“Super” girl: Diary of an Opera Extra (Part 3)

Part 1
Part 2

Opening night went by way too quickly in a blur of candy and baked goods; apparently, it’s common to exchange opening night gifts. One super, Julie Ann, bought us gourmet chocolate bars; Alan gave us individual bags of chocolate chip cookies; Thomas baked muffins; and Michael, the conductor, gave everyone enormous cookies the size of our faces. I had put together bags of candy for my co-supers the night before, thanking God for Party City’s cheap candy bins providing my last-minute gifts. Between the sugar highs and opening night adrenaline, the energy from everyone was palpable as we took our places for the first act.

Being on the Ordway stage, facing a full house, was easily one of the coolest things I’ve ever done. Hearing all of the laughter and applause, even if it wasn’t directed at me, was exhilarating. I beamed out at the audience during the bows, still in shock that I was a part of something this big and beautiful. If you had told me in high school that the next time I’d be on stage would be at the Ordway, I never would have believed you. It was one of the most wonderfully surreal experiences of my life.

All of the shows went without a hitch, save for Thursday, when there was some confusion over when curtain was supposed to fall after the bows and it nearly landed on the principals. I was also lucky enough to have friends and family in the audience three out of the four performances. Most of them enjoyed the show, although my dad determined opera wasn’t really for him (he couldn’t understand why Ariadne was “running away with Jesus”). Still, I was grateful that he, and everyone else, came at all, considering all I really did was walk across the stage a couple times and sat at a table for an hour and a half; I may have had a tiny role, but my family and friends made me feel like a star.

And now it’s over, and I’m a little heartbroken, because I’m not ready to be done. I can’t imagine going a week without getting chills from Erin’s absolutely stunning rendition of “Als ein Gott kam Jeder Gegangen,” (anyone who can hit notes that high while rolling around on top of a piano and make it seem effortless is a complete badass); without being inches away from Andrew, Benjamin, Brad, and David’s hilarious antics and listening to their flawless voices blend perfectly (and accepting the fact that the adorable earworm “Es Gilt, ob Tanzen, ob Singen Tauge” will be stuck in my head for the rest of my life); without Amber and Brian taking my breath away with their rich, full voices, more explosive and thrilling than the fireworks projected behind them at the end of the show; without occasionally glancing into the orchestra pit to see Michael conducting, maniacally waving his arms like a freaking sorcerer, which he basically is, because the music coming out of there is nothing short of magical.

I’m especially going to miss my fellow supers. I’ll miss Austin, Maddy, and Thomas’s boundless, infectious energy, trying to stifle giggles in the wings before our first act entrance. I’ll miss Emily’s razor-sharp sense of humor, from her deadpan observations of the performances to her over-the-top impressions of her grandmother. I’ll miss Julie Ann, Katie, and Stephen’s genuine warmth and kindness, all eager to share their experiences with a newbie like me. I’m going to miss everyone I was lucky enough to get to know this past month. In such an unfamiliar situation, I could have felt so lost and alone and uncomfortable, but everyone I worked with was so friendly and welcoming that it made an already incredible opportunity even more enjoyable.

Hopefully, this won’t be the last time I get to do this. From what I’ve been told, Super opportunities for women are few and far between, since a lot of the parts are things like guards and soldiers and other typically male roles, but I’m still optimistic. The Minnesota Opera is performing Tosca later this season, which has a big crowd scene at one point, so I’m keeping my fingers crossed that they’ll consider me for that now that I have one show under my belt.  As an opera fan, getting to do something like this, being immersed in this incredible process, isn’t something I can do just once. I don’t care if I’m just an unnamed character in a huge group, a background piece to the real talent, because even then, I feel like a rock star. I feel beautiful. I feel super.

“Super”girl: Diary of an Opera Extra (Part 2)

If you haven’t already, check out part one here!

These past few weeks have gone by too quickly. Tonight is opening night, and while I am so excited, I’m a little sad to think that it’s already almost over; by  next weekend, we’ll be wrapping up. On the bright side, I’ve chronicled the whole rehearsal process, so at least I can revisit the memories I’ve made through this experience.

For a little background, here’s a brief summary of Ariadne auf Naxos. It’s basically an opera within an opera (OPERACEPTION…I’m so sorry). The richest man in Vienna is throwing a huge party with three forms of entertainment: an opera, a comedy act, and a fireworks display. However, shortly before the entertainment is supposed to start, the performers are told the opera and the comedy troupe will have to go on at the same time because the host wants the fireworks show to start promptly at nine o’ clock. The first act is the prologue- the preparations for the party and the performers butting heads- and the second act is the opera itself, and the hilarity that ensues from combining the two groups.  Needless to say, this was a really fun opera to be a part of.

September 3rd, 2015
I have first-day-of-school butterflies in my stomach as I arrive at the Minnesota Opera Center in Minneapolis about half an hour before rehearsal actually starts.  Per the instructions in the welcome email, I find my mailbox outside of the rehearsal studio and grab the Super handbook, emergency contact form, Ariadne synopsis, and a  green laminated name tag that I clip to my sleeve. I walk into the rehearsal studio, where I introduce myself to Alan, the stage director.
“Did I meet you at the auditions?” he asks.
“Uh, no. I applied online,” I reply, realizing that, until right now, I hadn’t even considered that this was actually an acting gig and the other supers-the ones who auditioned- are probably people who act professionally, and my nerves double, because theater people intimidate the hell out of me. I guess it’s because most of the ones I’ve met have such big personalities, are so energetic and outgoing, while I’m kind of socially awkward and shy and reserved, so I’ve always felt a little uncomfortable around them. As sophomoric as it seems, I’m scared I won’t fit in.

Fortunately, my anxiety is completely unfounded, because once they arrive, I discover the other supers are all, well…super (again, I’m so sorry). Some of them, like Katie and Thomas, have been supers for other Minnesota Opera productions and are happy to talk about their experiences with me and let me know what to expect. One of the other supers, Tom, is actually a former classmate from high school, so it’s comforting seeing a familiar face. Several others are actors or involved in theater/music in other ways but are new to the opera, so it’s nice not being alone in that.

Tonight, we’re just working on the first act, which seems simple enough. I play a waitress, and all I have to do is cross the stage and set a tray of empty plates on a table at the beginning, then carry a tray of precariously-stacked fake desserts off stage, which is a little more complicated (at least for someone coordination-impaired like me), because I have to sort of balance the tray on my shoulder, but Thomas patiently shows me how to maneuver it less awkwardly.

The principal singers show up for the second half of rehearsal, which is easily the highlight of the evening.  These people practically explode with these huge, gorgeous voices, and they make it look so effortless, and God, I can’t believe I get to listen to this for a month! The one downside is that don’t have any idea what they’re singing since it’s all in German, and all I can understand is “today” and “firework.” It makes me regret not taking more than the one semester of it I took in college, but it’s not like I could have anticipated that an opportunity like this would come up: “Gee, maybe I should keep studying this language in case I’m cast as an extra in a Strauss opera eight years from now.

