Minnesota Musician Stories

I’ve written before about how special Minnesota Public Television is for its recognition and celebration of things particular to the Minnesota culture. Whether it’s documentaries about pond hockey or Scandinavian cooking shows, a profile of a homesteader in Alaska or the story of a major, sudden blizzard that caught the whole state unaware, Minnesota appreciates its art and culture. You can get a crash course on curling and lutefisk, prairies and fishing. Their show Minnesota Originals featuring local artists and craftspeople is very high quality.

On Saturday night we stumbled on two profiles of young Minnesota musicians on the Brainerd station (we get three different PBS stations, all good). The programs were produced by Pioneer Public Television in Appleton, Minnesota (population 1412). We caught half of the profile of Caroline Smith, a young woman from Detroit Lakes, a town in the northwest of the state near Grand Forks, ND (my feelings about that rural expanse borders on obsession). She had a great voice and a good sound, and a few male collaborators helping her. Her energy and quirky sensuality were infectious.

Holly Hansen

Holly Hansen photo from http://www.pioneer.org/my-way-back-home.html

The next episode, however, featuring Holly Hansen, completely captured us. If you are interested in young people, rural poverty, music and creativity, small town life, the role of religion in formation, or just want to watch an articulate young woman talk about her art and life, this documentary is for you. It is available for free streaming here.

Hansen is another woman who has put together a band (of men) to help her bring forth her sound. They go by the name Zoo Animal. These women are the guiding force in these bands, not women who sing someone else’s songs. Both women are singer/songwriters at heart, although Smith is more folksy and Hansen is more electric and rocking. Hansen’s music struck me as Americana-grunge-meets-shoe-gazer, sort of a synthesis of 1990s styles.

Hanson is from Cokato/Litchfield, a place we went to a few times last June when my FIL was in a geriatric behavior unit there for dementia. It was an odd time, and the drive was so beautiful it broke your heart. There is also a great cafe in Litchfield, the Parkview Grille. Hanson moved there at age 12 with her single mother (and sister?) to live with her grandparents in the house where her mother grew up. She explains what she lost from San Antonio– a skate park near the house! arcades! Endless entertainment– and what she gained by connecting with Minnesota by playing hockey and ice skating, attending the family’s church, picking up her uncle’s guitar and making music, and a lot of wandering around the natural areas near home. As she says, she had to get creative because there were no distractions. Her choice not to hide or wait it out on electronic devices but to engage– with her grandparents’ religion as well as music and small town life– is very impressive. As are the results.

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