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Now or Never

Tony Benshoof loves to win—almost as much as he loves to zoom, lying feet-first on a tiny sled, down an icy track.



It was February 2006, the Turin Winter Olympics. The Italian sun had already faded into pitch-black night when Tony Benshoof, a burly, 30-year-old bartender from White Bear Lake, settled onto his sled. He was ready—ready to launch himself down an ice-lined track going 98 miles per hour, face-up, feet-first, shoulders down, his back on a 50-pound slab of fiberglass with sharp steel runners beneath it.

The medal he had long sought was so close to his grasp he could almost feel its weight around his neck. He’d soldiered through the disappointing games in Salt Lake City four years earlier, where he’d finished in 17th place, but this time he was ready. He knew every one of the 19 curves, every bump and nuance of the course at Cesana Pariol, just west of Turin. On this night of promise, he had no need to see where he was going—so it didn’t matter that he had no time to look as he sped down the course.

The rest is history…but not the stuff Olympic legends are made of. Benshoof finished fourth in the luge finals near Turin, just .153 seconds behind the third-place guy from Latvia. That’s a total of .153 seconds from four separate runs over two days down a 1,435-meter course, an average differential per slide between him and the bronze medalist of .04 seconds. “The blink of an eye,” Benshoof says, though he knows fourth might as well be 400th when only three colors matter: gold, silver, and bronze.

Even so, his obsession with the sport and his drive to compete have led him, once again, to the Winter Olympics in Vancouver. He’s ready to reach again for the five Olympic rings and—this time—bring home one of those medals.
 

Tony Benshoof’s life and identity are enmeshed in the dangerous and some would say goofy sport of luge. He has spent 20 years zipping feet first down the side of an Alp or a Rocky or an Adirondack. Wrapped in Lycra, his head in a projective helmet, his face behind a necessary windshield, he’s learned to use the slightest tilt of his torso to steer into and out of harrowing twists and turns, and to maintain his balance in the face of G-forces that can exceed 4 Gs. After thousands of training runs and hundreds of competitions, Benshoof admits, “Walls with ice, going 90, they scare the hell out of me. But those are the tracks I like the best because I know they scare the hell out of everyone else, too.”

Luge—pronounced, lewzh—is a bipolar sport. It demands nearly simultaneous strength and relaxation, push and stillness. “At the start, he has to be very aggressive, very strong,” says U.S. luge coach Wolfgang Schädler. That’s the only part of a run the athlete controls; after that, it’s all about finesse. “In the next split second, he must be calm, without any emotion. He must feel the track,” says Schädler. “Everything has to be round and smooth. There can be no resistance.”

To this sport of fearlessness and physics, of zoom and Zen, add pain. Just three months after Benshoof’s disappointing fourth-place finish at Turin, the years of flexing like a rubber band to jump-start his sled at the beginning of races caught up with him: Two discs in his back became herniated. He sought treatment and, as world-class athletes do, continued competing through the pain in 2007 and 2008.

But the Turin fourth-place still tasted bitter. In a series of heart-to-hearts with Schädler, Benshoof told his coach he was thinking of quitting. “I said, ‘No, Tony, you can’t do that to me,’” Schädler remembers. “For him, the magic wasn’t there.” Benshoof’s performances on the World Cup tour suffered, as did his bank account, which relied on international prize money to provide him with a reasonable living.

He supplemented his income through a jobs program sponsored by the U.S. Olympic Committee and funded by Home Depot—Benshoof worked the paint and lumber departments in Maplewood until Home Depot pulled its support in 2007. He scrambled to get out from under a burdensome mortgage on a house he shared with friends in White Bear Lake. He returned to his tried-and-true source of income: bartending in a not-so-upscale restaurant in Hugo.
At the same time, the steel blades on his sled, beloved companions with miles of victories on them, dulled. He had to acquire new ones and fine-tune them. For a luger, that’s akin to housebreaking a new dog.

