Tagged: Mankato

Mankato Has New Bike Lanes, But Don’t Worry, You Can Still Park In Them

As you may have noticed, Mankato laid down the first phase of downtown bike lanes in late autumn. Thus far, reviews have been mixed across the board.

A vocal minority of aggressive, uneducated motorists threw their usual shitfit via–what else–Facebook comment threads. (My favorite? A call for a petition to remove the bike lanes, as if the city hadn’t been planning this publicly for well over a year.)

Cyclists and motorists alike were confused by the Poplar Street modifications, which were eventually dissected by the Freep’s Ask Us column. Even so, citizens shouldn’t have to depend on a letter to an editor to learn to how use a slice of road properly.

And avid cyclists have felt a little squeezed by the Broad Street lanes’ proximity to parked cars. The risk of getting doored is high, especially in a town were drivers aren’t accustomed to looking behind them (or pocketing their cell phones) before flinging their doors into the street.

So there are flaws. But as a year-round commuter, it’s tough to see the lane installation as anything but a success, if only because it sends the strongest message possible that bikes belong on the road, not on sidewalks. Furthermore, prioritizing these routes shows some serious vision on the city’s part, as they connect to the off-street/multi-use trails around town with ease. I use them almost daily.

But there’s a problem: People keep parking in them. Especially on the weekends.

I tolerated it for a couple of weeks. This is a new thing for a lot of people–especially Buick drivers–so there was bound to be an adjustment period. Also, cramming driving lanes, bike lanes, and parking spots into the Broad and Cherry Street real estate was a difficult task. Some overhang was to be expected.

After a certain point, though, a keen eye can separate the clueless from the lazy. A full-sized sedan parked the bike lane in front of a church? Okay, you’re probably old as hell and don’t know any better. A glistening BMW parked in front of a law office, though?


Eat shit, pal.

Immediately after snapping this photo on Saturday, I rode over to the Mankato Public Safety Center, which is a taxpayer-friendly euphemism for POLICE STATION. Typically, I’m averse to contact with cops as they’re usually, you know, assholes.  Yet there was truly a matter of PUBLIC SAFETY that needed attention, and that’s what the front of the building advertises. Parking in bike lanes isn’t just a dick move, it’s a dangerous one:

So, upon arrival, I called dispatch via the telephone in the entryway, and approximately seven minutes later, an officer came down to talk to me. While he didn’t seem particularly interested in the plight of the cyclist, he did take down the information he required: My name and driver’s license number…but none of the identifying characteristics of the offending vehicle.

According to him, their procedure for dealing with this offense is merely to chalk the vehicle’s tires. If the chalked vehicle hasn’t moved in 24 hours, the driver is subjected to a $25 parking ticket.

This is the same penalty for leaving a car parked on the street anywhere in downtown Mankato.

Let me be as plain as possible here: According to this police officer, there is absolutely ZERO penalty for parking a car in Mankato’s bike lanes. You can leave your vehicle in the middle of a bike lane for nearly an entire rotation of the Earth without repercussion.

This is perplexing, because a bill introduced in the Minnesota State Legislature in 2013–and subsequently passed–states that obstructing a bicycle lane with a parked car is prohibited.

Take a quick glance at Minnesota Statute 169.34, paying special attention to number 14:

Subdivision 1.Prohibitions.

(a) No person shall stop, stand, or park a vehicle, except when necessary to avoid conflict with other traffic or in compliance with the directions of a police officer or traffic-control device, in any of the following places:

(1) on a sidewalk;

(2) in front of a public or private driveway;

(3) within an intersection;

(4) within ten feet of a fire hydrant;

(5) on a crosswalk;

(6) within 20 feet of a crosswalk at an intersection;

(7) within 30 feet upon the approach to any flashing beacon, stop sign, or traffic-control signal located at the side of a roadway;

(8) between a safety zone and the adjacent curb or within 30 feet of points on the curb immediately opposite the ends of a safety zone, unless a different length is indicated by signs or markings;

(9) within 50 feet of the nearest rail of a railroad crossing;

(10) within 20 feet of the driveway entrance to any fire station and on the side of a street opposite the entrance to any fire station within 75 feet of said entrance when properly signposted;

(11) alongside or opposite any street excavation or obstruction when such stopping, standing, or parking would obstruct traffic;

(12) on the roadway side of any vehicle stopped or parked at the edge or curb of a street;

(13) upon any bridge or other elevated structure upon a highway or within a highway tunnel, except as otherwise provided by ordinance;

(14) within a bicycle lane, except when posted signs permit parking; or

(15) at any place where official signs prohibit stopping.


