Listen: Beth Friend on arts at the State Fair

On this special Midday program from the Minnesota State Fair, MPR’s Beth Friend presents a collection song, storytelling and controversial art.

Program includes discussion and performance of Penumbra play “The Last Minstrel Show,” political art at the State Fair, Dave Ray and Tony Glover jamming, Larry Novotny playing polka, and a reading by Kevin Kling.


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BETH FRIEND: Against the backdrop of bungee jumpers and Ferris wheelers and now ambulances and firetrucks, we offer you a collection of song, storytelling, and controversial, art all of it very much Minnesota. Cast members from Penumbra Theater's season opener, The Last Minstrel Show, will take the stage, as will Minneapolis' own bluesmen Dave Ray and Tony Glover.

Larry Novotny with a Czech concertina in hand brings back the good old ballroom days of polka. We take a radio look at this year's State Fair fine arts exhibition. And storyteller Kevin Kling tells us about the first time he was hit by lightning. We begin by welcoming to the stage members of St. Paul's Penumbra Theater. The first show of their new season, the 92-93 season, opened just last week. It's John Davidson's new play about the 1920 lynching of three Black circus workers in Duluth.

Somewhat surprisingly, it is a musical. The Last Minstrel Show is its title. Through 18 song and dance numbers ranging in style from doo-wop to rap to Broadway, it tells a very brutal and shameful story. Lou Bellamy, the artistic director of Penumbra Theater and the producer of Last Minstrel Show is with us, along with the show's director Richard Thompson. Welcome to you both.


LOU BELLAMY: Thank you.

BETH FRIEND: I can think of no more fitting place for The Last Minstrel Show to be performed than at the State Fair. This is a piece of Minnesota history that certainly needs the exposure. What has happened, Lou Bellamy, to the story as it took place in 1920 between then and now? It's not something that is commonly found in our history books.

LOU BELLAMY: Well, yeah. Largely, it is ignored. It isn't very much different than a lot of other African American accomplishments that tend to get swept under the rug. And that's one of the things that's so titillating about this idea. It's ours, and it's something that isn't general knowledge amongst Minnesotans.

BETH FRIEND: And what happens? What's the treatment that Davidson's play takes to take this very serious subject and actually then create music to communicate about it?

LOU BELLAMY: The format he's used is the minstrel show and using an interlocutor. And the way he structured it, we do some satirical kinds of comments upon that 1920 lynching as well as today. But it's done in that format so that you're made to enjoy and laugh at some things that you're not used to doing. There's a juxtaposition that causes a dissonance that's really powerful.

BETH FRIEND: So Richard Thompson, you're the director. What, then, is the point to be communicated? One, telling the actual facts, right, of this event.


BETH FRIEND: But there's something else going on here, because there's so much entertainment and there's so much sarcasm and there's so much cleverness.

RICHARD THOMPSON: Well, we certainly want to entertain our audience when they come to see this production. But we also want to get at some of the issues surrounding the incident and issues that we think are still present in our current society. There are the issues of race. There's the issue of gender.

As you stated, this incident took place as a result of a supposed rape. And there was a young lady involved with it whom many people blame for the incident. However, we take a different view, and we think that perhaps it has something to do with male domination and male perspectives.

BETH FRIEND: Did either of you have any psychological difficulty in really accepting the material as it is or even thinking that it would work? Because I think it's a difficult thing to imagine, having a serious retelling of such an incident, making some very critical points. At the same time, that racist language is on stage, that jokes are on stage. That a real bawdiness and rowdiness is on stage.

LOU BELLAMY: Well, I think that's taken care of wonderfully by Rick and his direction. And as I saw the piece, I saw that satire and saw the irony and so forth. But in this particular production, the way he's treated that and supported it with his direction and the choreography, it works quite well.

BETH FRIEND: All right. Well, we should hear some of that singing and see some of that choreography. Those of you who are listening, wherever you are at home or in your offices, you'll have to imagine the dancing that's going to be going on here on stage. We're going to hear a number that's performed by singer/dancer Marvette Knight. And accompanying her will be Trudy Monette, Austene Van Williams, and Perrin Post. And on the piano, Tom West.

Before we begin it, I need from you, Richard Thompson, a kind of context for this number. What's happening in the play up until now? What are we about to see?

RICHARD THOMPSON: Well, up to this point, we have just gotten to the moment right before the three gentlemen are lynched. And we take a pause at that moment to allow the audience to go to the lobby, get some refreshments.

BETH FRIEND: Now how exactly do you take that pause? It's very interesting.

RICHARD THOMPSON: Oh, we do a very typical American musical number entitled Waving in the Breeze that talks about American values in Duluth at the time of the lynching. Now unfortunately, what's waving in the breeze is the three gentlemen that were lynched.

BETH FRIEND: But you also make it clear to the audience, if I remember when I was in the theater, that people should be-- should know that there's going to be a lynching. And if they really can't handle it, maybe they shouldn't come back.