By the end of 2008, after a competition in Germany, his back was screaming. He couldn’t stand up. On his way home from Europe for emergency surgery, he was compelled to get down on all fours on the moving walkway in the airport. It was that bad.

But his surgery was a success. Pain-free for the first time in three years, he moved to Lake Placid, New York, for rehabilitation. He stretched for an hour or more a day. He worked on his core muscles to strengthen the back. He lifted weights that didn’t stress his back. Within six weeks, Benshoof had returned to competition. That was when he looked at himself in the mirror and decided he’d come too close to stop. With the 2010 Vancouver Olympics in his backyard, he would be there.

There’s no Little League for luge, but there is something called the “Slider Search.” USA Luge, the sport’s national governing body, has sponsored this traveling audition show for 25 years. In 1990, Benshoof, a 14-year-old who’d been getting out his adolescent energy by boxing, decided to give luge a try. He was introduced to the sport near the Mississippi River, his sled on wheels rolling down an asphalt hill near the Franklin Avenue Bridge in Minneapolis. A luge scout determined Benshoof had potential, and the kid determined he’d found his passion. “Just going downhill, the thrill of going fast, I felt at home,” Benshoof says. The sport took him away from home, to Calgary for his first real ice sliding and then around the globe representing the United States.

It took him five seasons to figure out the Zen of luge, the science and art of balancing physical speed with the need to slow everything down mentally as he whooshed down a track. “That whole thrill of going 90 miles per hour, you want that to wear off and replace it with a more methodical approach,” he says. He spent more than a decade rising among the world’s best competitors in a sport that rewards longevity; 34 might seem old for a luger in the United States, but it’s when Austrians and Germans reach their peak. Benshoof is the most decorated U.S. male luger ever, with 37 medals in various international events and seven U.S. titles. He finished third in the overall World Cup standings in 2005-06 before his back acted up.

He was even beginning to make a living at it. When he was winning World Cup races and finishing strong in season-long standings, his income was nothing to sneeze at. Now, after the back surgery, a shortened 2009 season, and poor results heading down the home stretch to the Vancouver Games, Benshoof has been living on a $1,000-a-month U.S. Olympic Committee stipend.

But it’s not about the money. It never has been. It’s about the love of the sport. It’s about that darned .153 second margin four years ago. It’s about battling for supremacy with the all-stars of international luge—people like Italy’s Armin Zöggeler, a four-time Olympic medalist and five-time world champion. It’s about bringing home an Olympic medal, despite all the setbacks, including the recent return of his back pain. “It’s an Olympic year; it’s in Canada. I have every reason to keep going,” says Benshoof. It’s what he knows best, and, slider through and through, he can’t stop himself.

St. Paul-based Jay Weiner will be covering his eighth Winter Olympics in Vancouver; he’s covered seven Summer Games, too. This time he’ll be working as a reporter and researcher for NBC.

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MN Events Calendar Sponsored by:

July 2015

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Cost: Professional Bull Riding $15 12+, $8 Kids in advance

Where:
Lee & Rose Warner Coliseum MN State Fairgrounds
1265 Snelling Ave
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Sponsor: Rice Bull Riding Company
Telephone: 763-389-1399
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Cost: Free

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Cost: Free

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Cost: $25 with discounts for MPR members, students, seniors, group, fringe buttons

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Sponsor: Girl Friday Productions
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Cost: Free

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Cost: Free

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Sponsor: Kolman & Pryor Gallery
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Cost: Free

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Sponsor: Kolman & Pryor Gallery
Telephone: 612-385-4239
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Telephone: 763-488-9965
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Cost: $49.00 - $109.00

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910 Hennepin Avenue
Minneapolis, MN  55403
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Sponsor: Erik's Ranch & Retreats
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Erik's Retreat
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More information

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Contact Name: Jenny Jones
Website »

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A national marketing research firm seeks Men and Women, ages 18+, for an upcoming Paid Focus Group on Shopping. This study will take place the week of July 27th at various times in Minneapolis....