In light of these developments, I’ll leave it to the City of Mankato to answer the following questions:

1) Why did you install bike lanes without implementing a plan to educate motorists about their use?

2) Why are public safety officials ill-equipped to enforce state laws in regards to bike lane blockage?

3) What steps will you take to rectify these oversights?


We’ll be waiting for the answers.

This Weekend in Kato: Let’s Get Doomed


Kult of the Wizard

Yeah, things have been quiet around these parts. But it’s about to get LOUD.

This Friday, the What’s Up Lounge hosts a show that I’ve been anticipating since Let It Breathe started kicking up smoke, an event that we should hope is the first brick in a bridge between the Mankato and Minneapolis stoner / doom scenes:

what's up lounge

Before we dissect the lineup and give it the hard sell, let’s make a brief digression.

One of the things I’ve noticed since breaking free from the comforts of Internet music fandom is that, in the real world, loudrock still has a trash-ass reputation. In the last month, the River Valley endured Five Finger Death Punch and Papa Roach–pastiched, corporate rock whores that generate cash by covering classic rock songs that are still embedded in Clear Channel playlists–holding a much-ballyhooed bro-down in our hockey arena; meanwhile, the What’s Up opened their doors to a bunch of grown-ass men that are combining Tool tropes with chugcore nearly 15 years too late.


Because nothing screams “progressive metal” like tough-guy posturing and guyliner. But, I guess if Geoff Tate’s still doing it…

Nu-metal still lives in the Midwest. The JNCO nuclear apocalypse happened, but there are still Corey Taylor-worshiping cockroaches scurrying everywhere.

Proof? I was having a beer on Monday night in an empty bar, minding my own business, while two thirtysomething white males (in matching camo caps) assaulted the TouchTunes with Metallica‘s asstastic cover of “Overkill,” a whole lot of Korn, and something from Machine Head‘s ultra-maligned rapcore cashgrab Supercharger.


If your favorite band had a shiny tracksuit phase, they probably suck.

Whether it’s fair or not–and it’s not–these are the ambassadors of heaviness to the greater public. Despite the great lengths my friends and former colleagues have gone to promote forward-thinking, intelligent heavy metal via NPR, Pitchfork, PopMatters, and other outlets that have broader, crossover appeal, aggressive music is still standardized by dimwits that stopped challenging themselves in high school.

Don’t let that perception deter you from REVELING IN YOUR DOOM this Friday.

For the uninitiated, the best way to describe doom metal is this: Imagine that the lineage of heavy metal is a straight line from Black Sabbath, and the branches that sprouted from Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, Slayer, Bathory, and Death never took root. All doom and stoner metal bands basically use Master of Reality as a touchstone, retracing the lines and filling in their own colors along the way.

Friday’s Mankato doomcrew consists of WarRooster and Let it Breathe, both of whom have been covered here ad nauseam. (Hey, gimme a break; I like riffs.) The two bands highlight the disparities within the subgenre; WarRooster’s take is peppy and uptempo, loaded with time changes and rollicking riffery, whereas Let It Breathe stretches things out, slow-boiling their strings in smoke while hammering away underneath.

The Twin Cities are exporting a pair of bands on the upswing. St. Paul’s Highgraves are practically infants, with only a single demo on Bandcamp (not ReverbNation; take note, strugglers). But they’ve already played with MN elite like Vulgaari and Wolf Blood, and landed an October gig opening for savage duo Black Cobra and critical doomlings Yob. Their demo is rough around the edges (it’s a freaking demo, people), but the heft is there, and intentionally or not, it’s scuzzy as hell.

