As recently as this winter, the sky was falling.
Amid a swell of controversy, Mankato’s longest-running dedicated(ish) music venue, The What’s Up Lounge, closed its doors in January. The Free Press, suddenly concerned with local culture, wrote an obituary of sorts–complete with the token Kato antecdote about how great things were back in the ’90s–and essentially went on to speculate on the death of the city’s music scene. (Nevermind the fact that , after the closing, original acts continued to play regularly at the Wine Cafe, Midtown Tavern, Busters, NaKato, and other establishments, while the paper’s “Currents” page preferred to publish features on Christian rock acts gigging in church basements.)
Meanwhile, scene veterans mourned the spot where they saw some of their favorite shows and / or muscled their own band into something stage-worthy. And this blog right here–written by some jackass with the audacity to spend previous portions of his life in slightly-larger cities with more robust music scenes–bid adieu to a venue that had obviously devolved into a pocket-change generator stapled atop the dive bar entrenched downstairs.
Six months later, the sky has been restored…well, the Mankato music venue positioned closest to the stratosphere has, anyway.
Yes, the Oleander Saloon and What’s Up Lounge are under new ownership, and the What’s Up has its grand reopening event scheduled for this Saturday. In preparation, this new team has put forth some positive changes, such as concluding shows by midnight (which makes sense on about every conceivable level) and employing an extra security staffer during shows, rather than leaving the doorperson and bartender to fend themselves.
[Self-Editor’s Note: I don’t want to make it seem like the What’s Up needed additional security due to safety issues. Yes, there were well-publicized incidents, but nothing that couldn’t have–or hasn’t–happened in the revenue-generating ENTERTAINMENT DISTRICT that the city so treasures. The difference between those downtown establishments and the previous incarnation of this Old Town stalwart is that the former are adequately staffed. The What’s Up didn’t need security that eclipsed the norm, it just needed an ownership group that cared enough to step up to the industry standard.]
These are positive changes that will hopefully make the venue feel less like a glorified basement and more like something approaching a professional establishment. They’re certainly presenting themselves as such…
…because I’ll be damned if that ain’t a sharp flyer. And snagging a sponsorship from the local Five Finger Death Punch station isn’t a bad coup, either.
More importantly, though: That is a killer lineup right there, featuring three of the most engaging, riff-worshipping acts in Minnesota. I’ve waxed rhetorical about ’em on these pages previously, so we’ll keep this preview brief and packed with Bandcamp embeds.
WarRooster‘s full-blast, un-stoned stoner rock is part Goatsnake, part Clutch, and part Scandinavian-style desert rock (which is actually a thing, I swear). They’re hungry, wily, and tight as hell.
Let It Breathe will be coming off a Friday show with Lungs and freaking ZEBULON PIKE at the Triple Rock, revealing their status as the hardest-hitting Sabbath worshippers in the state to a new audience. Their River Wizard EP from late 2014 made some serious waves in slow n’ low / doom n’ gloom circles, and their first full-length should surface on STB Records…soon-ish.
And Crash Cuddle‘s off-kilter post-rock unpredictability will keep everyone on their toes. Rather than fall into the lull / crescendo heartstring trap that bands like Pelican, Mono, and Explosions in the Sky made so popular a decade ago, Crash Cuddle keeps you on your toes, sucking you into a false sense of security before hitting you with Beehoover-esque bombs.
If you’re keeping score, this basically means that the What’s Up is once again the place to be this Saturday. Yeah, Blues on Belgrade is going down, Hank and Rita are playing the first of two “final”, nearly sold-out shows at Studio Six, and the Purple and Gold will be perched upon the hill, waiting to charge you $42 for parking and the opportunity to buy overpriced merchandise. But if you want to get dirty and feel some soul, get your ass to Old Town this weekend.