Cost: Free

Where:
, MN


Sponsor: Focus Pointe Global

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The St. Catherine Choral Society invites area singers to audition for membership in preparation for their 2015 – 2016 season.  Auditions will be held at St. Catherine University,...

Cost: Free

Where:
St. Catherine University
2004 Randolph Ave.
Saint Paul, MN  55105
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Summer Group Show 2015 Featuring the artists of the Kolman & Pryor Gallery: Betsy Ruth Byers: Painting Kate Casanova: Mixed Media and Sculpture Jim Dryden: Painting Jil Evans: Painting...

Cost: Free

Where:
Kolman & Pryor Gallery
Studio 395, Northrup King Building
1500 Jackson St. NE
Minneapolis, MN  55413
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Sponsor: Kolman & Pryor Gallery
Telephone: 612-385-4239
Contact Name: Anita Sue Kolman
Website »

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July 25 & 26th, 1 p.m. - 4 p.m. July 29 & 30th, 4 p.m. - 8 p.m. Scratch a design into the vessel that will produce your own cast iron sculpture. Each summer Iron Artists from...

Cost: Fees for sand mold: $30/small, $45/medium, $75/large

Where:
Franconia Sculpture Park
29836 St. Croix Trail
Shafer, MN  55074
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Sponsor: Franconia Sculpture Park
Telephone: 651-257-6668
Website »

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The tool set for communicating with your customers has changed for the better. Social media plays a large role in customer service, sales, and marketing – and it is growing faster than any...

Cost: Free

Where:
Checkerboard Strategic Web Development, Inc.
350 W Burnsville Parkway
Suite 350
Burnsville, MN  55337
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Minnesota Fringe Festival is proud to present our 174 acts, performed by both local and international touring artists. Our artists perform at 11 different theaters and 9 site-specific locations....

Cost: $14/single ticket + one-time purchase of a $4 Fringe button

Where:
, MN

More information

Summer Faire Announces Its 2015 Season! The Shoppes at Arbor Lakes’ popular summer concert series is back- better than ever! Don’t miss FREE live music from talented local...

Cost: FREE

Where:
The Shoppes Central Courtyard
I-94/I-694 at Hemlock Lane
Maple Grove, MN
View map »


Sponsor: The Shoppes
Telephone: 763-488-9965
Contact Name:
Website »

More information

Bollywood Dance Scene, creators of 2014's best selling MN Fringe show, return with a bigger, bolder Bollywood dance drama of original storytelling and choreography. Packed with exciting...

Cost: $14 with a $4 Fringe button

Where:
Rarig Proscenium Theater
330 21st Ave South, Second Floor
Minneapolis, MN  55455
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Sponsor: Bollywood Dance Scene
Telephone: 612-782-9836
Contact Name: Carillon RoseMeadows
Website »

More information

All Originals Jazz Series presents dā-kə-bro̵̅o̅-dā: Kevin Daley, guitar; Dave Brattain, saxophones; "Pooch" Heinie, bass; Dave Stanoch, drums. All Originals is a weekly jazz...

Cost: $10

Where:
Studio Z
275 E. 4th Street, Suite 200
St. Paul, MN  55101
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Sponsor: Studio Z
Telephone: 651-755-1600
Website »

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Opening Reception with the Artist: Thursday, August 16, 6 - 8 pm St. Croix Valley-based fiber artist Mary Giles works with metal and linen to create organic sculptural forms evocative of...

Cost: Free

Where:
Textile Center
3000 University Ave SE
Minneapolis, MN  55414
View map »


Sponsor: Textile Center
Telephone: 612-436-0464
Contact Name: Jenny Jones
Website »

More information

The St. Catherine Choral Society invites area singers to audition for membership in preparation for their 2015 – 2016 season.  Auditions will be held at St. Catherine University,...

Cost: Free

Where:
St. Catherine University
2004 Randolph Ave.
Saint Paul, MN  55105
View map »

More information

Summer Group Show 2015 Featuring the artists of the Kolman & Pryor Gallery: Betsy Ruth Byers: Painting Kate Casanova: Mixed Media and Sculpture Jim Dryden: Painting Jil Evans: Painting...