But the real treat is Minneapolis’ Kult of the Wizard, who, after churning out a pair of instrumental recordings, made a splash on the national scene last year with The White Wizard. Receiving favorable (if lazy) comparisons to acts like Witch Mountain and The Devil’s Blood from the likes of Cvlt Nation and Decibel–as well as being featured in my former outlet, Last Rites–the band has been getting hyped from ‘heads in the know.

Mankato’s been blessed with the opportunity to watch them grow.

Be there or be doomed. (Actually, you’re doomed either way, BUT WHATEVER.)

RibFest is a Goddamn Abomination


We’re over a week removed from the 187th annual Mankato RibFest, and I’ve spent that entire interval in recovery. (Well, truthfully, I’ve just been binge-watching The Newsroom. Which, despite being little more than a self-righteous reboot of Sports Night with less-likable characters, is still pretty damned fantastic.)

Going into RibFest weekend, there was only one night that held much intrigue: Friday’s lineup of Nato Coles & The Blue Diamond Band, The Suburbs, and Cheap Trick. Thursday’s starched-shirt country lineup was mercifully rained out, Live‘s Saturday set was probably more forgettable than the singles from Secret Samadhi, and attending any outdoor event on a Sunday is purely for masochists and people without bicycles.

The intrigue was mostly predicated on the opening act, a band I’d seen a few times already. The plan was to watch the openers, crush a couple of six-dollar beers, and then make a graceful exist. But a few beers turned into several (as they do), and pretty soon, I was neck deep in aging rocker carnage.

The first clue that things were going to get sad popped up during Nato’s set. When the band busted out their trusty cover of “Can’t Hardly Wait,” a salt-and-pepper paunch wrapped in a Cheap Trick shirt peeled himself away from the merch tent and rushed the stage, crackling with “hey, I recognize that song!” hysterics. After engaging in some brief front-row banter with the band, duder stuck around for exactly half of the next song (an original) before bolting to do, presumably, absolutely nothing in a different location.

This kind of behavior–the blatant shunning of new experiences even when they’re unfolding right in front of your face–couldn’t be embodied any more wholeheartedly/halfassedly. Or so I thought. Yet with just a slight shift of my gaze, his histrionics were thoroughly out-boomered:

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If you're not Cheap Trick then FUCK YOU #slayer

A post shared by jordan campbell (@saddlesore.jr) on


Here’s some fuel for those “worst generation ever” flames: Straight IGNORING a band while positioned front-and-center-stage is the Baby Boomer Dick Move equivalent of filming an entire song with your iPhone…except way more distracting, way more obnoxious, and way more self-centered. The combination of arrogance and oblivion displayed here is staggering.

But if you look a little closer at this photo, there’s a duality here, displaying the best and worst of RibFest. The jaded fan in the center is obviously the worst, but look to the left: Two teenage girls are leaning against the barrier, clad in Ramones and GNR shirts, giving the band their undivided attention…because this is the best thing they can get. They’ll absorb live music at any opportunity, eager to soak up new experiences and feel the electricity of live performance–any live performance. And that’s why this type of event is worthwhile, not because it’s fan service for a bunch of curmudgeons that want to relive their glory years of being oblivious to punk rock.

Thus, we have two types of fans that attend these shows: Grandparents hellbent on replicating snapshots from their heyday, and kids that haven’t had the chance to take theirs yet.

And then there are the people that show up just to get shitfaced in public.


Sure, it’s a bit presumptive to assume that the majority of attendees weren’t there to see The Suburbs, who survived the saddest radio-guy emcee intro ever–complete with “back in my day” and “that social media stuff” jokes–before running out of vocal hooks and adrenaline 30 seconds into their set. Or to see Cheap Trick, who still indulged in full rockstar posturing–Rick Nielsen had a roadie serve him different guitar for nearly every song–yet totally didn’t come off as shopworn, haggard, and obsolete.

But there was ample evidence to back up the speculation that the majority of RibFesters were just there to flaunt their Confederate flag regalia, facilitate awkward run-ins with former co-workers, and chug canned domestics in portable toilets:

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#ribfest #cheaptrick #getoutofmytown

A post shared by jordan campbell (@saddlesore.jr) on


Until last weekend, I’d made it a full seven years in Kato without attending a RibFest.