September 10, 2015
Tonight, we’re rehearsing the second act, where I play a party guest; literally all I have to do is react to the opera and pretend to drink champagne…which is a lot more uncomfortable than I anticipated. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still awesome, because we have the best seats in the house- there will even be donors on stage with us, people who paid serious money to do exactly what we’re being paid to do- but it’s also an hour and twenty minutes of me worrying about what my face looks like, how fake and forced my laughter seems. Alan insists that we have to be really expressive, that we can’t be over-the-top enough, but I still feel ridiculous. On top of that, the super stagehands have to roll a massive piano on and off stage several times, only a few inches away from me at most, so I’m slightly concerned I might get run over. For anyone who watches this, while I’m smiling and laughing at the antics during the first half of the act, this is what is actually going through my mind:

My face hurts from smiling and we’re only five minutes in.
I don’t think a normal adult would be laughing this much at clowns.
Should I actually be putting my lips to the champagne glass? I don’t know where it’s been, but I’m pretty sure it looks like I’m spilling champagne on my chin the way I’m doing it now.
I’m totally going to be run over by this piano at some point during the run of this show. I’ve never broken a bone in my life and now I’m going to have my foot crushed in the least badass way possible. “Hey, why are you wearing a cast? ” “…Opera accident.”

Friday, September 18
It’s our first night rehearsing at the Ordway! I join the other girls in our tiny dressing room (seriously, ours is a closet compared to the guys’ massive one-what the hell?) where I don my act one waitress costume: black pants and a white button-up shirt with a black collar. I have never felt less sexy; the waist of the pants cuts off right below my boobs-or my boobs hang just above my pants waist (it’s like the “glass half full versus glass half empty” argument, except both perspectives suck). At least the other waitresses and kitchen staff have equally unflattering outfits, so I’m not alone. The hair and makeup people don’t really have any instructions for the supers besides telling the wait staff to have our hair pulled back, so we have to figure out our makeup on our own. I didn’t think to bring any (besides a few tubes of lipstick buried in my purse) since the last email didn’t mention it, but Katie is nice enough to share hers with me. Once we’re done, we run down to the stage where the rest of the cast is gathered, and I feel the same dopey grin from the first day of rehearsal cross my face as I look out into the house: all champagne-colored lighting and red velvet seats and elegance. The last time I was here, I was sitting in the back of the gallery, and now I’m on stage, and I’m once again reminded of how unbelievably lucky I am for this opportunity.

The Ordway stage takes some getting used to after spending two weeks in the rehearsal space in Minneapolis; we have to navigate our way around set pieces and behind-the-scenes equipment. Alan warned us to watch out for the boom lights in the wings, and because I am not a theater person at all, I assumed he just meant don’t run into or trip over them; I did not realize he meant “these lights burn with the white-bright fire of hell and will blind you if you’re not careful about where you’re looking” until, when carrying my dessert tray off stage, my eyes are assaulted by an intense blaze and suddenly I can’t see anything. I stop abruptly, trying to get my eyes to adjust, and feel Austin’s tray bump into my back. “Crap! Sorry, I’m sorry!” I squeak, stumbling in the direction I think the tray table is. Fortunately, we’re far enough in the wings when this happens, so I don’t think anyone in the house noticed the slight traffic jam I caused.

I head back up to the dressing room and change into my act two party guest costume, which is…baffling. All of the other female party guests have black dresses, but I have black slacks, a black turtleneck tank top, and a big, sheer gold blouse that goes down to about mid thigh with a matching belt. It’s not bad; it just seems out of place. It looks like something a super villain/mad scientist would wear; this is my formal lab coat! Nolan, one of the party guests at my table, says it has a “Dick Tracy” vibe as well (I suppose it does kind of look like a trench coat), so apparently my character is a detective as well as a super villain. I mean, the party we’re attending is being thrown by the richest man in Austria, so he’s bound to have some eccentric friends.

The last challenge of the evening shows up toward the end of the show: Bacchus’s arrival. He is wheeled on stage in a little clear plastic boat (which carried ice and champagne bottles in the first act), and Alan has told us ladies to act like he’s, like, sooooo  totally dreamy, omigawd (not Alan’s exact wording, but that was the vibe he was going for). Until now, that hasn’t really been a challenge, because Brian, the singer playing Bacchus, is very attractive. However, this is the first time we’ve seen him in his full costume: a long, green robe with leopard print trim, a flowing brown Jesus wig, and a crown of leaves and bunches of grapes. I’m smiling so hard I think I’m going to sprain my face, because that’s the only way I can stop myself from bursting into giggles. I know opera costumes are elaborate and over-the-top, but it’s just so silly-looking. There’s a short break, and Tom immediately booms “COME AND GET TO KNOW ME BETTAH, MAN!” reminding me who Bacchus looks like: the Ghost of Christmas Present from A Christmas Carol. And now that’s all I’ll be able to see every time we get to this scene. Hoo, boy.

Saturday, September 19th
They’ve adjusted the way they roll out the piano in act two, so I’m in less danger of being run over, although now one of the super stagehands accidentally grazes my boob with his butt every time they pass me, which is a little awkward. Erin, who plays Zerbinetta, accidentally kicks her shoe into the orchestra pit, but the pit is mercifully devoid of the orchestra until Tuesday, so fortunately there aren’t any flautist or violinist or tubist (tubaist? …tuba player) casualties.

Tuesday, September 22nd
Tonight is our first night rehearsing with the orchestra, and I get chills hearing the first few notes, because they are so damn good. Hearing the swell of the instruments combine with the enormous, beautiful voices makes the experience feel more real.

Because I’m completely hopeless in doing my hair (if I want to look fancy I just flat iron my hair into submission), Emily is kind enough to do it for me, twisting my hair into a sleek top-knot, and I’m once again reminded that my co-supers are the nicest people ever.

They’ve moved my chair slightly upstage and toward the wings in act two, so now I don’t have to worry about being run over by a piano or accidental butt/boob grazing, although now I’m a little concerned that they’re slowly trying to push me offstage.

Thursday, September 24
Tonight is our final dress rehearsal/social media preview. I’m excited that we’ll finally have an audience, although it’s a relatively small group. My chair in act two is pushed back a little farther, and I’m pretty sure that by opening night I’ll actually be sitting out in the service hallway instead of onstage.

The show goes pretty smoothly, with the exception of  right before Bacchus’s entrance, when the conductor stops the orchestra and requests that they pick up the tempo. It’s a bit jarring, but if that’s the only interruption in a two-and-a-half hour-long show, I think we’re doing pretty well.

When we line up for bows at the end of the show, I can’t stop smiling. I can’t believe that in just two days, I’m going to be standing right here, staring out at a packed house. I may just be an extra, a living set piece, but up here, right now, I feel like a huge deal. Saturday night can’t come soon enough.