Cost: Free

Where:
Kolman & Pryor Gallery
Studio 395, Northrup King Building
1500 Jackson St. NE
Minneapolis, MN  55413
View map »


Sponsor: Kolman & Pryor Gallery
Telephone: 612-385-4239
Contact Name: Anita Sue Kolman
Website »

More information

THE SUMMER SLAUGHTER TOUR 2015 Skyway Theatre: ARCH ENEMY BORN OF OSIRIS VEIL OF MAYA THE ACACIA STRAIN OBSCURA AFTER THE BURIAL CATTLE DECAPITATION BEYOND CREATION  IMMORALIS...

Cost: $25

Where:
Skyway Theatre
, MN

More information

Come join the battle July 31-August 2! Somerset Amphitheater will host the Border Battle Weekend on its newly improved festival grounds. The event is an extension of the popular Border...

Cost: $20-$35

Where:
Somerset Amphitheater
715 Spring Street
Somerset, WI  54025
View map »


Website »

More information

Summer at the Civic: Free Friday Concerts Patio and Grill open at 4pm, Happy Hour 4 – 6pm, Music at 5:30 – 9pm Free admission.  Rain or shine. Fresh food & cold drinks....

Cost: Free

Where:
Rochester Civic Theatre
20 Civic Center Dr. SE
Rochester, MN  55904
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Sponsor: 507 Magazine
Website »

More information

Minnesota Fringe Festival is proud to present our 174 acts, performed by both local and international touring artists. Our artists perform at 11 different theaters and 9 site-specific locations....

Cost: $14/single ticket + one-time purchase of a $4 Fringe button

Where:
, MN

More information

Summer Faire Announces Its 2015 Season! The Shoppes at Arbor Lakes’ popular summer concert series is back- better than ever! Don’t miss FREE live music from talented local...

Cost: FREE

Where:
The Shoppes Central Courtyard
I-94/I-694 at Hemlock Lane
Maple Grove, MN
View map »


Sponsor: The Shoppes
Telephone: 763-488-9965
Contact Name:
Website »

More information

Join love-struck Aladdin on a treacherous journey to find a lamp like no other.  Jewels come to life in a deadly display of balanced precision, a whirlwind of demonic Jinns practice their...

Cost: $15.00 - $40.00 on sale Monday, June 29

Where:
Circus Juventas Big Top
1270 Montreal Ave.
St. Paul, MN  55116
View map »


Sponsor: Circus Juventas
Telephone: 651-699-8229
Website »

More information

Princeton Speedway is a 1/4 mile clay banked oval located in Princeton, Minnesota inside the Mille Lacs County Fairgrounds. The dirt flies here on Friday nights throughout the summer months. On...

Cost: prices are adults $12, Senior and military are $10, and 7-17 year olds are $5

Where:
Princeton Speedway
1400 3rd St. N
Princeton, MN
View map »


Website »

More information

Hydrive Shows and Skyway Theatre present: BOOMBOX CARTEL ARYAY MicDaddy Rare Kandy THE BOYS ARE BACK IN TOWN Friday, July 31st The Loft @ Skyway Theatre 9pm 18+ $15...

Cost: $15

Where:
The Loft @ Skyway Theatre
711 Hennepin Avenue
Minneapolis, MN  55403
View map »


Telephone: 612-333-6100
Website »

More information

Death can be scary. So can clowns. But what if they weren't? Clown siblings Victoria, Frank, and Mango mourn the loss of their mother by daring to find joy. It’s OK to laugh at this...

Cost: $14

Where:
Illusion Theater
528 Hennepin Ave, 8th Floor
Minneapolis, MN  55403
View map »

More information

Stop in to Day Block Brewing on Friday July 31st for an evening of live music from local artists Fairfax, AK and Bre Lewis Band.  Music starts at 10pm and there will be a $5 cover charge.