See you in seven more. Stay classy.

Extended Weekend: Drag the River, RibFest Replacements, and High on 169


Now that dewpoints have dropped, things are starting to heat up. It’s shaping up to be a great weekend for music in Kato (and north from here, for that matter), so let’s crack the lid and dive in:


Drag the River with Pocket Genius [NaKato, 8 p.m., no cover]

While many were mourning the supposed death of Mankato’s music scene during the What’s Up’s hibernation, the NaKato quietly became the spot to see relevant, original music, and it isn’t even a music venue. (And let’s be real: If the What’s Up continues to book plastic/poseur nu-retreads in the vein of 3 Pill Morning, a return to prominence probably isn’t in the cards.) This Thursday, NaKato keeps the streak alive, booking Colorado punks-gone-alt-country-troubadours Drag the River for an off-date before they play First Avenue with Social Distortion on Friday.

Get your shit together and catch a national act at your corner bar.

Oh, hey. Pocket Genius, too. (Seriously. Get your shit together and do this.)


Cheap Trick with The Suburbs and Nato Coles & the Blue Diamond Band [Vetter Stone Amphitheater, 6 p.m., $5 or $10 depending on whether you have a job]

We outlined the RibFest lineup a few weeks ago, but Cheap Trick hadn’t been formally announced as the headliner, so Minneapolis mini-legends The Suburbs were forced to lay the rails for the hype train. And that’s probably for the better; interested parties were able to to do their homework without being distracted by the looming apocalypse of “I Want You to Want Me,” which is arguably the most obnoxious classic rock zombie this side of “Rock and Roll All Nite.”

But there’s a lot more to Rick Nielsen’s crew than that lowbrow, cash-generating hit, as a cursory listen to …at Budokan‘s “deep” cuts will reveal.

This isn't tough mining people. There are only ten tracks on the damn thing. Turn off your radio and GET THE NET

This isn’t tough mining, people. There are only ten tracks on the album. Turn off your radio and GET THE NET

While the opportunity to see a couple of legends–on decidedly different scales–is appealing, the non-throwback draw of the evening is MPLS’ Nato Coles & the Blue Diamond Band, who have developed a deserved following in the Kato area for their blue-collar, Lynott-and-Springsteen-infused punk.


Get there early. Like, quit-your-job early. $5 cans of Schell’s await.


Live with Fastball [Vetter Stone Ampitheater, who:cares, $ribs]

Earlier this week, Smash Mouth announced that they would be pulling out of their RibFest appearance due to illness. (Hey, maybe Guy Fieri’s bestie contracted a YEAST INFECTION after he was PELTED WITH BREAD.) While this will likely disappoint my friend in the VW convertible that was blasting “All-Star” at the intersection of Victory and Glenwood last weekend, I can’t imagine a situation where Live is a downgrade. Their 1994 sophomore album, Throwing Copper, shot the band into MTV rotation on the strength of Ed Kowalczyk’s vocals…

*checks Wikipedia*

Live’s original lead singer Ed Kowalczyk left the band in November 2009.

Oh. Now it makes sense.

Live without Kowalczyk seems like it’d be similar to Bush touring without Gavin Rossdale. Who would want to witness a band that was shallow and opportunistically-marketed the first time around rendered even sadder and more impotent?

I guess fans of one-record-wonders from the mid-90s have finally found their version of the Sebastian-Bach-less Skid Row.

(And I still don’t know what Fastball sounds like.)


High on Fire with Pallbearer [Mill City Nights, 7 p.m., $20]

Remember when I told you (a few grafs ago) to quit your job to go see Nato Coles? ULTERIOR MOTIVE: You’re better off jobless for the trek up 169 on Monday to see the mightiest power trio in metal at Mill City.

High on Fire just released their seventh album, Luminiferous, which sounds like a High on Fire record. Meaning, it’s AWESOME.

Have they been basically writing two songs (the fast one and the slow one) since Blessed Black Wings? Yep. Does it matter? Nope. They’re basically locked in Slayer / Motorhead mode, yet still at their peak, playing to-eleven rock driven by Des Kensel’s increasingly iconic hitting and Matt Pike’s increasingly increasing waistline. They’re the baddest dudes on the planet, and have been for some time now.

