by CHRIS ROGERS
The founder of Winona’s Mid West Music Fest is launching a new festival in his hometown: the Big Turn Music Fest in Red Wing. Named for the nearly 180-degree bend in the main channel of the Mississippi River at Red Wing, the February 2018 festival features an icy buoy for its icon. While Sam Brown is involved in both, Big Turn Music Fest is entirely separate from Mid West Music Fest. “It’s not like another Mid West Music Fest. This is another project,” Brown stated.
Brown was an Americorps volunteer just out of college when he became the driving force behind the creation of Mid West Music Fest (MWMF) in 2010. Every year since, the springtime festival has brought scores of bands to numerous venues in downtown Winona and offered festival goers more music than they can possibly see. Brown helped organize a festival in Salem, Ore., that inspired the format for MWMF: multi-day, multi-venue, multi-genre. Big Turn Music Fest (BTMF) will follow a similar formula in Red Wing: a panoply of live music in the heart of the city, not at a festival grounds far from local businesses.
“I wanted to give back to the community that raised me,” Brown explained. Like many young people from small towns, Brown made an exodus when he turned 18. He did not even consider colleges in Minnesota before moving out to Oregon. “I was like, ‘Get me out of here,’” he said.
But that’s changed. Moving to Winona was a sort of homecoming to the driftless region. “I love Winona,” Brown said. “It feels natural for me to be here.” Brown launched the music venue/art gallery/record shop Mid West Music Store in Winona — it, too, is separate from MWMF — and performs music as Bo.Monro. Starting a festival in Red Wing is an idea Brown has kicked around in the past, but it never stuck until this year, he stated.
People in Red Wing have been very supportive, and Brown said it was remarkable to see, over a decade since he last lived there, how much people treated him like he was still a part of the town. Brown described approaching his childhood church about serving as a venue for the new festival: “The nostalgia of going back to the church I grew up going to, where I was confirmed, where I attended, where my parents were married, and walking in and asking them if I can bring this event to their doors, and them responding with complete acceptance — I still have a name badge at that church. It’s pretty cool that I’m still a part of that community.”
There’s another reason Brown is doing this. “This kind of work feeds my soul,” he said. Turning the dream of a music festival into reality is a different kind of work than sustaining an established festival. Brown said they require different skill sets. While Brown is still involved in MWMF and serves on its board, festival director Parker Forsell took on the organization-running responsibilities in 2013. A community of volunteers and supporters, a small staff, and Forsell have done the detailed work of planning and hosting the festival. Brown described himself as a starter of things. “For my personal development, I’m a big vision person. I need to continue to have creative outlets where I can put that energy,” Brown explained. BTMF gives him an opportunity to connect with new people on lining up venues, work with artists on the festival’s branding, and come up with a name for its buoy mascot: Bob.
How should Winonans feel about the launch of BTMF? “I hope folks can be excited about this rather than territorial,” Brown said. He has gotten some negative reactions: “That, oh, you should do more for Winona. That you shouldn’t branch out to Red Wing. Where do your loyalties lie?” However, to Brown, it is all the driftless region, and the more creative endeavors there are in the area, the merrier. “They’re all going to build on one another. They’re going to raise the visibility of non-metro music scenes,” he stated. MWMF organizers will be able to use the February 16-17, 2018, event in Red Wing as a chance to promote their own April 27-28, 2018, festival in Winona. “The goal is not to take away from what we’ve done in Winona, but build on the successes and elevate the music scene in Southeast Minnesota to another level,” Brown said.
From the Sheldon Theatre to a comic shop, BTMF will feature 14 different venues within a few blocks of each other hosting live music from scores of bands, Brown stated. More information is available on Facebook under “Big Turn Music Fest” or on Twitter @BigTurnRedWing.