RICHARD THOMPSON: That's right. And so when they do come back, we don't give them the lynching right away. Instead, what they hear is this number here by Marvette.


(SINGING) Something's happening to me

I got a feeling I'll be

Coming to grips with shaking my hips with

The writing of a wrong

As stated and enumerated in the lyrics

Of this song

There'll come a day when the folks will say there'll be no more sticks and stones

I got a feeling in my bones

You will be racially in the minority and still keep up with Dow Jones

I got a feeling in my bones

There will come a time when every Clevon, Juan, and Harry

Will be Black or white and it'll be all right, and it won't even be a little bit scary

We'll all be together in all kinds of weather

Eating fat meat and carpone

I got a feeling, an extra special feeling

I got a feeling in my bones



There will come a time when every cop upon the beat

Will be color blind and we will find that it's safe to walk down any street

Starting to hum and get down with the drum

And I love the saxophones

I got a feeling, a song and dancing feeling

I got a feeling in my bones

Come on

Oh, hi

How are you

Are you a banker

'Cause see, I'm a Black woman

Can you tell me where I can get a loan for a car

Oh, hi

Aren't you the one who redlined my neighborhood

Oh-- oh, excuse me

There will come a time when everyone will know

That being right ain't just being white

And we'll throw it in the face of old Jim Crow

Fixing to sing and see the people swinging to the sound of sly trombones

I got a feeling, an extra special feeling

I got a feeling in my bones


Well all be dancing when you play that jazz

'Cause I got a feeling in my bones

I got a feeling in my bones

I got a feeling in my bones


BETH FRIEND: Marvette Knight. Marvette Knight singing and dancing. And dancing with her, Trudy Monete, Austene Van Williams, Perrin Post. And on the piano, Tom West. I've Got a Feeling in my Bones. That gives you a taste of the biting quality of this show of all the music and all the songs that we hear in this show.

But I'm curious to know that given this subject matter, despite the ease with which we hear the songs being sung now and performed because there's been much rehearsal and the run has already taken place, is it safe for me to assume or question that there was tensions along the way in working on some of this material among cast members? I mean, there's racist language, there's painful stuff. There's a lynching that needs to be staged, seen, and felt by a company of actors. So Richard Thompson, how was that process? How was these feelings dealt with?

RICHARD THOMPSON: Well, many times throughout the rehearsal process, we sat down as a cast and discussed some of the feelings that people had about the issues that the play was dealing with. And we found that people were uncomfortable with certain aspects of the story that we had to tell. And so through talking it out, we were able to confront the issues and then get through with the production.

BETH FRIEND: Give me an example, a specific example of a moment of tension.

RICHARD THOMPSON: Well, one moment in particular was when we finally came time to stage the lynching itself. And emotions ran very high in the theater when we had to stage that. The idea of three men being lynched and to see it in front of you was quite a bit for all of us, myself included.

BETH FRIEND: What about the use of racist language? Was that difficult for people or just par for the course?

RICHARD THOMPSON: Oh, very difficult. In fact, one of the cast members had expressed a certain fear that within himself, when doing certain scenes on stage, this fear that what he was saying might ring true with regard to what he actually felt at certain times. And there was a fear about expressing that upon the stage.


LOU BELLAMY: Well, that's exactly the point of the play. And it began to happen in rehearsal, as Richard lets me know about. But if those same things were brought together today, we could have the same thing happening. Because that was swept under the rug. That was ignored and so forth. And that's what this play brings powerfully to life.

BETH FRIEND: Well, do you think that the fear of lynching is one that's not only in an historical place in people's psyche or very present?

RICHARD THOMPSON: It's still present with us today. Certainly, incidents aren't called lynchings today. But we certainly see cases like the Rodney King incident, where the fear of every Black man in America still exists with regard to being attacked by a mob or a group or even an organized group for doing something that perhaps didn't occur.

LOU BELLAMY: After all, that particular ritual, that lynching ritual, was established to put fear in the hearts of people. And it works quite well. I mean, those bodies were left to hang and rot and so forth and be a lesson and a deterrent to other sorts of free thinking.

RICHARD THOMPSON: Certainly. And lynchings were also a very high time for a community in that it was a time for the community to come together. Many times during lynchings, sodas were sold, candy. But it was really a time for the community to come together. And it made bonds in the community. Although those bonds may perhaps have been-- I don't know, we might find them a bit peculiar because of the event that brought people together. But it did bring communities together.

LOU BELLAMY: That picture that you used that shows the actual lynching and the people around it, talk about the feeling that you get when you see that picture.

RICHARD THOMPSON: Certainly in looking at the image, the actual photograph of the lynching that took place in Duluth, you see a certain pride in all of the gentlemen standing around these three bodies that have just been killed.

LOU BELLAMY: Like it's a trophy or something. And that image lives very strongly in the hearts of a lot of people. It does exactly what it was meant to do.