They’re getting direct support from Pallbearer, the most critically-acclaimed doom act since…

…actually, a doom band garnering critical acclaim is relatively new phenomenon. They made waves with a stunning debut that proved to be a robust variation on Warning‘s Watching From a Distance, and they pushed that sound through a Disintegration filter on last year’s Foundations of Burden.

This spot doesn’t often advocate 169-ing, but if you feel like extending your hangover into next week, take the trip up the highway this Monday.

See you out there, Mankato.

This Weekend In Kato: The What’s Up Lounge Lives Again

Let it Breathe

Let it Breathe

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.

‘Merica, the Munger Trail, and Conor McGregor


The past few weekends have been absolutely packed with patriotism, or at least what passes for it these days. It’s no secret that Americans love when entertainment and nationalism intertwine, and as of late, the two have been in jackbooted lockstep.

The festivities began in the final weekend of June. The Mankato Regional Airport played host to one of the biggest events to hit our region, in terms of sheer size and fossil fuel consumption: The Minnesota Air Spectacular. Lest you think this was just an excuse to perpetuate the unnecessary nouning of a verb, heavyweight sponsors / local pillars of goodwill Taylor Corp and the Tailwind Group (with additional support from….MONSANTO *gasp*) brought us a true spectacularity featuring the USAF Thunderbirds, which are basically the Burger King to the Blue Angels’ McDonalds.

Ideally, an air show is a kid-centric event. It’s an exploration of objects that are totally beyond their scope of comprehension, celebrating the marvels of engineering, speed, and sonics. When I was a tiny human, my dad took me to an airshow in Duluth, right at the peak of Top Gun‘s popularity.

(A phenomenon that, regrettably, compelled me to spend way too much time with this broken-ass NES game and a VHS dub of Cocktail.)

I was incredibly stoked, not only to see mechanical contraptions that were bigger than houses and could bomb the hell out of brown people, but also to score some killer merch: My dad bought me a rad “Airborne” pin with a sweet skull on it and an SR-71 Blackbird trucker hat that was twice the size of my pelvis.

These things were awesome. Because I was a kid.

Now that I’m an adult–with the wherewithal to read books not titled Daredevil, the Man Without Fear–I find it insulting that an attraction largely driven by American tax dollars costs $20+ for the privilege to attend. In fact, the entire enterprise is off-putting. When an AIR SPECTACULAR rolls into your town, it’s basically like the military-industrial complex is pulling its lobbyist-greased ballsack out of its Dockers, slapping it across our collective forehead, and then insisting that we jam fistfuls of cash into its puckered, festering asshole.

Okay, that’s kind of gross. If you’d prefer not to worry about the $400 billion we’re spending on fighter jets (remember those epic dogfights with Al Qaeda and whoever the hell we were actually fighting in Iraq?) instead of things like education, transit, and health care, by all means, watch the big things go fast. After all, this is the time of year that we should be eating hot dogs, slamming domestic macrobrews, and bitching about real problems, like the 1.3% of food stamps lost to underground trafficking.

This is what we do on our…Independence Day.

(I saw Independence Day–affectionately referred to as ID4 by absolutely no one–on the day of its release in 1996. My friend Nathan and I promptly sold it to his family BBQ as “the greatest movie of all time.” Looking back, it’s definitely on the cusp of the Top Ten Films Featuring Judd Hirsch Playing a Caricature of Judd Hirsch.)

But even the most cynical critics of American excess can’t resist the charms of the Fourth of July. The lure of relaxing on the Northland’s freshwater shores with family and friends is simply too strong. What are we if we cannot break whiskey and hops with our loved ones? Life is too short to deprive ourselves of the most humanizing experiences, is it not?

So, in the interest of being a human, I set out to visit my people in Duluth–aunts, uncles, cousins, sisters, moms, dads–on July 3rd. Mostly by bicycle. Because what’s more American than riding a bike 110 miles from Hinckley to Island Lake for the opportunity to sip scotch and spew anarcho-communist rhetoric?

(Besides, well, everything.)

