconsin, this spring and its sportswear and signs were for you.
– Kozy Korner stalwart Ryan and crew were weighing whether to make a Final Four road trip to Indianapolis the other Monday, co-workers said. Maybe that could yield even more Badger jersey-based memorabilia to put on the walls at Kozy. They noted that the late starting time for the NCAA title game featuring Wisconsin might make the local turnout a bit unpredictable, and in most places it was big, however not all. As it was, the place was full by 5 p.m., even earlier than the usual rule of thumb, just over two hours, for getting a seat for such an important game. It wasn’t until late Tuesday evening that some of the workers found time to let their hair down and trek over to Dick’s for a nightcap. Even around that time, the marquee in North Hudson still made reference to “believe” and “On Wisconsin.” By midweek, the message was changed to “At least we aren’t Gopher fans.”
– Many servers at Buffalo Wild Wings were wearing, prematurely it turns out, the No. 1 on their red Badger jerseys during the title game. Since March Madness occurs in the spring, one earlier was sporting what appeared to be pink, orange and blue toned lilies in her hair.
– On Easter eve, one of the open mic singers at Dick’s Bar and Grill wore a get-up that consisted of a colorful long-sleeve plaid shirt with vest and a tie sporting small diamond shapes. Befitting spring, there were dozens of similarly looking shirts on cardboard cutouts hanging from the ceiling. The other outfit of note from Dick’s on the holiday weekend was what appeared to be Playboy Bunny-type lingerie teamed with Easter Bunny-styled fluffy finery.
– On that Sunday night, it was referenced in a tribute song request that one of the members of Lynyrd Skynyrd had been killed in a car crash. Many of us no doubt had thought something else would be the downfall of these hard partiers. A middle-aged man who was singing karaoke at Riverside’s, before it was Pier 500, had told me he’d been a roadie for them for a number of years, and that a good number of their members had livers that had started to fail, as the booze usually flowed freely backstage. In a fitting way as far as tribute, the band Smokin’ Whiskey that played Willow River Saloon on Burkhardt earlier in the weekend has perhaps more Skynyrd songs than those from any other artist on their set list.
– A petite young woman tried her shot at the boxing-power-punch game at the Smilin’ Moose, but she only hit the bag with a glancing blow. The game flashes a range of scores from one to 999, and she only scored — you guessed it — a one right on the head. When I teased her about her score, her response was unprintable; lets just say it was a one again, in the form of a thrusted single digit. A short time later on a sports TV talk show, even though it’s the offseason, a pro football player who goes by the nickname Gronk showed his caveman prowess by registering an 826.
– Just the other evening, Dick’s used a big cloth backdrop next to the bar rail in their middle room when they held a photo shoot, once again, of some of their bottled liquor brands that would be part of a promotion. No word if their were any supermodels as part of the shoot, as that might have created a bottleneck nearer the back room.
– A Hudson U-12 hockey team has won the state tournament, and the Agave Kitchen had used their marquee to each day give every individual player on the squad their 15 minutes — or maybe as the case might be, their 15 hours — of fame with a daily listing of their name and position. Makes you think this practice is much more practical than if the youth team was a football squad, with upwards of 40 people on a roster.
– A 28-year-old woman with a red Wisconsin Badger shirt revealed her true and varied sports colors recently at Dick’s. She is a Vikings fan, too, even though most others in the family are die-hard Packer Backers, as they moved here from California, with its own plethora of sports teams, to Minnesota when she was 13, and then to Hudson several years later, explaining all those differentials.
– In search of a comeback, golfer Tiger Woods has been seen on local sports bar TV saying that despite recent sub-par performances (sorry about the pun; take that either way you feel), he is ready to again be one of the Big Cats on the tour. However, I think when Tiger says that, he actually is “Lion,” or at least putting on the dog. Or could it be an April Fool’s Day prank.

