Submitted Photo
Josh Lauer (right) formed the rock band Wake Up Bedhead with friends over the summer, but he™s been playing with his dad Eugene (left) for years. The two form the group Rivertown Gypsies, playing a few shows each year. They play a rare form of jazz made famous by French guitarist Django Reinhardt in the ˜30s and ˜40s called gypsy jazz, and hold the title as the only group with a version of Beer Barrel Polka, gypsy jazz style.

Winona wants to rock
But it needs to get the ball rolling


by Sarah Squires

You sing to them. You caress them with a strum on the strings of your guitar. You smack their ear drums with rapid-fire base drum kicks. You cry to them with your sax.

When you're in a band, this is how you get people to listen to you.

But starting a band isn't just about the music. How does a band convince a booker to schedule them for a good night, get bigger bands to let them open the show? How do you get noticed?

"I think it's not exactly clear how to reach an audience," said Josh Lauer, guitarist and vocalist for one of Winona's newest bands, Wake Up Bedhead. Since he and the rest of the band pulled their musical talents together in August, they've tried different approaches to finding venues, booking shows, and, most importantly, drawing a crowd.

What Wake Up Bedhead does is nothing new "” they make fliers, they advertise, they pester their friends. They network with other bands to put together a lineup that works. They even got a band cell phone to record numbers and give people reminder calls when they play.

Winona's music scene can be hard to navigate, despite the recent Winona State University survey which indicated that Winonans want more live music, specifically, more rock and roll. The survey said that over 50 percent of those questioned said they wanted the city to make more of an effort to attract live musical groups. But what does that mean?

"Let's just bring the Beatles back," joked Winona City Council member George Borzyskowski. "They sang about freedom, they sang about choice, and they sang about happiness."

Without resurrecting the Beatles or Elvis, bringing bands to Winona isn't really the city's normal task. Council member Tim Breza said that the city would first need some sort of proposal. He said that there might be a way that the city could work with local universities on some type of musical endeavor. "Some relationship might be possible," he said.

"I think what we could do is work together to create the infrastructure where something like this [live music] could happen," said Winona Mayor Jerry Miller. He said this could include anything from parking to erecting a facility that could play host to larger musical events.

And while the city might have a long wish list, pushing to help build some type of event center might not be too far off the charts. The WSU survey also showed that more than half of those questioned would like to see such an event center built in Winona, with most indicating that they felt it should be funded through a combination of public and private dollars.

"To me, that's where the city's role is: to create that infrastructure," said Miller, adding that there might be some way to pair up with another entity to help build such a facility that could be used for all types of things. "And then you bring the bands in," he said. "Then it's somebody else's job to figure out what the market is."

Council member Al Thurley said that using existing groups for marketing, like Visit Winona, might be a good idea. "We don't have a large venue, which would probably lend itself more to live music than what we have now," he said.

For Wake Up Bedhead, finding a venue when they first started out meant they played their first show in a friend's basement. They have made it over a hump in the last few months, and will headline with a national act at Rascals on January 6 "” a strategy for attracting a crowd for an out-of-town act by booking them with a local group.

Matt Levitt, former frontman of the Twin Cities' Levitt8 and a Minnesota Music Award winner in 2001, says that the scene in Winona is not the most inviting of the college towns in Minnesota. But there's potential.

"There are two colleges; there's definite potential for people who want to put together groups locally to have an outlet, it seems," he said. But he said that there doesn't seem to be the type of scene in Winona that can support pulling in regional bands. "If there was an energy "” that can only be built by having local bands and artists work to get people excited about seeing live music. It's a matter of people going out and supporting it, not asking the government to do so. Live music thrives in cities where people can go see it. And they do."

Levitt said that word-of-mouth between bands plays a role in where touring acts will go. Bands will ask one another how shows at various venues went, and bad reports might mean that an outside band wouldn't consider traveling to a town with a poor musical reputation.

And what do they said about Winona? "I'd say it's difficult," Levitt said. In the last ten years or so, he's played about five or six Winona shows. While he says there is some support for live music here, a band has to work harder to jostle fans out to shows. Some bands don't have the financial means to take a risk in playing a town that might end up costing them money in the long run. "Bands in the middle can't really take a financial hit very often," he said.

But Winona can offer some positive things for musicians. Levitt said one of the good things is that, for touring bands, Winona is in between Minneapolis and lots of other places, and it's easy to get to. Bands like Wake Up Bedhead are trying to build on a local scene and attract touring artists. And the recent WSU survey has, at least, caught the eyes of Winona City Council members.

Levitt said it simply. "If 70 percent of people want to support rock and roll, then they need to go out and support what is there."

And Lauer said that so far, Wake Up Bedhead has felt a lot of local support. "It feels really good when you see people enjoying themselves," he said. "It feels even better when you walk offstage and hear them still screaming for you to play."


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