Thus, my life partner Toyota Corolla’d me to the Willard Munger trailhead in Hinckley–which is a WAY shittier town than the Grand Casino and Tobies billboards would have you believe–and I set about my journey.

I had eyes on trekking up the Willard Munger Trail for some time now, less as a recreational expedition and more of a way to haul ass to D-town without straining on our single-car household. My Duluthian obligations are running unusually high this summer, and not only would I like to avoid leaving Mean Gene carless for an entire weekend, but I hate driving because it is bad and terrible.

Thanks for the ride to Parts Unknown, G.

Thanks for the ride into Parts Unknown, G.

Anyway, here’s the thing about the Munger Trail: as a recreational expedition, it ain’t much of a conquest.

It’s bookended by a pair of 15-mile-ish stretches that are gorgeous for different reasons. The Hinckley-to-Rutledge portion alternates between treelined canopies and wide-open, untouched prairie views, while the final stretch from Carlton to not-quite Duluth (more on that later) runs alongside / through Jay Cooke State Park, where the views range from breathtaking to intimidating.

But that 40+ mile midsection that runs parallel to Highway 61? It’s just a straight. goddamn. line. If you don’t have friends or whiskey to keep you occupied, it’s…well, let’s take a look at some of the riveting terrain…


…from Finlayson…


…to Groningen…

...to Willow River...

…to Willow River…

...to Moose Lake...

…to Moose Lake…

...through Carlton...

…through Carlton…

...and, finally, into the gates of Valhalla.

…and, finally, into the gates of Valhalla.

Getting a sense of the theme, here?

All of this banality makes the long-awaited, ever-so-slight descent from Jay Cooke into Duluth a hellacious reward. But once that rollercoaster of wilderness was complete, rather than being greeted with a warm welcome into my hometown–something like the beautiful crest into the harbor that glass-cagers are privileged when rolling in from Spirit Mountain–I was crushed by the encompassing maw of construction season.

The last 9 miles of the trail were closed. I had to hike up a staircase and plant myself on something called “Becks Road.”

On the wrong side of Spirit Mountain.

Next to a sign screaming, “DEMOLITION LANDFILL.”

Near 108th Avenue West.

In Gary / New Duluth.

Which any Duluthian knows isn’t actually Duluth, much less New Duluth. It’s the Pluto to Morgan Park’s Siberia.

Thus, after a maddening 75-mile trek, I was forced to cross the entire city. My only respite(s) were stopping at the mighty A & Dubs for replenishment…


…and pausing for photos with Hairball fans…

…before finally touching down in East Duluth to settle down with family and crush Bent Paddle by the pint.

It was a good–if brief–weekend, but the return journey wasn’t much better than the ride northward. Again, it’s more of a lets-get-from-point-A-to-point-B ride, best split by a night in this shelter 20 miles from the Hinckley trailhead…


…and best spent with other humans.

(Wannabe racers would hate this thing, too, because despite the straightaways, the asphalt is in relatively sketchy condition. My 32mm Panaracers roll over just about anything, but skinny-tire carbonites would torque their aerobars with impotent rage at having their taints battered by bumps.)

The lone oasis on this arduous trek was this country store in Mahtowa….


…which transforms into something of a bratwurst-fueled flea market on Sundays.

Needless to say, it was nice to land back in Mankato, but the weekend following the 4th was filled with a bit of trepidation. There was an inkling that my town / glorified neighborhood of North Mankato, in the throes of the Fun Days parade and festivities, would succumb to the kind of backwoods racism that emerged from Facebook commenters in the wake of that Albert Lea Confederate’s dick-waving cluelessness.

I was half-afraid that the people that pissed all over this since-scrubbed KEYC comment section (including a City of Mankato employee that was posting blatantly-racist memes) would descend upon Benderz and resurrect the Klan while middle-aged women got falling-down-drunk in front of Scrambler-sick children.

So, I kept my never-been-to-Fun-Days streak alive, and retreated indoors to watch a cocky Irishman TKO an all-American boy in the main event of what was possibly the greatest card in UFC history.


Keep up the good work, America.