Bluegrass fest, to also bring things from tastings to antiquing, is finally here

April 9th, 2015

It’s all about the music, of course, at the fifth annual Roots and Bluegrass Music Festival in River Falls that swings into action on Thursday night, then really gets rockin’ on the weekend, but there are lots of other related activities as well.
The following is a blow by blow description of what you can find happening downtown now through Sunday.
This is the second year of a local craft beer and wine tasting event, running from 5-8 p.m. Friday at Juniors Bar and Restaurant. There have been many scheduled openings of new wineries and craft-style breweries in the immediate area, and this is your chance to see and taste in person what they have to offer. This is the only event of the entire festival where you have to pay to participate, but you get a lot of bang for your buck, as dozens of the drinks can be sampled for only a $20 fee (or $30 at the door). And there will be music, of course; Pushing Chain will provide it.
Craft beer makers at the tasting include those from the immediate area and locales just to the north, southeast and west, and they are 4 Brothers Beer, American Sky Brewing Co., Milwaukee Brewing Co., Rush River Brewing Company, Summit Brewing Company, Fulton Brewing Co., Gray’s Brewing and Lucette Brewing. Wines available, from both local and regional companies, are from 65 Wines, Door County Wine, M’Shiraz, Spurgeon Vineyards, River Bend Vineyard and Winery, Wollershein Winery and, for a bit of a different twist, Maiden Rock Winery and Cidery.
Specific brands include Hop Silo Double IPA, Saga IPA, Frost Line Rye, Farmers Daughter, Ride Again and Slow Hand, and also Honey Crisp Hard Cider, Crabby Cider and Apfelweiss Wine.
Advance tickets can be gained at the River Falls Area Chamber of Commerce office, DeVine Liquor, Dick’s Hometown Liquor and Juniors.
But back to the music, the festival committee carefully selects regional acts that are musically innovative, but capture the tradition of bluegrass and Americana at the same time, says one of the organizers, Chris Silver of the band Good Intentions, which plays Sunday.
“Some of the bluegrass bands play tunes that were written by iconic players like Bill Monroe and Ralph Stanley while others play a more regional repetoire. All of the bands in our lineup have years of experience performing around the region,” he says.
Bluegrass has a strong hold on the Upper Midwest these days, in large part due to the success of bands like Trampled by Turtles and Pert Near Sandstone, he adds. “The energy that these bands and the bands that will perform at the festival have is infectious and our festival audience has shown huge amounts of enthusiasm at each show.
“One thing is for certain: people return (to our fest) year after year.”
Jeff Wesley of Juniors Bar chimed in with this, as why people keep coming back. “The common theme with all of the bands is that they fit into some aspect of roots and Americana music, although we tend to focus predominantly on bluegrass acts. Over the five years of the festival we have had dozens of bluegrass, folk, Cajun, jazz, blues, gospel and alt-country acts.” Each year the festival books a handful of returning acts, but tries hard to find new bands to generate a new buzz and new energy towards the endeavor.
“The biggest difference between acts would be variations in styles … and to the more trained ear, variations of style within a genre. For example, the Fish Heads play more of an Americana style while incorporating aspects of bluegrass, whereas Art Stevenson and Highwater are going to offer a much more traditional bluegrass style,” Wesley said. “As far as differences within a genre, both Sans Souci Quartet and the Good Intentions play bluegrass, but the bluegrass aficionado would be able to tell a major difference between the two groups, whereas a novice listener would feel that the two groups were pretty similar.” He said the Barley Jacks are a unique blend of bluegrass and traditional Celtic styles, creating their own sound and establishing themselves as one of the Midwest’s best live bands.”