“Super”girl: Diary of an Opera Extra (Part 1)

I got my first taste of opera when I was about five years old, when my mom bought me this cassette tape of a kid’s version of The Magic Flute. Granted, that particular opera is already pretty kid-friendly, but this imagining left out some of the darker aspects like Pamina contemplating suicide, and the huge snake trying to eat Tamino who the queen’s attendants kill is adapted into friendly dragon who gains the power of speech and joins the heroes on their quest. It was cheesy and goofy and I loved it- but the part that stuck with me the most, the part I never forgot growing up, was the Queen of the Night’s famous aria. I had never heard music like that before and was completely enchanted. This was something new and magical, this voice producing impossibly high, crystalline notes cascading over lush orchestration that resonated with me years later. I was captivated.

Over twenty years later, that tape is long gone-either buried under the stairs of my parents’ house with my other childhood memories, or sold in a garage sale along with other early-nineties relics, or just thrown out- but the spark it ignited in me has been fanned into a fiery enthusiasm thanks to the Minnesota Opera. After going to the company’s production of Anna Bolena with a friend who wanted to cross “going to the opera” off her bucket list, I’ve seen a handful of shows over the past few years (including a beautifully imaginative production of the opera that started it all for me), and God, I love it. I love everything about it. I love the detailed sets, the elaborate costumes, and of course, the enormous, breathtakingly gorgeous voices and  instruments that fill the auditorium to the farthest corners of the house. But as much as I’ve enjoyed the productions, I’ve always thought the same thing, squinting at the stage from the back of the gallery or craning my neck to read the projected subtitles from the mezzanine boxes: It would be incredible to be a part of this.

However, I never actually thought it would be a real possibility, for one glaringly obvious reason: I am not an opera singer. I was a decent singer in high school-by high school standards- and I can hold my own at any dive bar’s karaoke night, but that hardly qualifies me to be on the stage of a major concert hall; a prima donna I am not. That’s why I was so excited when, a little over a month ago, the Minnesota Opera Facebook page posted a casting call for supers, or supernumeraries: non-speaking actors; extras. “No experience necessary!” the application advertised. It was perfect. I could have the thrill of being on stage, being a part of something huge, without the stress and terror of  having attention solely on me. For the most part, the application asked costuming questions: height and weight; hip, waist, and bust measurements; dress, shoe, and bra sizes; allergies to any types of fabric. I wrapped my mom’s measuring tape around me, grimacing at the numbers. They requested a headshot; I uploaded a selfie I had taken at my cousin’s wedding, where someone who actually knew what they were doing had applied my makeup. There was a small section asking for any theater/music experience or special skills; I mentioned being in the chorus of a couple shows in high school and my fluency in Spanish, but because the application was for a silent role, I doubted this experience would play into their decision.

I didn’t expect to hear anything back, because I didn’t think I had a chance at anything where the decision apparently hinged solely on my appearance. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not going to start wearing a paper bag over my head anytime soon, but I also don’t think I have the right look for any type of performing arts. I could stand to lose some weight. I show too much gum when I smile, my two front teeth are a little too big, and I have a slight cross-bite that years of childhood orthodontia never completely corrected. I have a premature grey streak in my hair that, on good days, I joke makes me look like Rogue from X-Men, but mostly just makes me look like the Bride of Frankenstein. Between my complete lack of theater experience and underwhelming personal appearance, I did not have high hopes.

So obviously, I was shocked and delighted when I received an email last month saying I might be a good fit for this season’s opening production, Ariadne auf Naxos. I should also mention that I received this news in the most anti-opera location I can think of: We Fest. I was dirty from camping out for the past three days, I had a healthy Jack Daniels buzz going, and the majority of the music I had been listening to for the past seventy-two hours involved a lot of twangy voices singing about getting laid on the tail of a pickup truck, so the idea of sharing the Ordway stage with these incredible, internationally-recognized singers was unbelievable- not that it stopped me from excitedly texting my parents and best friend and stumbling back to my campsite to tell anyone who would listen about the opportunity.

They needed me to come in for a fitting before they could officially offer me the role, since they were working from existing costumes for the supers and needed to make sure they had something that worked for me, so less than a week later, I took the light rail into downtown Minneapolis (because I’m a complete wimp about driving there) and walked to the Minnesota Opera Center where the costume department was housed. I met with two of the costumers who measured me in detail-wrapping measuring tape around my hips, waist, bust, head, arms, and legs, measuring my height and inseam, tracing my feet, and having me stand in a corner where they took a picture of me to send to the casting director. “You’re very symmetrical,” one of the costumers said approvingly as she rolled up the measuring tape. “Uh…thanks!” I replied with an awkward laugh, blushing at the unconventional but appreciated compliment. She informed me that the casting director should contact me within a day to let me know if I got the part, but she was pretty confident that I would. Still, I spent the next several hours anxiously checking my phone and refreshing my inbox-until the casting director emailed me an official offer for the role of “waitress” in the first act and “party guest” in the second act. I accepted immediately.

As you can tell from the title, I plan on chronicling this experience in multiple parts (since I feel like even this intro is running a bit long): the second part will be about the rehearsal process, and the third part will be about the actual performances. The entire process, from rehearsal to closing night, is only about a month long, and I want to savor every second of it. This is such an unusual, unexpected opportunity, and I’m so grateful for it.

More to come soon!

Return to We Fest

I survived my second We Fest! Last year was a blast, and while I was initially less enthusiastic about this year’s lineup, I was super impressed by most of the acts. This year was a little different because instead of camping at Oatfield with a small group of friends, I went with my cousin Jodi, her husband, Rob, and at least twenty of their friends. I’m pretty introverted and was definitely outside of my comfort zone-spending five days with a huge group of strangers, despite having met a few of them briefly last year, was a little overwhelming- but I still had a fantastic time. I met some great new people and got to reconnect with some of the ones I met last year. Everyone was so friendly and welcoming and didn’t give me much crap about sitting alone and reading for stretches of time, which was definitely appreciated. Like last year, I took some notes about the experience and compiled them into a brief-ish account of the week. Enjoy!