Mankato Summer Concert Preview: Muppet Lovers, Racist Old Guys, and Dudes that Hate Bread


Ah, summertime in Minnesota. That wondrous time where we attempt to cram an entire year’s worth of weekend activities into a three-month window because the rest of the year, the air hurts and makes you want to die. (I feel like I’ve expressed this exact sentiment before–on these pages or others–but whatever. I’m only ripping myself off because it’s true.)

Now, if you’re the type that enjoys live music and would like to experience some electrifying concerts this summer…well, you should move to Minneapolis. Or at least think about driving up there a lot.

Stubbornly, Mankato doesn’t want to be left in 169’s dust. There are plenty of outdoor concert events scheduled this summer that cater to Mankatoan tastes. In fact, yesterday, The Last Revel blue your grass for the 2015th time in 2015. And this weekend, the three-day Solstice Outdoor Music Festival will satiate our unquenchable thirst for cut-rate country acts and bar-caliber cover bands. (For those brave enough to battle through the weekend’s numbing okayness, riff-wielding post-rock mini-heroes Crash Cuddle will be playing a crucial set on Saturday afternoon…sandwiched by a children’s talent show.)

After that? Well, the Vetter Stone Amphitheater is where the big outdoor events are happening. When it comes to small city attractions, “big” is a relative term, and throughout this SUMMER CONCERT PREVIEW, feel free to apply it appropriately.

Here’s what’s shaking at the bandshell this season.


Red, Hot, and Boom [July 4th, 6pm, Free]

[Editor’s Note: That lack of an Oxford comma is their bullshit, not mine.] This family-oriented Fourth of July event features local legends City Mouse alongside the Mankato Symphony Orchestra, playing separate sets but also collaborating.

If you don’t have actual friends to spend time with on our nation’s birthday and you find yourself buying $5 cans of Goosetown along the river, here’s hoping the end result is better than the Reload cuts from S&M. (Woof, dude. WOOF)


Ben Folds [July 17th, 7pm, Tickets from $25]

Full disclosure: I hold a bit of a grudge against Ben Folds, but it’s not his fault.

Here’s the story. Roughly ten years ago, I lived in the Mankato-esque hamlet of Eau Claire, Wisconsin, a college town rife with college-type things. Now, keep in mind, ten years ago, being a music fan still meant carrying around toddler-sized flipbook of compact discs and listening to late-night radio. Much like “music television,” however, radio was one of those things that sucked total ass, yet you still habitually consumed because that was the thing that you were bred to do.

Eventually, someone in EC commandeered an FM radio frequency and dubbed it WOLF 105: REBEL ROCK RADIO. The gimmick of REBEL ROCK RADIO was that they were totally independent and free of ClearChannel playlist meddling, bestowing DJs with the liberty to spin anything they pleased.

Given this platform for expression, a couple of daring disc jockeys unleashed some tame metal and punk during peak hours, like Soilwork and the Ramones. Not the most abrasive or challenging stuff, assuredly, but at least it was in line with the spirit of what makes real rock great: rebellion. It was in the station’s name, you know? They were at least trying to keep up appearances.

However, most of the DJs had the constitution of lukewarm ramen, and ended up spinning a shitload of Ben Folds Five. Don’t get me wrong; Ben Folds makes pleasant music. But REBEL ROCK it was not, at least to the naive 22-year-old kid that kept calling the station to request 9-minute Vital Remains songs to no avail.

So that’s the story of how Ben Folds became this former hesher’s enemy, but even that deep-seated resentment can’t suppress enthusiasm for his anticipated classipop collaboration with yMusic. (Listen here at NPR.)


What can suppress enthusiasm is an artist that’s willing to charge seventy-five bucks for premium seating in a non-premium city, but hey, we’ve already established that this ain’t anti-establishment stuff. This is, however, quite easily the most culturally-relevant show to land on the Minnesota River in 2015.


RibFest [August 6-9, set times TBA, prices TBA]

One surefire way to draw Midwesterners from their homes is to tantalize them with animal meat slathered in sugar. Rib Fests are definitely a thing in the heartland’s mid-sized towns; a quickish Bing search yields an array of poorly-designed websites boasting LOTS OF MEAT and entertainment provided by musical acts that range from local strugglers to casino-circuit veterans.

