Mid West Music Fest, Day One: Tapes 'n Tapes, Cory Chisel, and Zoo Animal

Mid West Music Festival Day One
Featuring Tapes 'n Tapes, Cory Chisel, and Zoo Animal
Winona, MN
Thursday, April 19, 2012

See also:
Mid West Music Fest, Day Two: the 4onthefloor, Rogue Valley
Mid West Music Fest, Day Three: Kimya Dawson, the Melismatics

Rain and plummeting temperatures greeted music fans in Winona who were gathering for the third annual Mid West Music Fest on Thursday evening. And while the lousy weather conditions (and students having classes the next day) perhaps kept the attendance figures down on the opening night of the fest, the bands themselves certainly shook off the chill in the air to deliver a bunch of riveting, raucous sets for everyone who made their way through the storms.

The Mid West Music Fest featured over 120 local and national acts spread out over 17 different stages throughout downtown Winona and the campus of Winona State University over the course of three days, but with the steady rain on Thursday, there would be little chance for exploring, as most concertgoers settled in at one venue for the duration of the evening. And on this night at least, Jefferson's Event Center was clearly the place to be, as Zoo Animal, Cory Chisel & the Wandering Sons, and Tapes 'n Tapes all won over fans both new and old in the small club.

After catching the last few bluesy, boisterous songs of the spirited Minneapolis/Decorah, IA quartet General B and the Wiz, Zoo Animal took the stage with Holly Newsom leading her band through a slow-burning version of "Black And Charred," with Newsom singing and playing guitar over the slow clap rhythms of the drummer and bassist providing the backbeat while Holly dug her way deeper into the song. "Worker Bee" kept the strong start going, which the band quickly followed up with a spellbinding version of "Hold Tongue."

Newsom has imbued both her new and old material with a spacious tension that gives the tracks an added potency and an emotional weight that clearly resonated with the growing crowd, who pressed closer to the stage as their engaging set wore on. "Concern And A Warning" and "Laying And Lying" were both stellar, and by the time Holly and the band tore through a spirited, boisterous version of "Folded Hands," there were plenty of newly won over Zoo Animal fans in the club. Newsom joked as the rest of the band left her alone for the last number, "This is so you know I've got a tender side," before she played a tender, touching solo version of "Dream On" which elegantly brought the 35-minute set to a close.

The energy level went up a notch when Appleton, Wisconsin-based Cory Chisel & the Wandering Sons took to the stage, with Chisel teasing a cover of George Harrison's "My Sweet Lord," that sadly never fully materialized as the set started. Chisel said that he's never played Winona, WI before, then realized his mistake and said, "Oh shit, I screwed up. Now I owe all of you a shot." And while those shots also never appeared, the five-piece band delivered a boisterous, energetic set full of new songs that got everyone moving on the cold Thursday night. 

Chisel proved to be an engaging frontman, continually making a connection with the crowd not only with his stirring songs, but also through the numerous cheers he shared with the audience (especially after a tray of drinks were delivered to the band). The new songs, especially the Dylan-esque "I Never Meant To Love You But It's Too Late Now," all sounded great next to older tracks like "Tennessee," "Home In The Woods," and "See It My Way."

Towards the end of the 45-minute set, Chisel joked with the warming crowd, "It's been fun drinking with you tonight. We're playing tomorrow night in Minneapolis at First Avenue, and if we play our cards right, we won't make it." A lively version of "Born Again," and a singalong with the crowd on the raucous new track "Over Jordan" ended the set on an absolute high.

It's been a while since Tapes 'n Tapes played in such a small room so close to home, and the boys seemed to feed off of that level of intimacy, surprisingly opening their set with "Beach Girls," the lead-off track from their self-titled, 2004 debut EP. And while that one might have been a subtle way of thanking their longtime fans in the Twin Cities for making the drive down to Winona, the rest of their set was geared towards winning over the new fans in the crowd who haven't seen the quartet play live before. The played 10 of the 11 tracks from their first LP, The Loon, throughout their energetic 70-minute set, and the classic material still sounds vital and urgent, and certainly got the crowd into it early.

An untamed version of "Jakov's Suite" was a dynamic highlight of the early portion of the set, with explosive versions of "The Iliad," "Just Drums" and "Manitoba" following in quick succession. Frontman Josh Grier then took a moment to catch his breath and say hi to the crowd: "I've never been to Winona before. How do you like living in a city that has a lake on one side and a river on the other? Must be nice. Anyone want to take me out tubin' tomorrow? It's supposed to be 52º and sunny -- c'mon, we're all from Minnesota. We can take it." 

"Hang Them All," "In Houston" and "Conquest" all churned with a bold vivacity, before the band slowed things down with a touching version of "Omaha." "Badaboom" quickly picked the energy level back up, and the group didn't ease off the gas for the rest of their rapid-fire set. The untamed instrumental "Crazy Eights" really found the band pushing the sonic parameters of the song, before they unleashed a raucous rendition of "10 Gallon Ascot," which got both the band and the crowd bounding around in time to the relentless beat. "Cowbell" and "Freak Out" were both incendiary, so much so that the group had to slow things down one last time with "The Saddest Of All Keys," which really was a heart-wrenching version of the somber track.

But again, the band wasted little time picking things up again, and closed out the main set with a turbulent run through of "Insistor" ended the performance with a shot. But the fans wouldn't let Tapes 'n Tapes off that easy, and roared until the band sheepishly returned for what legitimately was an unplanned encore. It was a bit of an oddball choice, too, as the band launched into "Outro" from Outside, which doesn't feature too many lyrics from Josh, so the band turned it into essentially a rollicking instrumental that found all four of them wailing away energetically for four minutes. That was a great way to end not only the show, but also Day One of Mid West Music Fest. 

Critic's Notebook:

Personal Bias: I came down to Winona to definitely check out some local/non-Twin City bands, but this Minneapolis-heavy lineup proved too tough to resist.

The Crowd: A mix of college kids, older Winona natives, and Twin Cities music fans who made the drive down to the festival for the night.

Overheard In The Crowd: "Dude, I wouldn't walk barefoot in here."

Random Notebook Dump: Jefferson's featured a 2-for-1 until 10 p.m., with $2 bottles of Grain Belt. So, 2 bottles of Grain Belt for a total of $2. I love college town pricing (and would continue to love it all weekend long).

Tapes 'n Tapes Setlist:

Beach Girls

Jakov's Suite

The Iliad

Just Drums


One In The World

Hang Them All

In Houston




Crazy Eights

10 Gallon Ascot


Freak Out

The Saddest Of All Keys


Outro (Encore)

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