Friday, September 30, 2011

Au Revoir MT Head

by Scott Hall

Mark Tarner and I met as volunteers at KAXE some time in the 1980s, but I never got to know Mark until we came on staff at about the same time in 1987.  What I will remember best is our conversations about music, movies, arts and an array of topics that fall under the broad themes of  "the decline of the American empire" and "Wall Street Voo Doo".

Over the last 16 years Mark has defined and refined KAXE's music sound. The music that earns Mark's respect has a mix of originality and good genes - roots, influences, arrangements and phrases that say a musician knows his or her chops and those that came before.  Over the years, I have occasionally urged Mark to write a few words in this blog spot about music, and never understood his reluctance to do so.  He is not a Luddite, but certainly follows his own muse when it comes to new media and technology.  

Mark loves solitude and time to read, explore the arts, and contemplate; and I'm a little worried  he's going to quickly fade into the woods and not come out for a while.  So next time you run into him, ask him "what's new?", and then call Phenology to report a rare sighting.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

"Please Write a Blog Post about Mark Tarner"

by Maggie Montgomery

“You and Scott have known him longer than the rest of us,” Travis Ryder said. “We should post a blog about Mark for his retirement.”

Mark and his son Pete, 1973
It’s true. I think I met Mark in 1977, shortly after moving to northern Minnesota. At the time he was working with Harmony Food Co-op in Bemidji as a founder and manager. He went by Mark Strand back then. The rumor was that he had adopted a pseudonym to escape something, maybe punishment for avoiding the draft, or maybe something else. He lived in a granary in Debs, had been vegetarian his entire adult life, and didn’t allow forks in his house because they were symbols of western imperialism (chopsticks only, please).

Whenever there were big battles and disagreements at the co-op, Mark was right in the middle, fighting for his principles. He was famous for holding grudges—to the point even of  “shunning” people sometimes—and had an intellect and command of the language that could “zing” someone so badly and so incisively that they never forgot it.

Mark is one of the most radical people I’ve ever met. He buys absolutely nothing if he can help it, wearing only the clothing that is given to him and furnishing his “cave” with cast-offs. This is, of course, intentional and in line with his rejection of consumerism, corporatism, or just about anything typical, including middle-classism.

Mark does not suffer fools, works from principles that he has developed over time, and has a deep appreciation for art and literature. He does not like to waste anything, including effort, so his principles are sometimes set aside in the name of expediency (expediency being, after all, just another principle). Mark grew up in the Baptist church. His father was an accountant.

All this is to say that Mark is hard for anyone to really know. He can be congenial and fun and really, really creative, but also off-putting and prickly.

Mark consented to working at KAXE in the mid-80s (believe me, it was consent. Mark wouldn’t work for anything he didn’t believe in). Then-manager Michael Goldberg hired him for his honesty and talent, in spite of (or maybe because of?) his admission that he had not held a “real job” in a long time. He was laid off for a period in the 1990s. I hired him back as program director in 1995 because he was the best music programmer I had ever heard. He said he had been studying program direction and knew just what to do. Intellectually, I knew Mark could do anything he put his mind to.

You know the rest, more or less. Over time, some people have taken exception with Mark for one thing or another, but he has also created the present-day musical “sound” of KAXE, a sound that is backed up by strong programming principles.

Here are some of the other things I know about Mark: He is the Sultan of Soup (“It all comes down to soup in the end”); he is the Marquis; he invented Neoepicureanism (“Life is one long meal. Corollary: everything between meals is preparation for the next meal”); he believes in sonic connections to create musical flow; he avidly consumes film and literature, reads New Yorker magazine, watches the stock market, and follows the news; he looks for “synchronicities” in life; he finds things to sometimes be “post-ironic.” He does not particularly like to be called either Brevity Boy (although he has taught all of KAXE’s volunteers to read shorthand-coded email) or Mr. Status Quo (even though he believes the program schedule should be so consistent that is almost never changes). Mark Tarner backwards is Kram Renrat. He is also MT Head.

I remember him reading a long, hilarious excerpt from Roget’s Thesaurus for a KAXE mosquito season opener show (the word was “displeasure,” and the reading was accompanied by a mosquito/kazoo chorus). I laughed so hard at his conversations with chickens during KAXE fundraisers that I cried. It is hard to be his “straight man” on the air without cracking up. When he disapproves of something in a staff meeting, he doesn’t say anything. He doesn’t have to. He rolls his eyes and looks like he just ate a persimmon.