Wednesday, August 5
3:00 PM: Time to set up camp!
3:05 PM: I have no idea where these tent poles go.
3:10 PM: Okay, I have plenty of confidence in my reading comprehension skills but this instruction booklet makes no fucking sense.
3:15 PM: Done, thanks to Christine’s help! “One-minute pop-up tent” my ass.
3:20 PM: This guy with the surfer hair seems nice. He kind of looks like that Jamie guy Jodi brought to Christmas like six years ago…no way is it the same guy, though.
3:21 PM: “Hi! I’m Laura!” “Hi, I’m Jamie!”
3:22 PM: Aaaaand now I feel like an asshole.
3:23 PM: To be fair, I only met him the one time.
3:24 PM: He hasn’t acknowledged that we’ve ever met so I’m just going to assume he doesn’t remember me.
3:25 PM: Between the tent struggles, heat, and probably undiagnosed mild social anxiety disorder, I need a beer like twenty minutes ago.
4:00 PM: To pay back Charlie for the miscellaneous ticket processing fees, Callie and Todd have invented a game where you try to slip money into Charlie’s pocket.
4:05 PM: I can’t remember which of them suggested naming the game “Get Into Charlie’s Pants,” but I think it’ll be a lot more entertaining if we don’t include any context.
7:30 PM: Update: Todd successfully got into Charlie’s pants. It was glorious.
10:15 PM: Heading to a smaller opening act, a local band called “Maiden Dixie,” at The Saloon stage.
10:30 PM: There are a surprising amount of hipsters here. Not the type you’d expect at a predominantly pop country event.
10:35 PM: Maybe Coachella was too expensive and this was the next-best opportunity to wear lots of flannel and floral headbands to an outdoor music festival.
11:00 PM: This band doesn’t completely suck, but I can barely hear the vocals over the bass.

Thursday, August 6
7:00 AM: Not many people seem to be up yet. I’ll sit outside and read for a while…because nothing says “drunken country music festival” like a nerd sitting alone with her nose in a collection of David Sedaris short stories.
8:00 AM: I’m bored, no one else is awake, and this is the only book I brought. I’m going to take a walk.
8:15 AM: Some of these RV’s are amazing. Pretty sure the one I just walked past is bigger than my apartment.
8:16 AM: When I’m earning more money and no longer in crippling student debt I’m totally going to buy an enormous RV.
8:17 AM: Although buying one of these would probably put me in MORE crippling debt.
8:18 AM: So I should just buy one now since I’m already in crippling debt anyway.
8:19 AM: FLAWLESS LOGIC.
8:45 AM: Just walked past a campsite where an older gentleman whose attire and personal hygiene screams “I chew disgusting amounts of tobacco and have a bald eagle decal on the back of my huge pickup truck that is probably overcompensating for something” stumbled toward me with his arms outstretched and slurred “Hey, honey! How about a We Fest hug!?” HOW ABOUT NO.
8:46 AM: I just muttered something along the lines of “No, thanks. I’m not a hugger” and walked past quickly. It’s too early and I’m too sober to have strangers invading my personal space.
12:30 PM: Playing Cards Against Humanity with the group. Nothing breaks the ice quite like “a big, black dick.”
2:00 PM: At Power Hour: a We Fest tradition where you take a drink every minute for an hour, noted by a whistle or an air horn. They have a dare wheel set up at an area of Lake Sallie called Camp Papa Smurf. Some of the dares are “take a mystery shot” or “social drink.” Those seem pretty tame.
2:01 PM: And some of them are “remove an article of clothing” or “body shot.” Oh, boy.
2:15 PM: A guy in a t-shirt that says “boobies make me smile,” a Canadian flag tied around his neck like a cape, and flip-flops drawn on his feet spun the wheel and landed on “remove an article of clothing.”
2:16 PM: At least he has the cape, so this should be pretty easy-
2:17 PM: Or he could just take off his shorts. Not the obvious choice in this situation, but okay.
5:30 PM: Big & Rich is starting in forty-five minutes but I’m going to skip it. I only know “Save a Horse, Ride a Cowboy” and I didn’t even know that was an actual song until college; before that, I just thought it was a stupid phrase to print on t-shirts at Spencer’s.
6:30 PM: Relaxing in my tent. It’s really peaceful at the campsite with everyone down at the concert. It’s quiet, there’s a bit of a breeze-
6:31 PM: And there’s an insect the length of my thumb with what looks like a fish hook on the end of it on my tent roof.
6:32 PM: And now it’s been joined by an enormous daddy long leg. NEAT.
6:33 PM: THIS IS WHY I DON’T CAMP.
8:40 PM Heading down to the concert bowl to see Hank Williams Jr. I don’t know why, because I only know that one football song, and he’s seemed like kind of a douchebag in the interviews I’ve seen him in, but maybe he’ll put on a good show.
8:45 PM: THE PURPLE HAT IS BACK, BITCHES!

we fest4

8:50 PM: As we walk to our seats, a few guys holding strands of plastic beads shout “boobs for beads!” Rob proudly lifts his shirt to reveal his moobs and is rewarded with a string of shiny red beads around his neck.
9:00 PM: It’s hilarious to hear a guy who has made homophobic comments in the past sing “I really, really, really, really, really, really like girls” because it just makes it sound like he’s in the closet.
9:15 PM: Is it just me or is Hank’s singing really off-key?
9:16 PM: His guitar is out of tune too.
9:30 PM: Now he’s punctuating his poorly-performed songs with incoherent rambling. Time to go.
9:35 PM: Nearly ran into a guy wearing a stars-and-stripes speedo and a pith helmet.
9:36 PM: Seriously? This is the second year I’ve seen someone here in a red, white, and blue speedo.
9:37 PM: I understand patriotism is a big theme in country music, but there has to be a better way of showing that you love your country than squeezing your genitals into a tiny swimsuit.
10:00 PM: Hanging out at a campsite across from ours and it is downpouring. Rascal Flatts goes on in forty-five minutes. Swell.
10:30 PM: Not going to the concert. I don’t feel like dealing with the rain, and the only song I care about is “Life is a Highway” because we sang it as the opening number in my high school variety show (because when you think country music, you think of jazz hands and step-ball-changes).
11:30 PM: The rain is finally letting up so now a few of us are sitting at a picnic table. I just apologized to Jamie for not realizing we’d met before and he said he didn’t remember me either, so I feel like significantly less of a tool now.

Friday, August 7
9:00 AM: Okay, I brought ONE dress with me and I kind of feel like looking cute today.
9:05 AM: Aaaand I just got toothpaste all over the neckline.
9:06 AM: Just tried wiping it off and made it worse…oh, God. That does not look like toothpaste.
9:07 AM: IT’S NOT COMING OUT WITH SOAP.
9:08 AM: I just wanted to look nice once this week, dammit! JUST ONCE!
9:09 AM: Back to grungy camp chic, I guess.
10:00 AM: Jodi is teaching Chad, Trish, and I how to play Golf (the card game, not the heinously boring sport).
10:30 AM: To probably no one’s surprise, I’m not very good at a game that requires basic math skills.
3:00 PM: So this guy just ran past our campsite:

we fest3

4:00 PM: Holy shit. Someone in the group brought a mobile bar.
4:01 PM: You know that scene in the fourth Harry Potter movie where Harry walks into this shabby little tent that looks like this huge elaborate house on the inside and is like “I love magic!”? That’s how I feel right now.
8:30 PM: On our way to the Dierks Bentley concert. Can’t miss a chance to see one of my several celebrity husbands (for anyone interested, my celebrity husbands are a handful of country singers, most of the cast of The Avengers movies, and three guys from this Mexican soap opera my friends and I watched religiously sophomore year of college).
9:00 PM: This song is great and Dierks is killing it and everything, but there’s this big fiery red circle graphic on the screen behind him and all I can think is “WATCH OUT FOR SAURON!”
9:01 PM: I think I might be too geeky for this event.
11:00 PM: Just got back to the concert bowl for Miranda Lambert.
11:10 PM: Tabloid drama aside, this woman amazing. She’s an even more incredible singer live.
11:15 PM: It’s a little heartbreaking, because you can tell by the look on her face that she’s going through a lot, but she’s clearly channeling that emotion into her music.
12:00 PM: She’s only addressed the issue once: “I wish I could have been drinking all day. I just got divorced!” She’s greeted with an enormous cheer from the crowd.