“While you can see many of the festival acts playing throughout the area, and many have played at Juniors over the past few years, what makes our festival so unique is that you can see a dozen great regional and local bands within the course of one weekend,” he said, adding that the fest has stages all over town, not just one stage cycling bands through one at a time.”This gets the attendee up and moving and patronizing multiple businesses throughout downtown River Falls,” Wesley said. It creates a whole weekend of great vibes.
Getting back to the Barley Jacks, for example, they play a lot of originals, and also incorporate blues, classical and bebop styles into their songs, which can be heard on Friday night. Their 2010 devue recording, Either Side of Night, received critical acclaim and they garnered an Artist Initiative Award from the Minnesota Arts Board in 2011.
Another act that could be considered a headliner and that performs Saturday night, Art Stevenson and his band, have been playing since 1993, and the husband-and-wife-led group that includes a dobro player have put out seven albums and have gained praise from industry magazines.
Kind Country is noted for their cover of Friend of the Devil by the Grateful Dead, and concerning the Dead Horses, bandmate Sarah won the festival’s singer/songwriter competition in 2012. (For a complete list of bands playing, and times and venues, visit this web site’s Picks of the Week category).
– To see how all types of players stack up against the best in the business, eight to 12 contestants compete in a contest showcasing a bluegrass technique called, of course, flatpicking, which can be described as playing notes on the springs with an up and down motion, giving the melody of percussive feel, Chris Silver says. The prized Upper Midwest championship play-off for the flatpicking is at Juniors on Saturday from 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. “The tunes usually come form the fiddle tune and swing repertoires. It takes a tremendous amount of ability, dexterity, fine motor and music vocabulary to win a flatpicking contest.” Songs can range from fiddle tunes to more jazz influenced bluegrass instrumentals, he said. “The tunes that are typically chosen are labeled as flatpicking standards.”
– The Attic Treasures Appraisal, at Riverwalk Art and Antiques, will likely appeal to you if you can answer this question: “Do you have a treasured heirloom or awesome find you have been wondering about? Meet with our experienced antique dealers on Saturday to learn about it and it’s possible value,” say the store owners of the activity, from 2-4 p.m. “Walk-ins are welcome to bring an item or just enjoy watching.”
However, because this has been a popular event and seating is limited, to ensure your item is seen, the owners recommend contacting them in advance at to send a description of the item and photos, if possible. Any markings, dates or patent numbers are helpful in determining value, and they will start doing research when hearing from you. “Stories associated with what you have are always interesting, too,” they say.
– “Paint the town” is a free family activity held in conjunction with Hudson’s Cheers Pablo painting experience shop, which will provide mini-canvasses and of course, the paint. It is Saturday from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Funktion Junktion. There will also be contests to buy two paintings. These are “Guitar” at Juniors at 3 p.m. Saturday, and “Peaceful Trees” at Funktion Junktion at 2 p.m. Sunday. Each are $35 per person.
The festival is presented by the River Falls Area Chamber of Commerce and Tourism Bureau, in conjunction with Family Fresh Market, River Falls Journal, the Pioneer Press, Brickhouse Music and Rush River Brewing Co. Harmonica Sponsors are Ameripride, Sysco, Pairfection/Juniors and Upper Lakes Foods, and Friends of Bluegrass named are Ace Hardware, Belle Vinez Winery, Dynamic Bookkeeping, Edward Jones, Green Oasis, Hub 70 Design & Print, Jazz 88 PM – KBEM – FM, MN Bluegrass Association, Thunder Country Radio 95.7 and WESTconsin Credit Union.
For more information, contact the Chamber at (715) 425-2533 or

