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Mid West Music Fest, Day Two: The 4onthefloor, Rogue Valley, Ruben, and Midwest Dilemma

Mid West Music Fest, Day Two: Featuring the 4onthefloor, Rogue Valley, Ruben, and Midwest Dilemma
Winona, MN
Friday, April 20, 2012

See also:
Mid West Music Fest Day One with Tapes 'n Tapes
Mid West Music Fest, Day Three: Kimya Dawson, the Melismatics

Friday at the Mid West Music Fest brought sunny skies over Winona, and plenty of diverse local and Twin Cities bands playing throughout the city. The weather provided festival attendees the opportunity and initiative to explore the city's numerous unique live venues, as small art galleries, intimate cafes and sandwich shops, and even Winona's Masonic Temple played host to numerous acts throughout a music-filled day.

The small, brightly lit Winona Arts Center was the scene of an interesting array of acoustic acts on Friday. It was an extremely cozy place, with around 50 seats set up amongst the paintings and other artwork hanging on the walls. Due to the small, intimate size of the room, it became quite clear why they had to turn away fans before the Caroline Smith and the Goodnight Sleeps show here the night before (they would have been much better served playing the Masonic Temple, but that must have been one up-close-and-personal show for the lucky few who got in).

Coconut & the Duke were just about to start as people settled into their seats, and they billed themselves as an "invasive folk" duo, which sounded much more intriguing than their performance ended up being. They started with a ukulele and guitar cover of Van Halen's "Panama," but after that novelty wore off, their songs about cows, strange dietary desires, and the honeydipper. Most of their songs were rather jokey and generated plenty of laughs, but I thought their one more serious number, "Sings A Bright Blue Bird" was the best song of their 40 minute set, and the duo should think about heading in that direction musically, as opposed to their jocular other work. They closed the set with a boisterous cover of the B-52's "Love Shack" that did bring their set to an emphatic finish.

After that lighthearted set, it was quite a change when Justin Lamoureux took the stage with a strong batch of earnest, heartfelt numbers that sounded pristine in the small room. Lamoureux is the frontman for the Omaha, Nebraska collective, Midwest Dilemma, but on this night he was performing solo and acoustic, which only added to the candid, confessional nature of his songs. He prefaced most songs with a bit of a back story that augmented the raw emotions embedded in Lamoureux's lyrics, which he delivered with clear, robust vocals.

Mid West Music Fest, Day Two: The 4onthefloor, Rogue Valley, Ruben, and Midwest Dilemma

Lamoureux even would sing the various parts from his missing band mates, humming the cello, bass, and even tuba flourishes to make up for their absence. It was endearing, as were his heartfelt stories about his family, who populated the lyrics of many of his songs. "So Well" and "The Great Depression," were both lovely, as was "49er," a song he wrote about a celebrated bar in Omaha which got torn down so a CVS could be built across the street from a Walgreens. He closed his stirring set with a moving song called "Elizabeth," which he wrote for the band's clarinet player who thought she could out-drink him. She couldn't, but gave him two tables from TGI Friday's to make up for it. I hope that either Lamoureux or Midwest Dilemma as a whole find their way to the Twin Cities sometime, for his inspired, passionate music would certainly find an audience here.

It was just a short walk over to the Masonic Temple, where Stillwater, Minnesota's Ruben were taking the stage. Their Americana-tinged brand of rock 'n' roll went over well with the small crowd (which the large room made look even smaller). While the band seemed to be a bit annoyed that there wasn't a larger turnout, and that a good portion of the people that were there were sitting on the floor, they still delivered a spirited set of songs that had contained echoes of the Band's well-worn appeal (the band, in fact, dedicated their set to Levon Helm and the singer's newborn daughter).

"Slow Bleed," the title-track to Ruben's new record, Slow Bleed/Let Me Start, was a raucous, bluesy stomp, like a cross between Led Zeppelin's slower songs and the modern moodiness of the Black Angels. They brought out two saxophone players to augment their sound, as well as a female guest vocalist, Katy Larson, who filled out the simmering rocker, "Things Have Changed." It would be nice to see Ruben in a smaller club, where their music would take on a bit more urgency and impact, but this was a bold, positive display from the talented young band who still seem to be getting their stage legs under them.

 

Mid West Music Fest, Day Two: The 4onthefloor, Rogue Valley, Ruben, and Midwest Dilemma
Photo By Caitlin Duranceau

After a bit of a lengthy delay, Minneapolis quintet Rogue Valley came up next, and the spartan elegance of the Masonic Temple only added to their evocative material. "False Floors" rang out true throughout the room, while the group clapped along with the rhythms of the poignant "Red River Valley," which absolutely soared. Frontman Chris Koza jokingly dedicated a lively version of "English Ivy" to "anyone who is from Seattle, anyone who has ever been to Seattle, and anyone who has ever seen Sleepless In Seattle." And while the group was really starting to hit their stride at this point, there were other shows to see, as is the conflicting nature of all good festivals.

The boisterous boys in the 4onthefloor had just started at Jefferson's, but the emphatic crowd and the band themselves looked like they had been partying all day. Frontman Gabriel Douglass was working the crowd up into a lather with their roiling, infectious songs, as "Undertow," "Junkie," and "On Tuesdays" resonated with what appeared to be a whole new audience for the band.

They also threw in some choice covers throughout their set, like M Ward's "Magic Trick," Retribution Gospel Choir's "Workin' Hard," and an impassioned run through of Bruce Springsteen's "Atlantic City." The well-lubricated Friday night crowd were into it straight from the start, as was the band, and they made a clear connection with their fans that will guarantee big crowds anytime the 4onthefloor roll back through Winona in the future.

The Minneapolis boozy-bluegrass sextet White Iron Band closed out the night at Jefferson's, and fed off of the drunken energy of the crowd, churning out a set of well received honky-tonk rock 'n' roll anthems that went over well with the audience. While they strayed a little too close to jam band territory for my liking, their riffing off of the Willie Nelson classic, "On The Road Again," was engaging and energetic.

The rest of the set dissolved a bit as the band continued to let their uproarious songs expand and sprawl out quite a bit as their fans continued to drink the night away. But it still couldn't put a damper on another fun, music-filled day in Winona at the Mid West Music Fest.

Critic's Notebook:

Personal Bias: I set out to see as many local/non-Twin City acts as I could throughout the day in Winona, and while some of the performances were ultimately forgettable, quite a few made a good impression on me, and I hope to see them make it up to the Twin Cities someday.

The Crowd: I was happy to see Jefferson's Event Center good and crowded when I got in, because the other three venues I stopped into throughout the day were rather sparsely attended, especially at the Masonic Temple.


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