Saturday, August 8
2:00 PM: Last Power Hour of the week. I’ve been taking it easy these past few days but considering this is going to be my last night here, it wouldn’t hurt to loosen up a little. Time to make a dent in that Costco-sized bottle of Jack Daniels.
2:30 PM: Seriously!? ANOTHER guy in a red, white, and blue speedo? Is this just the We Fest douchebag uniform or something?
2:31 PM: At least the pink fanny pack complements it nicely.
2:45 PM: Aw, man, we’re out of Coke and I didn’t bring any other mixers.
2:46 PM: Joe was nice enough to let me use his ginger ale but there’s not much left and I don’t want to waste all of his pop.
2:47 PM: This is basically a big mug of Jack with a couple shots of ginger ale in it.
2:48 PM: Oh, well. Time to enjoy the camp bar!
3:00 PM: I’m not one hundred percent sure what’s in this shot Trisha made me, but it’s red and blue and sugary.
3:10 PM: I’m drunk and swapping sci fi book recommendations with Matt. I can’t go one day without nerding out here, can I?
3:45 PM: Why, yes, taking multiple Fireball shots does seem like an excellent idea.
4:00 PM: Does Jack taste good with lemonade? I don’t know, but I’m going to find out. FOR SCIENCE.
4:10 PM: Uh-oh.
4:11 PM: Oh, no.
4:12 PM: Too far.
4:30 PM: I just puked behind my tent and asked Todd (resident creeper of the Lake Sallie group) for guy advice. I’m not drinking again for the rest of my twenties.
4:35 PM: I’m just going to try and sleep this off before the Jake Owen concert.
8:30 PM: Jodi just woke me up for the concert and I legitimately forgot what day it was for the first few minutes I was awake. Then I remembered the last few hours. Ugh.
9:00 PM: At the Jake Owen concert. Feeling a little shaky but not nearly as bad as earlier.
9:10 PM: Jodi and Ashley want to check out the vendors rather than go right to our seats, but I’m not a huge Jake Owen fan so I’m okay with-
9:11 PM: OH, GOD, I forgot how much I love “Alone with You.”
9:12 PM: And I forgot about his sexy new haircut. BE STILL, MY HEART.
9:13 PM: New addition to the celebrity husband list.
10:00 PM: Back at camp, sitting at the bar and sipping Gatorade.
10:05 PM: Apparently my drunken plea for guy advice struck a chord with Todd (or it’s just the liquid inspiration from whatever’s in his Mountain Dew bottle) because he’s decided I’m his “intern” now.
10:10 PM: Lesson one: “Guys look for two things in a girl: a sense of humor-” Wow, that’s actually a good-
10:11 PM “And blow-” NOPE, the rest of that sentence isn’t going into my blog. My parents read this. Gotta draw the line somewhere.
10:12 PM: Now he’s encouraging me to chat up the cute guy in the cowboy hat who just walked up to the bar. I guess I have nothing to lose. I think my dignity is lying in a pile of vomit by my tent anyway.
10:13 PM: Me: “…Hi…” Guy: (dismissively as he tries to hit on another girl) “Hi.”
10:14 PM: Wow. Who could have predicted the dude would completely ignore the awkward girl in glasses and a t-shirt with a glass of wine, a book, and the words “well red” bedazzled across the chest?
10:15 PM: Eh. I tried.
10:45 PM: Okay, as much as I’m “learning” from Todd, it’s time for Blake Shelton!
11:00 PM: This guy is a spectacular performer. Besides being a ridiculously talented musician, he’s funny and engaging and just has a great stage presence overall.
11:15 PM: Hearing “Sangria” live cemented its position as one of my favorite new country songs. So pretty.
11:45 PM: HA. Hearing Blake call Adam Levine a douche gives me life.
12:45 PM: I’m going straight to bed since we’re heading home tomorrow and being hungover in a car for four hours sounds like torture.

Sunday, August 9
10:00 AM: The car is packed, we’ve said our goodbyes, and we’re on our way out.
10:05 AM: Jodi asks me if I remember that I started speaking Spanish yesterday when I was drunk. I do not.
10:10 AM: If the worst things I did were switch to a different language and go to a dubious resource for romantic advice, I’d say I made it out of We Fest pretty much unscathed.
10:15 AM: I’m exhausted, grimy, bruised, and mildly embarrassed. Will do it all again next year?
10:16 AM: Probably.

We Fest: A Country Convert’s First Time

I’m curled up on my cousin’s couch right now, relaxing with her and her husband after an evening of stocking up on grillable food and alcohol at Costco. Tomorrow morning, we leave for We Fest, the three-day outdoor country music festival in Detroit Lakes, Minnesota. This will be my second time going, and after last year, I am so excited to go back. Last year, I wrote about my experience and posted it on Facebook, and I definitely plan about writing about this year too. Below is my account of my first year at We Fest for anyone who either wasn’t friends with me on Facebook when I posted this or doesn’t know me personally so they can be caught up when I post the second year account sometime next week. Enjoy!

***

As a lot of you know, I went to We Fest for the first time a couple weeks ago. This was a pretty big step for me for a couple reasons. Firstly, I’m a pretty new country fan. Prior to my friend dragging me to a Tim Sigler Band performance a couple years ago, I was not a country fan at all, and while the genre has really grown on me since then, I wasn’t sure how I’d handle three solid days of country. Secondly, the last time I went camping was when I was fourteen, and that was a completely different experience from We Fest (for one thing, Catholic Youth Camp generally discouraged campers from bringing whiskey). I remember not being a huge fan of the sleeping outdoors thing eleven years ago, so I wasn’t sure how I would handle it as an adult.

Because I am a humongous nerd, I brought a notebook with me to We Fest (because what booze-soaked outdoor music festival is complete without diligent note-taking?) to document my first We Fest Experience.  The following is a brief (-ish) play-by-play/observations of the weekend- not everything of course, mostly the stuff I remembered to write down and was able to decipher and organize once I was home and sober- for any of my friends who I don’t see often and want to know what it was like.

Wednesday 8/6/2014

12:30 PM: Stopping at a nearby liquor store to stock up before we get to the campsite.

12:40 PM: Okay, this is a country festival, so whiskey seems like an appropriate choice.

