Cross-border rocking

Exchange aims to improve musical relationships with Minneapolis


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Taking a road trip to Minneapolis to see a concert is a rite of passage for most Winnipeg music fans.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 12/11/2016 (2388 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Taking a road trip to Minneapolis to see a concert is a rite of passage for most Winnipeg music fans.

The eight-hour drive opens the doors to a whole new sonic world; smaller acts that rarely cross the border often hit Minneapolis on their way through the Midwest, and the sizable population of the Twin Cities (around 3.2 million people) is enough of a draw for larger touring musicians to make a stop as well. Much like Winnipeg, the local scene is also bursting with talented artists.

In short, the place is buzzing, making Minnesota a desirable destination for Manitoban music-makers, too, and not just fans. Manitoba Music — a non-profit industry association with a mission of promoting local music — recognizes this, and is trying to nurture that demand through Manitoba X Minnesota, a music-exchange program that offers musicians and industry personnel in both regions the opportunity to experience the other’s music scene.

JENNY RAMONE PHOTO Winnipeg alt-pop band Lanikai played in Minneapolis earlier this week; the group will join two Twin Cities acts for a show at Le Garage tonight.

Three years ago, Manitoba Music teamed up with the Current, a station on Minnesota Public Radio that already had a local music exchange in place that saw them bring in various radio hosts from all over the U.S. to talk about their respective music scenes and to play their favourite local artists. The Manitoba X Minnesota Music Exchange evolved from that idea, but focuses more heavily on live music showcases rather than radio (though both the Current and UMFM have been spinning Manitoban and Minnesotan artists leading up to the exchange).

“We spend a lot of time promoting Manitoba artists and companies in music markets around the world, including the U.S… and we were looking at what the artists were interested in in the U.S., and where people were going, and realized we had this great music market that was really close to us,” says Sean McManus, executive director of Manitoba Music. “Not an industry hub like an L.A. or a Nashville, but a place where the artists would really use as a gateway to go into the U.S. in terms of touring.”

On Nov. 10, two Manitoba acts — alt-popsters Lanikai and singer-songwriter Micah Erenberg — made the trek down to Minneapolis to play a show with indie-rock outfit Sleeping Jesus and psychedelic soul group Zuluzuluu. The four groups will share a stage again tonight in Winnipeg at Le Garage.

“There’s a great history and it is pretty eclectic,” says Jim McGuinn, program director at the Current, of Winnipeg. “Minnesota is… how do I say this? Minnesota is more Canadian than most states, so for us it’s kinda fun to go learn about another community, another music scene, to help some of our bands get across the border, and also welcome some new sounds and artists from there to here.”

For Manitoba artists, making connections in a large, music-minded city such as Minneapolis holds obvious advantages, but for those coming north, the benefits are less direct. McGuinn says bands in his region tend to look at Chicago as the place to go for music, and build their touring circle to include Milwaukee and Omaha, but there’s no real reason why Winnipeg shouldn’t get added to the list.

“The people I’ve met (from Winnipeg) have been really gracious people who are really passionate music lovers, and I think maybe some of the Minnesota artists don’t realize it’s only eight hours from Minneapolis and four hours from Fargo, so why not add it to the route?” says McGuinn.

The lack of awareness is something McManus says he’s hoping the project will help remedy: to make Minnesotans in the music business aware of what’s going on in Winnipeg in the hopes it will result in more partnerships with venues and promoters, as well as more co-presented shows across the border.

It would be ideal to develop a “reciprocal appreciation” from Minnesotan musicians and listeners that would see them travelling to Winnipeg to participate in the music scene more frequently, he says.

“That’s what we’re working on in the long game and that’s something that grows a little bit every year in terms of the awareness… really just helping to build that bridge.”

A similar partnership was built between Toronto and Austin, Texas, called the Austin-Toronto Music City Alliance. It began in 2013 (instigated in part by then-mayor of Toronto, Rob Ford) and was renewed in 2015 by current Toronto mayor John Tory and Austin mayor Steve Adler. Unlike the Manitoban-Minnesota version, the Austin-Toronto Music Alliance is politically driven and debuted with press conferences and well-publicized official trips, which, among other things, created a tighter link between Austin’s South by Southwest and Toronto’s North by Northeast music festivals.

McManus says the exchange in this region is more of a grassroots effort, but that political inclusion, to some degree, is a possibility.

Micah Erenberg

“The Austin-Toronto Music City Alliance is certainly more politically driven and has the aim to impact policy and investment around music infrastructure in Toronto. Winnipeg and Minneapolis are official sister cities and this is something that we may try to build on in the future. We can always do more to shine a light on the music sector in the eyes of government,” says McManus.

“The Consul General of Canada in Minneapolis-St. Paul has been very engaged in the process. He went on air with our NPR partners to talk about the amazing music coming out of Canada and has helped promote the event.”

The connection between Minneapolis and Winnipeg goes beyond commercial or political ties, though; there is an engrained sense of camaraderie and a mutual understanding of the unique benefits and difficulties that face artists who live in this part of the world. There’s a familiarity and cultural connection that helps solidify the groundwork for a successful partnership.

“They feel the same kind of isolation; they feel like they’re at the northern end of the circuit and have that sort of Midwest isolation. There’s so many similarities in the scene, and I think once people start chatting with promoters and venue owners and buyers here, they feel this really natural affinity because there’s so many similarities in the struggles we have and the successes we have. So that’s been really interesting and exciting,” says McManus.

“It’s a city that is a little bigger than us and maybe a little farther ahead in some ways, probably in bike lanes and probably in craft brewing and maybe even in music, too, but I think we can look at it and go, ‘Hey there’s a version of a scene that we understand but can also aspire to.’”

“We have so many things that are shared and yet so many differences that it’s always fascinating to explore the similarities and differences between Americans and Canadians,” echoes McGuinn. “And what a better way to do it than over a pint and an indie-rock band?”

Twitter: @NireRabel

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Erin Lebar

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Updated on Saturday, November 12, 2016 8:00 AM CST: Photos reordered.

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