If you’re visiting Minnesota, you might not think to pay attention to the local country music scene. After all, you’re more likely to hear about the rap scene, with notables such as Doomtree and Atmosphere. In fact, MTV Other has featured the Minneapolis rap scene in their series, This is the Place.
Perhaps the most popular country music event every year is WeFest, which begins today. It’s one of the biggest country music festivals in the nation and one of Minnesota’s biggest parties, with crowds nearing 50,000 people. Non-country music fans are known to attend just for the party, but in the process, fans are created.
Despite rap’s prominence in Minnesota’s music culture, country is kicking its way forward. In January 2012, the Twin Cities introduced its second country music radio station, BUZ’N 102.9. Not only does this bring more two-stepping tunes to airwaves, but it has also brought more events to Minnesota. BUZ’N held the BUZ’N Half Dozen concert in February, a free concert for its listeners that featured seven up-and-coming national country artists.
Also helping to increase the popularity of country music in the cities was the opening of Toby Keith’s I Love This Bar and Grill in 2010. Located in the Shops at West End in St. Louis Park, its surrounding boutiques and fine dining restaurants don’t fit the country atmosphere, but that changes once you step inside. Mason jars full of beer sit atop the guitar-shaped bar, cowboy hats and boots are the norm, and there is usually a live local country music band on stage (and sometimes a national act). My favorite part is the line dancing. If you miss the free lessons, the best way to learn is by jumping in with the group of regular line dancers during “Folsom Prison Blues.” It’s not hard to catch on—just remember to wear your boots!
For a slightly different country atmosphere, Cowboy Jack’s in multiple locations around the cities has a western feel with some of the best happy hour specials around: $2 rail and call drinks, $2 select beers, $3 house wines, and half-off select appetizers. Along with live local country (and non-country) music, select locations have a mechanical bull, if you’re brave enough to take a ride.
Just a few of the talented local country music artists you will want to catch are Rocket Club, Lost Highway, Hitchville, Tim Sigler, Mark Stary, Shane Martin, Chris Brooks Band, Jason Paulson Band and Maiden Dixie. Check out minnesotacountry.com for more info. Also check out national country music act The Farm. Fiddler and singer Nick Hoffman is originally from Anoka, a northern Minneapolis suburb. (At K102’s Class of 2012 concert last November, I watched Nick’s grandma get his attention during an interview to give him a hug and some lefse, a traditional Norwegian snack that’s popular in Minnesota.)