12:45 PM: BLACK CHERRY whiskey!? That exists!? That sounds amazing! It’s kind of symbolic too…like I’m having my metaphorical “We Fest cherry” popped so I should get cherry whiskey…yeah, I’m reading way too much into this. I’m sure it’ll be delicious.

1:30 PM: OH JESUS IT TASTES LIKE COUGH SYRUP.

1:35 PM: Okay, it’s better with Coke. Actually, I think I’ll add a little more.

2:30 PM: I’m drunk and playing Harry Potter hangman on my phone at our campsite. I don’t think I’m We Festing right.

Thursday, 8/7/2014

1:00 PM: Checking out my cousin Jodi and her boyfriend Rob’s campsite at Lake Sallie. Their group is so big that their campsite seems more like a small village.

1:20 PM: Just played massive beer pong (trying to toss a large ball into buckets) with Jodi. You would think having a bigger target would make it easier. You would be wrong.

1:30 PM: Now we’re playing actual beer pong against Jodi’s friends Matt and Molly. I swear I was better at this in college.

1:45 PM: A few people in their group created a “redneck hot tub,” where they lined the bed of someone’s pickup with tarp and filled it with lake water.

2:00 PM: What’s “Power Hour”?

2:10 PM: Where’d the rest of my whiskey go?

2:11 PM: Hey, beer!

3:00 PM One perk of having a long walk back from Lake Sallie is that I have plenty of time for people watching. Let’s see…several guys with missing teeth…a t-shirt that says “take them panties off” (offending women AND grammar nerds with a single article of clothing!)…a red, white, and blue speedo (because nothing is more patriotic than stuffing your junk into a spandex version of the American flag)…remind me again why girls say they want country boys?

3:10 PM: Hey, Tim Sigler’s here! Oh, wait, nope, it’s just a guy in a cowboy hat and a black t-shirt.

7:30 PM: Oh, charming. One of the guys near our campsite is hardcore hitting on a girl who I’m pretty sure is seventeen years old. In front of her mother. Or he’s hitting on the mom. Classy. Back to Lake Sallie until Florida Georgia Line starts to take a break from the land of the creepy bros.

8:00 PM: Rob makes a great Jack and Coke. He seemed like a great guy to begin with, but the fact that he can mix a drink well has earned him the Cousin Seal of Approval.

9:00 PM: Checking out Florida Georgia Line with Jodi and Rob since I haven’t heard back from my group. Stopping at a booth selling cowboy hats. As much as country music has grown on me, I don’t think the fashion really suits me.

9:05 PM: OH MY GOD Jodi is letting me borrow her old cowboy hat and it’s ADORABLE and purple and beaded and doesn’t make my head look weird and I’m already planning several outfits around it (think punk rock cowgirl chic…shut up, it could work) and Jodi might not ever get this back now.

10:00 PM: Hanging out at Jodi and Rob’s campsite, waiting for Alisha to text me so I know where to meet our group (the joys of general admission). Rob just made me another Jack and Coke.

10:30 PM: Still haven’t heard from Lish, but Rob is awesome and is letting me take his V.I.P. pass for the Jason Aldean concert.

11:00 PM: Hey, I actually know some of these songs!

12:00 AM: KELLY CLARKSON WHERE DID YOU COME FROM!?

1:00 AM: Trying to escape the concert area.  Good thing big crowds don’t freak me out or this could be really uncomfortable.

1:30 AM: Oof…haven’t drunk this much in a while. Okay, I’ve had water and Gatorade and as long as I get a decent amount of sleep I should be fine tomorrow.

Friday, 8/8/2014

7:00 AM: WHOEVER THE ASSHAT IS WHO THINKS BLASTING “AMERICA, FUCK YEAH” FROM THEIR SITE AT SEVEN IN THE MORNING IS A GOOD IDEA HAD BETTER HOPE HE DOESN’T RUN INTO ME TODAY.

7:30 AM: It’s like Jack Daniels is repeatedly kicking me in the stomach.

8:00 AM: Bless Alisha for making ridiculously strong coffee.

8:00 PM: Walking to The Band Perry concert. It is impossible to walk through one of the tunnels here without a group of people chanting “U-S-A! U-S-A!” Alisha and I tried to change it up a bit (“CA-NA-DA!” “SWITZ-ER-LAND!” “POR-TU-GAL!”) but unfortunately it didn’t catch on.

9:00 PM: Hell yeah, you put the “man” in “mandolin,” Neil Perry. Rawr.

10:00 PM: Waiting for Brad Paisley to start. More people watching: a tall guy wearing  only a child-sized pair of overalls, holding a cardboard sign that says “Daddy’s Home”…a guy in pink cutoff shorts and a helmet…some guy dressed as Waldo…hey, Tim Sigler’s-wait, nope, another guy in a cowboy hat and a black t-shirt.

10:30 PM: Lexi is testing out the Jenna Marbles method of getting creepy guys to leave you alone (for anyone unfamiliar with this strategy: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8wRXa971Xw0). For the most part it’s not working, because Alisha is recording it and laughing hysterically, but there was an especially entertaining exchange that was actually successful:

Random Bro: Happy We Fest!

Lexi:  D:

Random Bro: Boobs for beads!

Lexi: D:

Random Bro:…Boobs for beads?

Lexi: D:

Random Bro: Okay…nice meeting you.

Lexi: D:

we fest1

10:50 PM: Man, Brad is DRUNK.

11:00 PM: “Mud on the Tires” sounds even better live!

11:02 PM: ‘CAUSE IT’S A GOOD NIIIIIIGHT TO BE OUT THERE SOAKIN’ UP THE MOONLIIIIIIGHT….

11:03 PM: Correction: “Mud on the Tires” sounds better live when I’M not singing along.

11:30 PM: …Did Brad Paisley just sing a line from “Let It Go”!? That might be the most adorable thing I have ever witnessed.

12:30: Heading to Jodi and Rob’s campsite to skip any of the Oatfield insanity.

1:30 AM: Jodi’s group has this DJ set in a trailer set up at their site, so they’re having a dance party. Great mix of music. Just danced to “Rebel Yell” which, according to Jodi’s friend Todd (apparently tonight’s DJ), is the second best song ever. I ask him what the best is. He says I’ll have to wait until he plays it later.

2:00 AM: Security just made us shut off the music! Nooooo! NOW I’LL NEVER KNOW!

2:10 AM: Jodi is trying to revive the dance party by playing music on her phone. It’s not really working out.

2:20 AM: Now Jodi is trying to revive the dance party by convincing people to sing and has pulled up the lyrics to “Sweet Caroline.” God, I love my family.

2:30 AM: Things are getting weird with a big foam glowstick. I like this group.

3:30 AM: Jodi is insisting that I crash at her campsite rather than walk back to Oatfield. Why can’t she accept that absolutely no one would mess with my mad ninja skills!?