In comparison, Mankato’s edition is positively steroidal. Four days of festivities, kicking off with…

Clay Walker (Thursday)

No, this isn’t the lamest sideshow attraction ever conceived. (Come one, come all, and witness the danger and daredevilry of…THE MAN WHO WALKS ON CLAY!) This person is actually named Clay Walker.

In the early to mid-90s, he rode a vanilla-crested wave of mainstream country success, manufacturing a handful of standard-issue #1 and #2 singles (some of which he even co-wrote), as well as a platinum record titled–unironically–If I Could Make A Living. He’s also noted for penning the Houston Texans’ fight song, looking good in a gigantic hat, and probably being a very nice person.


Headliner TBA w/ The Suburbs (Friday)

Don’t be too scared off by this; the “TBA” definitely means “to be announced,” not “we have no goddamn idea what we’re doing.” I have it on good authority that the headlining act is going to be hilariously awesome, and ever-so-slightly above RibFest caliber.

Meanwhile, The Suburbs, besides being more Googleable than you’d expect, were a pretty decent-sized deal back in the golden years of punk/new wave. A Minneapolis scene fixture, they were one of those bands that was too damn good to not be noticed by major-label suits, but also too damn good to be noticed by pop music consumers. It was one of those art-meets-commerce-and-everybody-loses-and-the-band-breaks-up kind of things.

For evidence of this peculiar but all-too-common-back-in-the-day phenomenon, scope their 17-track sophomore LP Credit in Heaven, which, despite being funky and swaggeriffic, managed to bury its hooks fifteen feet underground.

It’s pretty great, actually.


Smash Mouth w/ Fastball (Saturday)

While waiting for his upcoming cookbook collaboration with Guy Fieri and Sammy Hagar to drop directly into Barnes and Noble discount bins nationwide, the dude from Smash Mouth recently TOTALLY LOST HIS SHIT at another food-related concert event because a piece of bread landed in his vicinity, gravely disappointing the parents of pint-sized Shrek fans in the process.

Mankato, if you don’t punch this asshole directly in the mouth with a full rack of ribs, I’m disowning you and moving to Le Sueur.

Just kidding. I’d never move to Le Sueur.

And I have no idea what Fastball sounded like in the 90s, but they probably sucked.


Chris Hawkey Band (Sunday)

The dude from the KFAN morning show has been gigging for awhile, but this was only common knowledge because he used to constantly gush about the time his band got to open for Collective Soul.


Anyway, here’s his acclaimed duet with Paul Allen:


Garrison Keillor: A Prairie Home Companion [August 19th, 8 p.m., ticket prices TBA]

Friends know me to be a bit of a homer; I like things that are Minnesotan, often irrationally. For instance, in MMA circles, I’m a noted Brock Lesnar apologist. (Yes, I know he was born in South Dakota. It doesn’t matter.) I cheerlead for Zebulon Pike even though they seem determined to mire themselves in obscurity. And I maintain that Mr. Perfect is the greatest professional wrestler of ALL TIME.


But there’s one thing my inherent bias cannot overcome: A Prairie Home Companion. Ol’ GK’s voice is basically the sonic embodiment of a Lutheran church basement, and his attempts to bridge his ideal of Minnesotan quaintness with vapid pop culture references have all the nuance of getting hit in the scranus with a six-pack of Grain Belt and a bucket of lutefisk.

But, hey, if you’re 80 years old / hate live music with percussionists / are the average Mankatoan, you’ll love this.


The Charlie Daniels Band [August 21st, 7 p.m., ticket prices TBA]

Charlie Daniels is an ultra-paranoid, pro-war, right-wing nutjob that’s constantly defending himself against accusations of racism while simultaneously accusing Barack Obama of being a “secular socialist.” (If he was either of those things, dude, I’d have voted for him.)

He also had a single hit in 1979 called “The Devil Went Down to Georgia,” which is basically just a fiddle solo broken up by some shitty spoken word bits.

The regulars at Benderz are gonna have a blast with this one. WOOOOOOOO JAGER SJOATS!1111


See you this summer, Mankato.

…at the Triple Rock.