So much bluegrass, roots music and other activities, no one’s singing the blues

March 31st, 2015

What with all the music acts, beer and wine tasting, flatpicking and other contests, antiques appraisal and various workshops, the fifth annual Roots and Bluegrass Music Festival in River Falls is sure to be finger pickin’ good.
Bands playing at the prominent spring fest — at least 12 of them performing more than 50 total hours of free foot stompin’ music at 13 different venues — will take the various stages, all indoors, between April 9-12.
A key part of the festival is the second year of a local craft beer and wine tasting event, which can attract many visitors to River Falls, and also even more attendance among the locals, as it starts early, running from 5-8 p.m. Friday at Juniors Bar and Restaurant. There have been many scheduled openings of new wineries and craft-style breweries in the immediate area, and six of them each will display their liquid wares, with their creative names showing the diversity. The tasting event is a high-profile but still down-to-earth activity to accompany the music weekend. This is the only event of the entire festival where you have to pay to participate, but you get a lot of bang for your buck, as well over a dozen of the drinks can be sampled for only a $20 fee (or $30 at the door). Pushing Chain will provide music.
The Wisconsin State Flatpicking Championship for bluegrass-style instruments such as guitar is billed as among the only ones of its kind, where people who include accomplished musicians can compete and see how they measure up against the best. It will be held on Saturday at Juniors from 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. and the winner gets an authentic handcrafted guitar.
Another novel event that is special to the festival is at RiverWalk Art and Antiques on the north end of the downtown on Saturday from 2-4 p.m., where artists can have their musical instruments and other “treasures” appraised for value. You can see how much that antique instrument you’ve had around for years is worth, or just watch the fun. In the spirit of the festival, Riverwalk also will host a clogging demonstration.
There is also a new singer-songwriter competition on Saturday at Juniors from 2:30 to 4:30 p.m. and open mic and open jams at various times during the weekend, at the Dish ‘N the Spoon Cafe, Family Fresh Market and Funktion Junktion. At these, individual instrumentalists and singers mix and match with members of the house band. The first three places each in the flatpicking championship and singer-songwriter competition get prizes.
As part of the four days of music, the headliners on the weekend in the late night slots include the Barley Jacks from 8-11 p.m. on Friday at Juniors as well as Dead Horses, a Stillwater, Minn. band that gives a regional presence from 10 a.m. to 2 a.m. on that same night at Shooters, and Art Sevenson and High Water from 8-11 p.m. on Saturday at Juniors.
The main stage at Juniors opens an hour before each of the music acts get going. Sorry, there are no pets allowed at any of the events.
The festival’s bands incorporate at least seven different genres, but all have a tie-in with roots music, bluegrass and Americana, also showing variances of style within a genre, said Jeff Wesley of Juniors.
Chris Silver, another one of the organizers, and his band Good Intentions, will headline the festival on Sunday from 10 p.m. to 1 a.m. at the West Wind Supper Club, and Silver said the festival’s shows tend to be a mix of bluegrass diehards and younger people first becoming acquainted with the music.
The fact that they are playing at what is predominantly a supper club underscores what’s special about this festival. “You can see a dozen great regional and local bands within the course of one weekend. While most festivals have one stage that the bands cycle through, our festival has stages all around town,” said Wesley.
In recent editions of the festival, attendance has been up sharply. The fest has been billed as an event where patrons can make an entire day of it, going to breakfast as a start, and then continuing on into the afternoon and evening by taking in plenty of music and other activities. They are even invited to parttake in the various “Bluegrass brunches” put on by local eateries.
Patrons have said they like the experience of being at someplace like a local grocery store, as one of the venues with music is the Family Fresh Market, then rounding a corner and finding that hey, there’s a band playing there, said Judy Berg of the River Falls Area Chamber of Commerce. Other stores where you wouldn’t necessarily expect to find bands, but they’ll be playing there anyway, are local cafes and antique-based shops.
“With this, you’ll never know what is going to happen,” Berg said about the surprises that can unfold at the festival. But one thing is for certain; this is April and in Wisconsin that can still mean rough weather, but it doesn’t matter, since the bands are all indoors and the only time people have to be outside is the short walk from venue to venue. All of them are in a few block section of historic Main Street, with its tree lined median, and even this short jaunt allows people to enjoy its unique character, with specialty shops, restaurants and the historic Falls Theater. Along with this ambiance is the hustle and bustle of a vibrant college campus, Chamber officials note. They also point out the stay and play aspect of River Falls, as there are three extensive attractions, such as walking tours, within blocks of the downtown, as well as five motels and other hospitality-based businesses nearby.
The festival is presented by the River Falls Area Chamber of Commerce and Tourism Bureau. For more information, contact them at (715) 425-2533 or

