Globe-spanning 'vintage' bands set to play Northfieldby Euan Kerr, Minnesota Public Radio
Northfield, Minn. — It's quiet in Northfield. But it's not going to remain that way for long.
Starting at noon tomorrow there will be concerts beginning on the hour pretty much every waking hour through Sunday evening.
It's all the doing of artistic director Paul Niemisto. He's been hearing one question a lot lately: What is a vintage band?
"It's not a scientific term," he says, grinning.
Niemisto says it basically covers any band playing music from a historical context. Usually this means brass music from the 19th century.
"But we also have baroque trumpets coming here and ophiclides, and sacbuts and serpents and all of them have their own histories that go way back before the 19th century," he says.
And of course there are national differences. A big star this year will be the Austrian band Tschecharanka.
There's also the Helsinki Wind Band coming in from Finland. There are many U.S. bands, each bringing their own interest and style. The Dodworth Saxhorn band, from Ann Arbor, Mich., plays in costume on instruments from the mid-1800s.
There are several bands which play music from the Civil War era, again in costume. Niemisto has special plans for them.
"And we are going to have them play against each other across the river, battle of the bands!" he says. "It should be fun."
And there are a lot of Minnesota bands too, ranging from the Ameriikan Poijat Finnish Brass Band to Las Estrellas de Guadalupe, a Minneapolis based mariachi youth group.
"We have two excellent, British-style brass bands from Minnesota," Niemisto says. "One is Lake Wobegon from the northern suburbs, and the other is the Sheldon Theater Band from Red Wing."
Paul Niemisto leads the way down to the Cannon River, pointing out some of the many outdoor venues where musicians will play -- churches, parks, the hospital and local eateries.
"So there are little mini-festivals all over town, and we have the schedule staggered so if you want to be a dabbler, you can catch two or three numbers from here, hop on your bike, go down half a mile and catch the next one," Niemisto says.
There will also be concerts in New Ulm, Chatfield, New Prague, Cannon Falls, Red Wing, Farmington, and the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis as part of the festival.
This will be the second Vintage Band Festival. About 10,000 people came through the first one in 2006, and this year there could be more, Niemisto says.
Musicians are excited about the festival, too.
French horn-player Tim Bradley is part of the Copper Street Brass Quintet. As the ensemble rehearses for the festival at the new McPhail Center campus in Apple Valley, Bradley says the Minneapolis-based quintet aims to offer something new.
"We like to play things that haven't been heard on brass instruments," he says.
So everything from Mozart to Ben Folds. For the festival they are doing "Opera without Words," their own arrangements of operatic standards.
Bradley says he's looking forward rubbing shoulders with the other musicians, and he expects to learn a lot.
"So having that perspective on different culture represented through these brass ensembles is going to be really, really entertaining and really fun," he says.
And potentially uniquely informative -- there's not a lot of hard data about the impact of an event like the Vintage Band Music Festival on a town, audiences and musicians.
Niemisto teaches at St. Olaf and he has two interns who will examine just that. Their results should be available in the fall, long after the sound of brass instruments has faded away.
- Morning Edition, 08/04/2010, 8:25 a.m.