In 2005, when KAXE made the change to the “On the River” music format, one irritated listener actually called him a “corporate weenie” (which makes Mark laugh anytime anyone brings it up). But the incident speaks to the demands of the job.

The other day Mark said he could feel the weight of his position as program director slipping away. He said it was liberating. It felt good. This must be what retirement is all about.

I’ll miss you at KAXE, Mark, but I guess I’ll see you around. What a ride, eh? You done good. Thx! --Maggie

Culturology Calendar 9-29

Thursday, September 29
It’s early jazz and Dixieland with the New Reformation Band, opening the Lakes Area Concert Series at Tornstrom Auditorium in Brainerd.  The show starts at 7:30.

Friday, September 30
The Duluth Festival Opera presents Pocahontas: One Woman, Two Worlds at the Reif Center Friday night at 7:30.  After the performance, Reif president David Marty will moderate a discussion about the show and the recent controversy over its casting and cultural sensitivity.  The peanut gallery at Huffington Post has made a pretty united decision of where they stand on that issue.

Folk singer, guitarist and dulcimer player Claudia Schmidt appears as part of the Grassroots Concerts series at the Journey Church in downtown Nisswa.  That’s a 7:30 show Friday.

Bemidji Area Arts Endowment will hold its Eighth Annual Oom Pah for the Arts Friday night starting at 6, at the Hungry Bear Banquet & Conference Center.  The event includes wine and beer tasting, a German dinner and music provided by Dennis Doeden, “Tuba” Jim Thompson and friends. The endowment is dedicated to the support of the arts in the Bemidji area, supporting the grants and scholarships for string students, arts events and artists.  Contact Chairman Mike Tangen at 444-8310 for tickets.

Saturday, October 1
Sam Miltich and Peter Ostroushko in concert at Davies Theater on the Itasca Community College campus. Showtimes are at 7 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday.

Art and craft shows in Brainerd, at the high school, and Nashwauk, in the recreation building, from 9 to 4.

Sunday, October 2
Bemidji Symphony Orchestra: American Jazz, featuring Gershwin’s Concerto in F, opens the season at 3  Sunday at Bemidji High School’s auditorium.

Monday, October 3
'Mark Twain Himself' is a live one-man show. Richard Garey of Hannibal, Missouri recreates the famous Mark Twain shows of 100 years ago .  It combines comedy, biting satire and drama.  It’s at the Bemidji High School auditorium on Monday night at 7.

Minnesota History Datebook
Sept. 30, 1892 The Oliver Mining Company is organized to work the Iron Range.  It would eventually own nearly all of the mines in the range.
Sept. 30, 1981 The Twins play their final game at Metropolitan Stadium. The Mall of America now occupies the site.
Oct. 1, 1992 The MinnesotaCare health program, benefiting uninsured low-income Minnesota residents, goes into effect. MinnesotaCare is financed by state tax dollars, provider taxes, and premiums paid by enrollees. According to the Institute for Southern Studies' "Gold and Green 2000" report, Minnesota boasts the lowest number of people without health insurance in the country.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Culturology Calendar 9-22

Thurs., Sep. 22
It’s another in the series of monthly Pecha Kucha nights in Bemidji.  It’s a presentation format: 20 slides up for 20 seconds each, and narration to fit.  It reminds me of the TED format that made a splash at the start of the week in Grand Rapids.  It’s at the New City Ballroom, starting at 6:30.

Minnesota Folklore Theater in Akeley has an original musical about the life and songs of Judy Garland.  “Judy Why Can’t I” covers three stages in Garland’s life beginning with her youth in Grand Rapids, through her Hollywood days, and into drug and alcohol abuse and premature death at age 47. This show is not appropriate for small children. Performances are at 7:30 p.m. this Thursday Friday and Saturday, and a 3 p.m. matinee Saturday.  More performances follow next week. (7:30 Sept. 28 and 29, October 1 and 2. 3 p.m. Sept. 24, 28 and Oct. 2.  Call 218-652-2666.)

Fri., Sep. 23
The National Chainsaw Sculpting Invitational is Friday, Saturday, and Sunday in Hackensack.

Crosslake Days this weekend includes a Chili Cook-off, Car Show, Outdoor Artisans & Crafters, Tour of Lakes and Leaves Bicycle Tour, and Disc Golf Tournament.  It runs all weekend in Crosslake.

Contemporary dance performance from the Stuart Pimsler dance troupe, 7:30 Friday night at the Reif Center in Grand Rapids.