3:32 AM: So…no one just saw me trip over the ramp up to the DJ trailer, right? Good.

3:35 AM: Fine, fine. I appreciate her concern for my safety. And her friend Jackie is being nice enough to let me sleep on her air mattress.

3:40 AM: I should probably stop drinking now anyway.

3:45 AM: Ooh, fireball!

 Saturday, 8/9/2014

6:30 AM: Ugh, fireball…

1:00 PM: Got back to Oatfield a few hours ago. It’s kind of drizzling, and the whole campsite is pretty quiet. Just playing games with Alisha, Brian, Sam, and Brit (B.S., Presidents and Assholes, Cards against Humanity) under the canopy. Maybe today will be a little more laid-back.

3:00 PM: I spoke too soon. This place is a shit show. I just had someone of questionable drinking age slur/shout “I JUST HAD SIX SHOTS IN TEN MINUTES!” about two inches away from my face, so that was fun.

5:00 PM: My tent is currently occupied by one of my camp-mates and a “friend” he made here. I don’t mind, but it seems kind of awkward considering the girl is camping with her mom, who is sitting right across from our campsite (and no, this isn’t the possibly seventeen-year-old girl..why are there so many girls here with their mothers!?).

6:00 PM: Camp-mate insists that the girl’s mom doesn’t know what’s going on. Uh-huh. I’m sure she thinks the two drunk kids alone in the tent are just playing Go Fish.

10:00 PM: Waiting for Zac Brown Band to start. Alisha is loudly singing “Savages” fromPocahontas. I have no clue how that started.

10:20 PM: OH MY GOD, someone here is dressed up as Beetlejuice. He has the crazy hair and zombie makeup and striped suit and everything. Who thinks “You know what I should dress up as at a country music festival? A Tim Burton character!”? I mean, I love it, just surprising. I should get a picture with him.

10:21 PM: Where did he go!? How did I lose someone wearing a black and white striped suit and zombie makeup in a crowd of country fans in less than a minute?! This might be my biggest We Fest regret.

11:00 PM: Some random drunk guy standing next to me just grabbed my beer, gulped a bunch of it down, and handed it back to me saying “Just wanted a sip.” General admission is SO much fun.

11:10 PM: The fiddler in the Zac Brown Band is so damn cute. I never thought the fiddle was a remotely sexy instrument until now.

11:30 PM: Alisha just pointed out that the fiddler looks like Chevy Chase.

11:31 PM: DAMMIT, LISH.

11:32 PM: …Still sexy.

12:30 AM: Pretty sure this frighteningly tall drunk guy is going to fall over on me any second. I don’t think the band is going to play “Chicken Fried” at this point, so may as well leave and beat the rush. Time to head over to Lake Sallie to return Jodi’s hat.

1:00 AM: Jodi is letting me keep the hat! I mean, I know in actuality I probably won’t even wear it until We Fest next year, but it’s SO CUTE!

1:30 AM: Heading back to Oatfield since we’re leaving early-ish in the morning. It is impossible to wear this hat without walking with a little swagger.

1:40 AM: Yeah, I’m definitely coming back next year.

we fest2

My Top Five Choir Songs

Being in choir was the best part of my high school experience. I remember my first day, a nervous freshman who couldn’t read music and was terrified of her own breathy, shaky voice, learning a simple melody that our teacher had us sing in a round and being in awe at the gorgeous sound a simple combination of voices could make. I remember my first concert, being completely enchanted by the upperclassmen and select choirs-specifically concert choir and chamber choir-and wanting so, so badly to be a part of that.  I remember working my butt off for the next few years, taking private voice lessons and practicing at home, slowly discovering that I was capable of being loud, of making a beautiful sound. I remember how ecstatic I was to see my hard work pay off my senior year, when I made it into concert choir, chamber choir, and the chorus of two theater productions.

I don’t sing much anymore (besides shout-singing along to my car radio or drunkenly rocking out to “Baby, One More Time” at karaoke with my coworkers) but I’ll always cherish the memories I have of being in choir. There’s something extraordinary about it-that feeling of being wrapped up in music when your voice intertwines with twenty or thirty or three hundred others, completely enveloped in song. It’s amazing to hear what kind of magic is created when different voices combine in different ways, and the songs listed below are prime examples of that.

1. “Water Night,” Eric Whitacre

Most choir students are familiar with Grammy-winning composer Eric Whitacre because he is a musical badass. Recognized worldwide, Whitacre is well-known for composing music using a method called pandiatonicism: a musical technique that, as defined by creator Nicolas Slominsky, “sanctions the simultaneous use of any or all seven tones of the diatonic scale, with the bass determining the harmony.” This can be heard in one of his more popular songs,”Water Night.” The combination of the surreal lyrics (a translation of Octavio Paz’s poem “Agua Nocturna”), powerful dynamics, and Whitacre’s composition style creates a stunning, unworldly quality that gives me chills every time I hear it.

2. Past Life Melodies,” Sarah Hopkins

This is one of the weirdest choral pieces I have ever been lucky enough to perform. It’s so eerie and alien-like; I’ve never heard another song quite like it. The last part of it sounds less like a song and more like nearly three minutes of sound effects from a sci-fi movie (if you don’t have the patience to listen to the whole song, skip to around 4:35 to hear what I’m talking about). It really makes you appreciate what the human voice is capable of, thanks to composer Sarah Hopkins incorporation of overtone singing, where the voices’ overtones (frequencies higher than the fundamental frequency of sound) create the melody. It’s one of the strangest songs I’ve ever heard, and it’s so damn cool.

3. “Hope for Resolution,” Paul Caldwell & Sean Ivory

This song is much more traditional-sounding compared to the first two on this list, but it’s just as breathtaking. Composers Paul Caldwell and Sean ivory wrote the song in 1994 as a tribute to the end of Apartheid in South Africa, and the combination of the classic hymn “Of the Father’s Love Begotten” and anti-Apartheid liberation song “Thula Sizwe” honors the occasion brilliantly. It starts out with the first verse of “Of the Father’s Love Begotten” sung in unison, usually by a children’s choir, then blossoms into these gorgeous, angelic harmonies sung in a round as the rest of the choir joins in. Then the song shifts to “Thula Sizwe,” quietly intense at first, but building quickly as it is sung in tandem with “Of the Father’s Love Begotten.” By the end, the song has expanded into this glorious vocal celebration, exploding in a final, joyous “oh!” It’s incredible, and I never get tired of hearing it.

4. “Omnia Sol,”   Z. Randall Stroope

We sang this at my high school graduation, and I can’t imagine a better song for such an occasion. The second half of the chorus is text from Carmina Burana, with the first line (“omnia sol temperat/absens in remota”) translating to “The sun warms everything, even when I am away,” which seems like the perfect sentiment for a group of students embarking on a new part of their lives. Like “Hope for Resolution,” the harmonies here are exceptionally beautiful; every note is packed with emotion. And the part near 3:45, when the key changes and the Latin lyrics are overlaid with the English ones, is basically the musical equivalent of the clouds opening up to let the sunlight shine through.

