Midwest Music Fest in Winona: scratching the surface with 20 bands in 2 nights

Sunday morning I woke up singing Apollo Cobra; I think that means they won the last night of the Midwest Music Fest in Winona. It started on Thursday night – but we arrived on Friday. There were around 65 bands playing in 9 venues – mostly in Winona, mostly within blocks of each other. We saw 20 bands, preparation for a video podcast and the taping of The Current’s Local Show. Darn good weekend!

Part of the magic and difficulty of the weekend is the wealth of talent. Again, we saw 20 bands, I wanted to see another 20 more and probably could have been wowed by plenty of the folks who weren’t on either list. One hiccup in the planning is the scheduling of the bands. It’s not staggered and it is jam packed. Bands start and end at the same time at most venues, which meant we caught a lot of half shows and tail ends. That and the chilly rain are my only complaints.

This was my first MWMF and first time really hanging out in Winona when there wasn’t a wedding or graduation on the agenda. I didn’t realize how manageable the area was – much of the action takes place in a 3-block radius. It was easy to bounce from place to place.

MWMF - charlie parr Our adventure started at Ed’s No Name bar. We waiting in line (for minutes) to get into see Charlie Parr, playing with Mikkel Beckman. We got right up to where the action was. In fact I have to say the crowds were friendly throughout the weekend, making room for folks who like to dance inches from the stage. Parr and Beckman – both stalwarts on the music scene – play bluesy folk music; think washboards on stage and whooping from the crowd.

MWMF - surf zombies

Second band was Surf Zombies at Broken World Record – just across the street. They are as advertised, hard driving surf punk music. It was dark and they played loud and fast. Absolute contrast from Parr, in tighten your seat belts it’s going to be a bumpy night kind of way.

Third band was Al Church in the tent. I really enjoy Al Church in BBGUN. I think his solo work might be aimed more at my kids – but there was a lot of energy and interest from the crowd. Also around the tents were some tasty food trucks. A good move since Winona was not awash in restaurants.

MWMF - hot cellars

Fourth band was Hot Cellars in the Eagle’s Club. They are kind of retro garage with a female lead singer and a bands from the late 60s. Fun to check out, they too might make my be sure to see later list.

MWMF - reina

Band five was Reina Del Cid; a band I wanted to catch. They were back at Ed’s No Name and the place was packed. It was a folksy rock groove. I would like to have a chance to see them again for a few more songs.. Maybe the best you can hope when you play or attend a festival so jam-packed is to set up that sort of speed-dating fan opportunity.

MWMF - ultrasounds

Band six was the Ultrasounds back at Broken World Records. Women playing punk is hard to beat in my book. And they weren’t all women on stage but it’s nice to see them front, center and dominating the stage. With local bands like Kitten Forever and Bruise Violent, we soon may get to a point where it’s not even worth noting women on stage!

MWMF - gospel

Band seven was Gospel Machine in the tent, where I heard very sad news that this was one of their last gigs. They have a very international sound – garage gospel I’ve heard it called. A mix of gospel, ska, blues, dancehall. The songs tell a story and it is great for dancing. They are one of my favorite local bands; I will miss them.

MWMF - farewellBand eight was Farewell Milwaukee, a last minute substitute for American Scarecrows. Just caught a couple of songs, but always enjoy their slightly country leaning rock music that reminds me of what I grew up listening to in my dad’s car – again in a good way.

MWMF - murder shoed

Band nine was Murder Shoes, another band that was new to me. They are alternative, pretty hard driving at times but an element of sweet at others.

MWMF - hieruspecsBand ten was Hieruspecs in the tent. They always rock it with a little hip hop, a little rock and lot of funk. Really hard not to like a band from St Paul anyway – but they were just what the Audience wanted.

The grand finale for Friday night was Erik Koskinen. I’ve seen Erik many times and he never disappoints. They place was packed. The joint was jumping. He played all of his most rocking country songs And there were plenty of off duty musicians in the crowd; a sign of how instrumental Erik is to the work of other local musicians.

MWMF - current

We started Saturday at the recording of The Current’s Local Show. They started with Mike Munson and Mikkel Beckman. It was fun to see how the radio show is produced. I was there with a consummate audiophile, so I got a bonus explanation of how high tech everything really with The Current setup. Also got to hear how smart Beckman is – and learn about his passion for water. A passion that we take from granted in Minnesota but is so important everywhere.

MWMF - hobo

Our first gig of the day was Hobo Nephews of Uncle Frank out in Trempealeau, Wisconsin. It’s a beautiful drive and sadly for us the place was too packed to order lunch but we did get to hear some Americana from Duluth.

MWMF - daytrotterBetween the first and second gig we stopped in to see Daytrotter’s set up for their podcast series. Again, being with an audiophile I got the opportunity to learn more about the recording equipment. All I can share was that it was a lot more vintage that The Current’s setup. Actually it was a reel to reel tape setup, which even I could see was pretty cool. Fun to get an inside peek and fun to have a few recordings of the whole event. Great marketing for the local musicians and fun way to share the event with folks who couldn’t be in Winona.

MWMF - dusty heart

Our second gig was Dusty Heart at the Masonic Temple. Dusty Heart is the duo of Molly Dean and Barbara Jean; both who have solid solo reputations and who I have seen perform together before. We walked into the beautiful building and we told right away that we’d made a good choice – because “these ladies have lovely voices” and the advice wasn’t wrong. They do. They are also good song writers. It’s fun to hear country classic themes from the woman’s point of view – such as with a song I particularly like – Cigarettes and Matches.

MWMF - persian leaps

Gig Three was Persian Leaps, a band I have tried to see several times when Fate has intervened. I caught just a couple of songs of a solid indie rock trio. The beats are easy to follow the vocals are easy to listen to – actually sound a little like Bill Bragg to me.

MWMF - dig deep

Gig Four was Dig Deep at the Broken World Records. Heading banging blue grass. That’s about all I can say – it’s a combination that I should have seen before Winona!


Gig Five was PHO in the tent. They are a funk band from McNally Smith College of Music. There are 8 of them, they’re young, they have a ton of energy. They were another great crowd pleaser even in the rain. It’s feel good crowd music.

MWMF - fury things

Gig Six was Fury Things. I can’t say enough about this band. They are old school punk. They hit it hard, play fast, say little. I first ran into them covering Hole for a Girl Germs show and have been a fan ever since. Just saw them last week with Bob Mould – the are the next generation of great Minnesota hard core.

MWMF - frog leg

Gig Seven was Frog Leg at Broken World Records. They sound like a Bunker’s band to me although they are probably too young to have been playing at a place like Bunker’s for very long. It’s funk with the full band.

MWMF - fevers

Gig Eight was Little Fevers. They were billed as Surf Rock so I went in expecting something very different. It’s Lucy Michell; she has a unique and quirky voice, which I like but the band was more alternative than surf. They do win the award for the best band picture in the program.

MWMF - dang

Gig Nine was a surprise change up when Ed’s No Name was at capacity at the wrong time for us. So we headed to see Dang Ol’ Tri’ole. We walked into an a capella rendition of something pretty uplifting with lots of harmony. Their music is positive and folksy.MWMF - apollo cobra

Final gig was Apollo Cobra, a band I like a lot and haven’t seen in a long time and they did not disappoint. They are a techno dance band. People get pretty friendly and a little sloppy on the dance floor. I was delighted when they pulled onto stage a bride to be in bachelorette attire who knew all of the words to their songs. And there was an interesting version of Prince’s Controversy, which was a good fit for them. They were a great end to a fun weekend!

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