Bemidji Jazz Quartet play at 8 Friday at Brigid’s Cross, Bemidji.

The Park Rapids Lakes Area Arts Council will host the 2011 Art Leap this Friday and Saturday.
It includes studio visits, live performances, theater arts tour and museum displays, a visit to Forestedge Winery and Gallery, Itasca State Park and Native Harvest and Minwanjige CafĂ©.  For complete information on all the activities and maps, please see the website or Blank Canvas Gallery and Education Center, The Chamber of Commerce and the Community Education Office.

Sat., Sep. 24
A workshop this weekend at the Mille Lacs Indian Museum in Onamia will walk participants through ancient clay pottery technique, from digging the clay from the ground through construction and firing in a buried pit.  Reservations are required; call us for the information.   (320-532-3632)

Two showtimes for Deer Camp: The Musical at Bemidji High School Auditorium on Saturday night, 3 and 7:30 p.m.

Singer-songwriter Lance Benson is at Brigid’s Cross in Bemidji Saturday night at 8.

The Black Lantern Fall Festival will feature two Bemidji groups. Timberline will perform from 1 to 5 and Pelican Railroad is on from 6 to 10 Saturday. Pelican Railroad will return Sunday from 1 to 3.  The fall festival is being held at the Black Lantern Resort and is family friendly with games for children and entertainment for adults. Black Lantern is located outside Shevlin.

Sun., Sep. 25
Longstanding smooth Country act The Gatlin Brothers take the Reif Center stage Sunday at 7:30, in Grand Rapids.

Tues., Sep. 27
The Merling Trio performs on violin, cello and piano.  They’re based at Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo and their latest recording includes pieces from Shostakovich and Dvorak.  They’re at the Reif Center, 7:30 Tuesday night.

Headwaters Center for Lifelong Learning presents Marsh Muirhead and John Thornberg for a presentation called “Real Men Do Write Poetry.”  That starts at 1 Tuesday, at Northwoods Bank in Park Rapids.

Minnesota History Datebook
Sept. 21, 1805 Lieutenant Zebulon M. Pike, reaches the mouth of the Minnesota River.  He stops at what is now known as Pike Island and raises the Stars and Stripes inside present-day Minnesota for the first time.  Two days later, Pike buys a hundred thousand acres from the Dakota for $2,000 and a barrel of whiskey.

Sept. 19, 1865 Governor Stephen Miller announces that gold has been found near Vermilion Lake.  This was based on a rock collected there by state geologist Henry H. Eames. A gold rush begins but no sizeable amount of gold is ever found in the area.   The rush does draw attention to the rich iron ore of the region.  Extensive mining would begin about twenty years later.

Sept. 24, 1963 President John F. Kennedy speaks at the University of Minnesota-Duluth on the subject of high unemployment in the northern Great Lakes area.  Joblessness was about twice the national average at the time.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Culturology 9-15: Leaf Town

by Travis Ryder

Thursday, Sept. 15
Roster McCabe is a well-known Twin Cities-based jam band.  They perform tonight at the Blue Ox in Bemidji.
Pink Floyd tribute act “The Machine” is part of the performing arts series at Central Lakes College Tornstrom Auditorium tonight at 7:30.

Friday, Sept. 16
Cellist Evan Drachmann and pianist Mary Au continue their tour of our region with a classical music performance at St. Mary’s Church in Cook.

The Icebox Radio Theater of International Falls will complete its 2011 Tour with a live show and broadcast from the Ranier Community Building, Friday, September 16th at 7pm. On tap is a series of original skits and songs, and a half-hour radio play based on the true Koochiching County bank robber W.W. Butler. The show will be broadcast live at

Saturday, Sept. 17
It’s the Taste of Pequot arts and crafts event in Trailside Park from 9 to 4 Saturday.

9th Annual Goods From the Woods event is 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the IRA Civic Center. 70 high-quality, regional exhibitors including Don and Patti Erven; one-of-a-kind forest products, demonstrations by master artisans, hands-on learning, northwoods foods; info:  888.223.5629 /

The Viva Musica Fall Arts Festival will be from 3 to 11 p.m. September 17 at Zorbaz on Gull Lake. The festival will feature live music by One Night Stand, which will be recording a live CD.  Viva Musica is dedicated to saving music and art education in schools.

Minnesota Music Coalition’s Caravan du Nord rolls into Grand Rapids. At 2, there’s panel discussions aimed at people trying to gain a foothold in the music business.  Then there’s an evening concert with Chris Koza and Rogue Valley, Lucy Michelle and the Velvet Lapelles featuring John Munson, and the Jig Rockin’ Ore Dogs.  The concert starts at 7:30 at the Reif Center.