Wearin’ the green: Awash with more than a wee bit of checks and stripes, solids too

March 22nd, 2015

To my friend who is a bouncer at Dick’s Bar and Grill, what happened?
You thought that with St. Patrick’s Day being on a weekday, there would be “wee” little customer traffic. But the place was as hoppin’ as a green toad, while serving the green bunny Hopster brew by New Glarus, and the whole front room was full and aflutter. (I especially liked the green facial hair, as in a mustache that was being passed around to patrons at more than one table, and sideburns that were showing on some of these new Irish, in a flash of flair that continued to show until the weekend). And the pair of bartenders sported fully-solid green and a red shirts, respectively, as to the Irish, one was a Grinch. The same two colors were sported by an off-duty server in his shorts and top; did they coordinate before coming to work? And did they include the Mennonite I saw who was virtually part-Irish in a long, bright green coat?
There were St. Paddy’s people aplenty at the Village Inn in North Hudson, as well, in part to raise some green of their own for the well deserved Randi Deal medical benefit. The inn over the holiday welcomed village vagabonds on one of the first stops in what this year was a more informally organized pub crawl, although all the places were still hit. What is becoming basically the house band closed their final set with an Irish-themed ditty on Tuesday, which was followed with more Shamrock-style music played on the jukebox.
The busyness trend was not the same everywhere, but at the Smilin’ Moose, someone was part Irish with a plaid shirt that had green stripes, (or were they grayish)? Ditto with two people who had green shirt only and were celebrating one’s birthday with the infamous more-than-one-liquor oversize ladle drink, just perfect for an Irish B-Day. To which the bartender said, “birthday, Christmas, whatever, you’ve been good right?” Now that’s the luck of the Irish!
– A server at Dick’s who has blazing red, curly hair said that despite that, she is only one-eighth Irish. A close relative, who is similarly Irish but also part Mexican, has very dark complexion and hair, she said. Put that in the “everyone is Irish on St. Patrick’s Day” file.
– If St. Patrick’s Day is a travel holiday, St. Paul is not the only likely destination. Server Brooke at the Green Mill said she would not be at the Saturday party her employer was throwing, because she was flying to Chicago to take in the Irish things there, such as a parade that will rival anything you’d find. One of her co-workers, Shavon, took the occasion to go into Minneapolis and go a “wee” bit crazy, or maybe more. And then there’s consummate downtown server Sofie, who a bit later was en route to the Windy City for her own birthday festivities.
– Although on the Saturday that was a pre-party for St. Patrick’s Day, there wasn’t a lot of green being worn, this says it all about the sheer number of people basically being Irish: There was a guy trying to negotiate the length of the Smilin’ Moose, which boasted the “pre-party” moniker, on crutches (you simply don’t do that).
– And the Saturday following the holiday saw a guy in a get-up as The Riddler, complete with green checks as part of his plaid shirt and pants. That fit at many levels, as TVs were showing a Batman marathon on TNT. And to complete the green theme, as part of March Madness, the college basketball team with that color uniforms, Oregon, was getting ready to play the Badger mens basketball team in the next step of the NCAA tournament, on Sunday at 6:45 p.m. You can view that contest at some of the aforementioned places, and another choice is Kozy Korner in North Hudson, which specializes in airing these kind of often-decided-by-last-shot telecasts on what is not a day of rest.

– Then on Sunday night, bartender Matt was (finally) wearing a green T-shirt, which he said is one of two such shirts he has available for work, (laundry nightmare)? The other — refer to earlier in the story — is bright red. He said the method to his madness is to wear the green shirt two days a week, so that on those peak nights there is no misunderstanding about his role as a bartender, not a bouncer, as they wear red tops.