5. “Carols Around (And Around),” arr. Paul. J. Nygard

I know a Christmas carol medley seems a little out of place in this list. There are plenty of arrangements of well-known Christmas songs out there, and this one isn’t a particularly innovative version (not that it isn’t pretty). I can’t even find a great example of it on YouTube. My reason for including it is purely sentimental: it’s the song my high school performs every year at the holiday concert, when alumni are invited on stage to sing with the current students, and I’m so grateful that they provide that opportunity. I’m so happy that, once a year, I can be back on the stage, squished between the other alumni in attendance, and for a few minutes relive that feeling of my heart expanding and filling me completely, overflowing in song, my voice rising to meet the nearly two hundred others filling the auditorium. Because I miss it so much, and the chance to be a part of it again, as brief as it might be, is invaluable.

Mid West Music Fest 2015 and Other Winona Shenanigans

I miss my college town of Winona, Minnesota SO much. It’s in a  beautiful part of the state; the little river city is surrounded by these big, gorgeous bluffs and it’s like you’re being hugged by nature. The downtown area is adorable and old-fashioned and is full of great cafes and bars and restaurants. And, despite its reputation for being a tiny college town, it always has something going on: the Great River Shakespeare Festival in the summer, Frozen River Film Festival in the winter, and Mid West Music Fest in the spring- which is where my friend Alisha and I spent a weekend volunteering (when we weren’t eating or pumping ourselves full of caffeine at some of our favorite places). Before I get into the details of the weekend, I have to thank our wonderful friend Katie for letting us crash at her apartment despite her being out of town for the weekend. We were sad not to get to spend time with her and her girls (a pitbull named Jasmine and a shih tzu named Minnie), but we really appreciate her hospitality.

A little background: Mid West Music Fest is a relatively new event, founded in 2010 by former AmeriCorps volunteer Sam Brown, who modeled the festival on Salem, Oregon’s Cherry City Music Fest. The first festival brought over 70 musical acts from the area to the community for a 2-day event in July. In 2011, MWMF was moved to April  to correspond with the school year, since college students make up a large portion of the population in Winona. Since the festival’s inception, MWMF has grown into a 3-day music festival with over 100 acts, as well as several related events and collaborations.

The first show Alisha and I hit up was General B and the Wiz at Broken World Records. We’d seen them perform at last year’s MWMF and couldn’t pass up seeing them again. The Minneapolis-based indie-blues/self-described “psych rock” band put on a phenomenal show as usual. They have this fun 70’s vibe without sounding campy, are obscenely talented musicians, and seriously know how to work a crowd; all of the members have incredible stage presence.We left around 9, during the last song, because Alisha and I are 25-and26-year-old octogenarians who need to be in bed by 10 PM.

We didn’t have to be at our volunteer venue until 4:30 on Saturday, so the majority of the day was devoted to food and coffee and catching up with a couple people.  We started our morning at Bloedow’s Bakery, which has the best doughnuts in Minnesota (seriously, WCCO voted them the best in 2012) so Alisha could get a box for her family. Sadly, I didn’t get anything because everyone in the crowded shop kept budging in front of me and I’m the least assertive person ever so eventually I was like “It’s cool, I don’t need a doughnut” and we left. It ended up not being a problem though, because I ended up eating my weight in omelet at Winona’s Family Restaurant. We initially went there to say hi to Alisha’s cousin who works there, and while at first it just seemed like a local Perkins knockoff, we were pretty quickly impressed. They were great about accommodating Alisha’s bajillion dietary restrictions, and the massive ABC (avocado/bacon/cheese) omelet I ordered had huge chunks of fresh avocado in it rather than pasty pre-made guacamole, which was awesome. Not that I have anything against guacamole-I would probably eat my own hand if it were covered in guacamole- but having fresh avocado was a nice surprise. Alisha’s only complaint was that they never asked if we wanted a refill on coffee; they’d just swoop in like diner ninjas and fill our cups before we could say anything. I didn’t mind, because I wanted to be more awake for the shows later than we had been the night before and was totally cool with starting my day with four cups of coffee, but Alisha was a little frustrated.

The next few hours were all about caffeine. We met our friend Sam at Acoustic Cafe, where I got a cafe miel (coffee+honey+cinnamon=liquid heaven). I didn’t spend much time at Acoustic when I was in school, which I regret, because it’s a great place-cozy without feeling crowded, with a variety of delicious drinks on their menu. Then we decided to follow up our coffee with more coffee at Mugby Junction, a chain coffee shop (although maybe “chain” is inaccurate, since it’s only located in Winona and the only other locations are a drive-thru and an express shop in one of the WSU academic buildings) where I briefly considered getting something non-caffeinated, since I had been mainlining coffee since about 10 AM, but opted for my college favorite, the satin mocha (mocha with white chocolate instead of milk chocolate). By the time we got to our venue I was definitely more awake. And jittery. And I really had to pee.

Our venue was Wesley Methodist Church, which seemed like a weird location for the rap/rock/electronic acts playing there, but it ended up being perfect. Something about the combination of electric guitars and stained glass windows was just so bad-ass (…am I going to Hell for describing a church as “bad-ass”? Oh, well). There were four acts during our volunteer slot, but two stood out: Whale House and Koo Koo Kanga Roo. Whale House is an alt rock band from Eau Claire, and while all of the musicians in the group are incredibly talented, the singer especially impressed me; he had such a sweet, bright tone to his voice that still carried so much power. And then there was Koo Koo Kanga Roo….oh, boy. I looked them up on YouTube a few days before the festival, and with songs like “Cat Party” and “Fanny Pack,”  I wasn’t sure if they were a group for little kids, similar to The Wiggles, or if they were just super hipster and I wasn’t getting the irony. Turns out the answer is kind of yes to both. According to their site, they’re “a kids’ band for adults too.” They’re an interactive dance party duo from Minneapolis who plays a variety of gigs, from church basements and preschools to state fairs and even Vans Warped Tour this year. They’re ridiculously creative, their energy is infectious, and they appeal to a range of music fans. Hopefully they’ll be back next year, because they were definitely the highlight of our volunteer time.

We wrapped up the night at Ed’s (No Name) Bar, one of my favorite places downtown due to its eclectic style, frequent live music (not just during MWMF), and signature drink: tinto de verano, a Spanish cocktail similar to sangria, made with red wine and lemon soda. Sitting in a back booth with my friends, straining to hear the conversation over the music and people watching as fest-goers passed by on the sidewalk outside, I felt weirdly homesick for Winona, even though I haven’t lived there in about four years. The Twin Cities are great, and it’s not like they don’t have music festivals or other cool events, but there’s something special about Winona. It’s such a unique, tight-knit community. Leaving is it is hard, but at least I’ll always have an excuse to go back.

MWMF