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Ten observations from my weekend as a semi-famous local indie rock star

by Jim McGuinn

November 21, 2013

This past weekend I got to live the rock and roll dream like I haven’t for nearly a decade, joining local noise pop band BNLX as second guitarist for a weekend of shows at BNLXFest 2 at Cause. The fest featured five local acts per night, from buzzy new kids on the block Gloss and Frankie Teardrop to veteran acts Pink Mink, Two Harbors, and Blue Sky Blackout, who played their last show on Friday night.

I’m no stranger to playing music—I’ve been in and out of bands since I was 16, play with folkies the Falderals now, and have known BNLX’s Ed Ackerson since his days in the Dig in the mid-‘80s, long before he became our scene’s most prominent rock producer and presence on the indie scene. But it has been a long time since I’ve gotten to rip it up on a stage in a packed small club at full volume playing original songs, outside of some extra guitar work with the Story of the Sea and BNLX at Replacements and Joe Strummer Tribute shows over the past few years. So coming back to the rock as a dad in my 40s, I had a few observations to share that I’d either never thought about, or never needed to think about in the past.

10. It’s really loud. When to wear earplugs? For years I refused. Very punk rock of me, and very dumb. When you get older and start meeting people with tinnitus and regrets, it changes your perspective. So about 10 years ago I went and bought a custom fitted pair, with 9 db of attenuation, which means it dampens the volume a bit without making it sound like you’ve put a wet towel over your head. At Cause I compromised with myself, wearing plugs during the other band’s performances, but taking them out when I played. As I barely knew the songs I was playing, I needed to hear what Ed, Ashley, and Dave were doing, even if the final result was a constant buzz permeating my skull all day Sunday.

9. There is nothing like getting up to coach Mites Hockey at 8 a.m. the morning after rocking out until 2 a.m.. I mean that, NOTHING like it. As the father of a 7-year old, parental duties do not stop just because daddy was rocking. Despite hitting the pillow at 3:15, somehow I crawled out of bed and helped 20 mites work on their skating and passing and shooting drills Sunday morning, and actually, by pushing thru the pain I was able to be reasonably functional, co-hosting a dinner party later that night.

8. This music scene is awesome because people work together and hang out. Even after living in the TC for five years, I’m still constantly amazed at how well we play in the sandbox. I saw evidence of this all weekend, as bands helped each other with gear and merch, advice, and support. And not just the bands on the bill—BNLXFest drew a gaggle of musicians not playing, from Mark Mallman to the Magnolias’ John Freeman, Fathom Lane’s Michael Ferrier, Howler’s Jordan Gatesmith, and dozens more, who used the shows to catch up with each other on new projects and ideas. Unlike other cities I’ve lived inm where jealousy and competition rule the day, musicians here are way more likely to root for each other and collaborate, even across unexpected genres.

7. There’s a lot of "hurry up and wait" in rock and roll. When you just go to shows, you forget how much of a time commitment there is in playing music. From load out of your practice space at 7 p.m. to load in after the gig at 3 a.m., you can easily put in eight hours of time to get that glorious 40 minute set to happen. Touring bands aren’t kidding when they pull out that interview cliché about spending 23 hours a day on the road just to get that hour on stage. It’s true, and it’s another reason to clap louder next time you see a band giving their all.

6. Singing into a shared mic is cool, and a little nerve-racking. Instead of having my own mic, I shared with Ashley and Ed. When this happens, you can tell the audience knows it’s a special moment. Maybe this goes back to seeing the Beatles on A Hard Day’s Night, where the kids scream when Paul and George do those “Woos!” Also going thru my head while sharing a mic: “Do I have bad breath? Do I look funny bending down to match Ashley’s mic height? Hope I don’t accidentally step on Ed’s foot pedals.” This wandering mind is a good reason I tend to only sing highly repetitive lines that require little to no melodic or harmonic skill, like “Rise Above!” and “I Don’t know.”

5. When you get older, it’s hard to get your friends to come see you play at midnight. See #9.

4. Social media has radically changed going to shows. It’s weird, awesome and a little terrifying to have someone take your photo, post and tag you, and have your friends around the world commenting on your performance before you’ve even left the stage.

3. Breakfast at a diner at 2:15 a.m. is a horribly bizarre experience solo and sober. That one is pretty self-explanatory.

2. Fests like this are awesome because you got to see a ton of bands. I predict: There is going to be a big buzz in town on Frankie Teardrop really fast! Where have Flavor Crystals been all my life? I’m so amped up about the Two Harbors album they previewed! What a great show for Blue Sky Blackout to go out on! Support the support acts! Open your mind beyond the band you paid to see!

1. The joy of playing and seeing live music you love is priceless. Get out of the house and don’t let anything stop you from rocking. Whether you are in a band, love a band, or just love to feel alive, we’ve got an amazing scene here in the Twin Cities. And for me, getting to switch roles from audience to band member for a weekend was a great reminder that while it’s always easier to sit on the couch on a Friday night, if you take the time and effort to go rock, your soul and heart will be rewarded. Who we going to catch this weekend?


Clean Water Land & Legacy Amendment
This activity is made possible in part by the Minnesota Legacy Amendment’s Arts & Cultural Heritage Fund.