Sound Check

For love, not money: Arcwelder

Happy Tenth, Cedar

HAVING BOOKED EVERYTHING from Celtic rock bands to Tuvan throat singers, the Cedar Cultural Centre feels as much like a Midwestern outpost of the United Nations as a music venue. The revered music hall on the West Bank celebrates its tenth year this Sunday, October 10, and perhaps it's a good opportunity to reflect on how precarious the nonprofit's fate has been.

Emerging out of the Coffeehouse Extemporé, an old folkie hangout, the onetime porn palace was facing the financial abyss when Bill Kubeczko took over as executive and artistic director seven years ago. "Had I known what I was getting into," he says, "I'm not sure I would have accepted."

A former manager of Willie and the Bees and Boiled in Lead, Kubeczko was told he was the Cedar's sixth director in three years. He inherited a $300,000 debt that he says nearly shut the place down six months before he started. Lingering animosity among factions of the Cedar's folkie community didn't help, leaving the place virtually without volunteers at the time. Kubeczko says he worked 100-hour weeks to publicize shows and make them profitable, and within a year he managed to wangle a grant from the McKnight Foundation that helped the Cedar begin whittling away its outstanding balance.

Today the theater has a full volunteer staff, and Kubeczko shows a crusading passion for discovering new audiences. Cedar concerts have revealed sizable Hawaiian and Tuvan communities in the Twin Cities, and the Scandinavian band Friföt attracted people from Finnish enclaves in places like New York Mills. "We try to cross-pollinate audiences," Kubeczko says.

The place booked Ani DiFranco and Malian guitarist Ali Farka Touré and countless others before they were famous. One of Kubeczko's personal highlights in the past decade was when Touré's nephews drove up from Northfield for an impromptu family reunion between sets.

Sunday evening should provide its own good memories. Kubeczko has fashioned a lineup that he says exemplifies the old Extemporé folkie spirit and scene, with performances by Dave Van Ronk, Geoff Muldaur, Gillian Welch, Spider John Koerner, Bill Hinkley, Judy Larson, and many more. (Rick Mason)


Last Men Standing

YOU CAN HEAR the relaxed, unpretentious enthusiasm of an era before alternative rock in Arcwelder's new Everest. It's the work of three thirtysomething postpunk holdouts negotiating a compromise between AmRep-style noise and melodic flannel-pop--now completely unnecessary, of course. The quavering vocals of singer-drummer Scott MacDonald and singer-guitarist Bill Graber seem to hark back to a moment when nonsingers were encouraged to find a voice, when nonmusicians were encouraged to seize simple elements they could master and combine them in complicated ways. Now, after 12 years and four previous albums, the trio's tightly controlled barrage and live enthusiasm feels subtler and often gentler than any so-called emo. (Fittingly, the band's label, Touch and Go, has gone from sheltering the Killdozers and Jesus Lizards of the world to housing the hush-pop of the Blackheart Procession.)

"We're just thrilled to be doing what we're doing," says bassist Rob Graber, Bill's brother, who makes his living as a computer programmer. "I feel like if we put too much pressure on [playing], it would become a job. I'd rather just do this solely because I love it."

No wonder they're the only band of its kind left in alt-rock's rubble. (Peter S. Scholtes)


Soul to Soul

OLD-SCHOOL PURISTS take note: Solid Gold Soul (KSGS, 950 AM) traded its satellite feed of classic soul this week for another satellite feed mixing in contemporary R&B stars such as Lauryn Hill and Maxwell.

"You'll hear Teddy Pendergrass and also Tyrese, whom I consider to be the new Teddy Pendergrass," says Freddy Bell, morning-show host and operations manager for KSGS. Bell says the "50/50" combination of old and new will allow more airtime for local R&B groups such as Mint Condition and the Sounds of Blackness.

Both these groups have new albums out, by the way, and Sounds fans should head for the newly opened Harvest Preparatory School (1300 Olson Memorial Highway; 612-836-1041) on Friday, October 8 . While breakfast is served, Bell plans to air his show there live from 6:00 to 10:00 a.m. and introduce a new Twin Cities R&B group called BAD (Brothers Accomplishing Dreams, that is, not Big Audio Dynamite). BAD and Sounds will both perform during the show as well.

Fans of the station's old format, meanwhile, can "tune in" to WRNB, 92.9 on Paragon Cable's FM band or on the Web. (Scholtes)

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