Cost: $5

Where:
Day Block Brewing
1105 Washington Ave S
Minneapolis, MN  55415
View map »


Website »

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The Dirty Girl Mud Run is a 3.1 mile(ish) obstacle course run for women and women ONLY! If you’re an uber cross fitter looking to make your weekend more challenging, Dirty Girl Mud...

Cost: $55-$65

Where:
Pinehaven Pumpkin Farms
28186 Kettle River Blvd. North
Wyoming, MN  55092
View map »


Sponsor: Human Movement Management
Contact Name: Carson Morford
Website »

More information

Enjoy this unique riding experience on the Mesabi Trail, NE Minnesota's premier paved bicycle trail. The tour is designed for serious riders and families alike, choose from four different...

Cost: $45 individuals / $90 families (kids ride FREE)

Where:
Mesabi Trail - Coleraine to Eveleth
P.O. Box 139
Virginia , MN  55792
View map »


Sponsor: Great River Energy, Mesabi Trail, Ampers
Telephone: 877-637-2241
Contact Name: Ardy Wilberg
Website »

More information

Tires Plus will welcome customers and guests for an exciting community event including:   •Fun activities with Boys & Girls Club kids from Boys & Girls Clubs of the Twin...

Cost: Free

Where:
Tires Plus
580 W 79Th St.
Chanhassen, MN  55317-9530
View map »

More information

Learn how to make smarter investment decisions and take control of your financial future   Invest a few life-changing hours in our Power Trading Workshop, where you’ll learn:...

Cost: Free

Where:
Online Trading Academy
7900 International Drive Suite 170
Bloomington, MN  55425
View map »


Sponsor: Online Trading Academy
Telephone: 952-814-4410
Website »

More information

Come experience a day full of diverse brass music from mariachi to swing! This year's festival features twelve phenomenal bands from the region. Audiences of all ages will get to...

Cost: Free

Where:
Bridge Square
Intersection of E 4th St. and Division St.
Northfield, MN  55057
View map »


Sponsor: Vintage Band Festival
Telephone: 507-645-7554
Website »

More information

Dash for the kids of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. Join the World’s Largest Running Series as a St. Jude Warrior! Warrior Dash is the ultimate event for the thrill-seeking...

Cost: Multiple Entry Point Levels

Where:
Johnson Creek
Johnson Creek, WI  53038


Telephone: 952-893-0442
Contact Name: Matthew O'Shea
Website »

More information

In a Reiki II session, the student is given the first three Reiki symbols. Students will learn about: • the Power symbol • the Mental/Emotional symbol • the Distance symbol...

Cost: $175.00

Where:
Rising Sun Reiki Studio
4180 West Broadway
Suite B3
Robbinsdale, MN  55422
View map »


Sponsor: Rising Sun Reiki Studio
Telephone: 612-940-5851
Contact Name: Cyndi Stavrou
Website »

More information

Do you like a morning run or a leisurely walk? Looking for a great reason to be active? Participate in the 3rd Annual BBBS 5K Run/Walk! Enjoy the views and natural beauty that Fort Snelling...

Cost: $30 Individual $45 Match Rate

Where:
Fort Snelling State Park - Beach Area
101 Snelling Lake Road
St. Paul, MN  55111
View map »


Sponsor: SNAP Fitness

More information

Opening Reception with the Artist: Thursday, August 16, 6 - 8 pm St. Croix Valley-based fiber artist Mary Giles works with metal and linen to create organic sculptural forms evocative of...

Cost: Free

Where:
Textile Center
3000 University Ave SE
Minneapolis, MN  55414
View map »


Sponsor: Textile Center
Telephone: 612-436-0464
Contact Name: Jenny Jones
Website »

More information

Artist from around the world converge at Franconia to create cast metal sculpture and we invite the public to participate in this unique art-making process! Witness artist working a furnace that...

Cost: Free

Where:
Franconia Sculpture Park
29836 St. Croix Trail
Shafer, MN  55074
View map »


Sponsor: Franconia Sculpture Park
Telephone: 651-257-6668
Website »

More information

HazelFest, presented by the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation, is a day-long chemical-free community festival that features bands, recovery speakers, exhibitors, food trucks, and family...