Latin jazz pianist Nachito Herrera is in concert at Pequot Lakes High School Saturday at 7:30.

A good weekend for jam bands in Bemidji: Kazyak is on stage Saturday night at Brigid’s Cross.

Sunday, Sept. 18
Lake Bemidji State Park offers a narrated pontoon boat tour of the Upper Mississippi River.  They’ll pay special attention to the historical highlights of the waterway, and identify the birds that migrate using this natural landmark. Advance signup is required due to limited seating.  (218-308-2300)

Tuesday, Sept. 20
North Carolina-based abstractionist Dick Roberts will open a show of his paintings, ‘Forays into Abstraction,’ at Bemidji State University’s Talley Gallery.  Roberts’ show opens Tuesday, Sept. 20, and will run through Oct. 14.

Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday are the dates for the 36th annual North Country arts and crafts workshop.  Instruction, demonstrations, entertainment, food, and a crafter’s bazaar.  45 classes to choose from.  Held at the Concordia Language Villages.  (218-586-2884;

Wednesday, Sept. 21
Writers are invited to bring their work to the open stage, 3rd Wednesdays at Brigid’s Cross in Bemidji starting at 6:30.

The Brothers Burn Mountain play a show at 5:30 p.m., See them at Brewed Awakenings Coffeehouse in downtown Grand Rapids.

Minnesota History Datebook
Sept. 13, 1955: Commercial production of taconite begins at the Reserve Mining Company's plant in Silver Bay.  Taconite processing had been done experimentally in 1919. Large-scale production wasn't begun until the richer ore was becoming scarce and the U of M’s Edward W. Davis perfected a method to process it.  That operation in Silver Bay?  It continues today as Cliffs Northshore Mining.

Sept. 17, 1961: The Minnesota Vikings football team plays its first game, beating the Chicago Bears 37-13 at Metropolitan Stadium in Bloomington.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Steve Downing on Ethnicity

My ethnicity is ostentatiously unremarkable, so I wonder how much it contributes to who I am, or---more to the point, I suppose---what I’ve turned into. On Dad’s side of the family, obviously it’s by-the-book Anglo. Somewhere back near the dawn of recorded British history one of his ancestors presumably owned the London property that became Number 10 Downing Street. Not that that’s anything to brag about. I’ve stood there at Number 10 Downing Street, as a tourist, but I was certainly not picking up any particular vibe or chill or voice from the beyond the pale.
            Mom’s surname was Costello, and her dad was one of the first whites to settle in what became Grand Rapids, late in the 1800s. He made his way down here from Ontario when he was a kid and just stayed put. The name sounds Italian, but these Costellos and their kin called themselves Black Irish, a practically meaningless colloquialism, even then. In their homes they switched back and forth comfortably between French (French Canadian) and English (American idiomatic English). More than one language under one roof was not remarkable back then. It’s turning so again, isn’t it.
            Now that I’m thinking about it, though, maybe the fact that I’m leading such an unremarkable life is directly attributable to my ethnicity. Otherwise, I have no one but myself to blame. For not discovering any new drug or planet. Not making or stealing a billion dollars and giving it away to charity. Not winning the Nobel Peace Prize. Not fathering a child genius, or any manner of offspring. Not winding up on Dancing With The Stars.
            You don’t run into me and intuitively know---from my size or shape, skin or hair or eye color, or any other physical features, or how I talk---that my ethnic background is this, that or the other thing. Of course now you look at me and your first thought is ‘old guy’. Between you and me, I’m okay with that. Ethnicity is no guard against the aging process in any event.
We deploy the term ethnic to differentiate among cultures and homelands and societies and races and linguistic or ancestral groupings, but at one time it was used strictly to reference anyone who wasn’t either Christian or Jewish---in other words, a heathen, or pagan. In other words just about everybody.
We’re not so exotic to one another any longer, are we. When we commemorate old homeland costuming and music and cuisine and other cultural traditions, as we’re doing this weekend in Walker, at Ethnic Fest, we do it as celebratory partners in what’s become a much shrunken, less mysterious world than the days when our differences defined us.
Maybe that’s a problem. We’re all swimming inarguably in the same waters today. We’re so intermingled, so interconnected, we can’t honestly fault ethnic distinction in our conflicts. To the schemer, anything, anything will do.
Enter the politician. I’ll say no more.