Cost: $15-$25

Where:
Hazelden Campus
15251 Pleasant Valley Rd.
Center City, MN  55012
View map »


Sponsor: Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation
Telephone: 763-300-1218
Contact Name: Jeannette Cleland
Website »

More information

Nershfest. It’s music. It’s friends. It’s a Minnesota summer day. It’s also the name of the Minneapolis-based music festival featuring local live music, craft beer and great...

Cost: Free

Where:
Harriet Brewing Company
3036 Minnehaha Ave
Minneapolis, MN  55406
View map »


Sponsor: Nershfest
Telephone: 336-402-2439
Contact Name: Griffin
Website »

More information

Captain Terry will hold a public cruise this Saturday August 1, 2015. 12:30pm - 2:30 pm

Cost: $14

Where:
Lady of the Lake Docks
8 Water Street
Excelsior, MN  55331
View map »


Sponsor: Lady of the Lake
Telephone: 952-929-1209
Contact Name: Terry Jungers
Website »

More information

Come join the battle July 31-August 2! Somerset Amphitheater will host the Border Battle Weekend on its newly improved festival grounds. The event is an extension of the popular Border...

Cost: $20-$35

Where:
Somerset Amphitheater
715 Spring Street
Somerset, WI  54025
View map »


Website »

More information

The fourth Kräftskiva! festival will bring The Bachelor Farmer and Marvel Bar out onto the streets of Minneapolis for the evening – shutting down 2nd Ave North alongside The...

Cost: $20

Where:
The Bachelor Farmer
50 2nd Ave N
Minneapolis, MN  55401
View map »


Sponsor: The Bachelor Farmer
Telephone: 612-206-3920
Website »

More information

Minnesota Fringe Festival is proud to present our 174 acts, performed by both local and international touring artists. Our artists perform at 11 different theaters and 9 site-specific locations....

Cost: $14/single ticket + one-time purchase of a $4 Fringe button

Where:
, MN

More information

Summer Faire Announces Its 2015 Season! The Shoppes at Arbor Lakes’ popular summer concert series is back- better than ever! Don’t miss FREE live music from talented local...

Cost: FREE

Where:
The Shoppes Central Courtyard
I-94/I-694 at Hemlock Lane
Maple Grove, MN
View map »


Sponsor: The Shoppes
Telephone: 763-488-9965
Contact Name:
Website »

More information

Join love-struck Aladdin on a treacherous journey to find a lamp like no other.  Jewels come to life in a deadly display of balanced precision, a whirlwind of demonic Jinns practice their...

Cost: $15.00 - $40.00 on sale Monday, June 29

Where:
Circus Juventas Big Top
1270 Montreal Ave.
St. Paul, MN  55116
View map »


Sponsor: Circus Juventas
Telephone: 651-699-8229
Website »

More information

The Oratorio Society of Minnesota is proud to announce the concert GREAT OPERA CHORUSES, which will be presented by the Society’s Summer Chorus, a festival chorus of 150 singers, and a...

Cost: $10-15

Where:
Ted Mann Concert Hall
2128 S 4th St
Minneapolis, MN  55455
View map »


Sponsor: Oratorio Society
Telephone: 612-432-7398
Contact Name: Matthew Mehaffey
Website »

More information

Stop in to Day Block Brewing on Friday July 31st for an evening of live music from local artists Fairfax, AK and Bre Lewis Band.  Music starts at 10pm and there will be a $5 cover charge.

Cost: $5

Where:
Day Block Brewing
1105 Washington Ave S
Minneapolis, MN  55415
View map »


Website »

More information

Death can be scary. So can clowns. But what if they weren't? Clown siblings Victoria, Frank, and Mango mourn the loss of their mother by daring to find joy. It’s OK to laugh at this...

Cost: $14

Where:
Illusion Theater
528 Hennepin Ave, 8th Floor
Minneapolis, MN  55403
View map »

More information

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