BETH FRIEND: Let's hear another song from The Last Minstrel Show. This one is will be sung by Mychael Rambo. And it's called This Color of Mine. And again, will you, Richard Thompson, introduce us to the song.

RICHARD THOMPSON: Certainly. Mychael Rambow in the production plays the one gentlemen of the four that were accused of the rape who lived through it. When the crowd broke into the cell, this gentleman was hit on the head and fell on the floor and bleeding profusely. They thought him for dead, so they left him and hung the three other gentlemen that were in the cell. There was a trial that was held, and this gentleman was found guilty of a crime. And this is the song that we hear him then sing in the trial.


(SINGING) I am just an ordinary man

Living with an ordinary plan of life

No wife, but planning who I'll be

Every day, I tell myself I got no fame, I got no wealth

But I'm most time contented to be me

If there's a star in heaven

There's a God above

If there's a chance that I'll advance

I know it'll be when I find love

Not that kind, this kind

The colors of the rainbow

Tell me that it's time

To take a chance and find romance with this color of mine

Black can be appealing

Brown can be so fine

It must be true, because I love the hue of this color of mine

The fragrant honeysuckle, in order to have a worth

Must start out being nourished in some warm black earth

So let me spread the gospel

Surely was divine

When from above, I fell in love

With this color of mine


And though the day is pleasant

Somehow it isn't right

To forget that most romance is done in the darkness of the night

So don't be sad or gloomy

I'm going to be just fine

There isn't a jail that can make me pay

From this beautiful color of mine


BETH FRIEND: Mychael Rambow singing This Color of Mine from The Last Minstrel Show, which is running right now at Penumbra Theater. It runs there through October 4th. And for ticket information, you can call the box office at-- Lou Bellamy, the number?

LOU BELLAMY: 224-3180. Or you can call the connection at 922-9000.

BETH FRIEND: Thank you all very much for coming to Midday on Minnesota Public Radio at the fair. Lou Bellamy is the artistic director of Penumbra Theater. Richard Thompson is the director of The Last Minstrel Show. We also thank cast members Mychael Rambow, Marvete Knight, Trudy Monette, Austene Van Williams, Perrin Post, and our pianist, Tom West. I also want to note that the choreographer of this show is Marvette Knight.

LOU BELLAMY: And Gary Lewis.

BETH FRIEND: And Gary Lewis, OK. Thank you all for being with us today.

LOU BELLAMY: Thank you.



BETH FRIEND: Coming up on 24 minutes after the hour. This is Midday on Minnesota Public Radio. I'm Beth Friend. We're broadcasting from the Minnesota State Fair today with a program of arts and performances. Let's get visual now. We move from the theater to the visual arts with an on-air look at what may be the most well-attended art exhibit in this state-- the one right here at the fair.

It's right down Cosgrove Street. Just go past the traveling reptile show and the National Guard. It's that big building next to the malt shop. Enter and feast your eyes on a color-filled eclectic array of artworks created by your fellow Minnesotans. It's the 81st Annual State Fair Fine Arts Exhibition. This year's judges culled through 2,009 pieces by professionals and amateurs alike and chose their favorite 321. I made my yearly pilgrimage to the site with Margie Ligand, Director of Education at Walker Art Center in Minneapolis. Our attention this time was drawn to the distinctly political work in the show.

The very first work you see as you walk through the entrance of the State Fair Fine Arts Exhibition is a large scale, very accomplished charcoal drawing by St. Paul artist Mark Granlund. Walker Art Center director of education Margie Ligand finds its location significant.

MARGIE LIGAND: It is making a statement, I think, on multiculturalism arriving at the Minnesota State Fair in that it is an image of an African American man. First that I can remember seeing displayed this prominently at the Minnesota State Fair. So I take this as a real statement about the fair and something very positive that I was very happy to see.

BETH FRIEND: Still, the opening canvas does not set a specific focus for the show. There is never a theme to the State Fair Art Exhibit. It simply reflects the taste of the jurors as they choose what they consider to be the best work.

MARGIE LIGAND: Well, I think our first stop has to be "LA's Finest," which is a whirligig produced by Tom Dolan. It is, as you can imagine, a whirligig depicting the beating of Rodney King, which was such a galvanizing incident last spring for white LA policemen, who are pictured on the far right of the whirligigs in the propeller. Just heads of people passively watching a policeman as if the whirligig were twirling would be raising and lowering a baton on an African American man laying on the ground with his hand over his head.

To the far left is a police car jetting off the end. Now one of the unfortunate things about seeing a whirligig which should be-- you should be able to turn-- yes, right. You should be able to turn that police car and have those heads whirling around so that each of the four are equally guilty and sitting there watching passively as this beating is going on. And of course, if the propeller were turning, the baton would be going up and down.

BETH FRIEND: Now is this strong stuff again for the State Fair?

MARGIE LIGAND: Apparently according to the comment book, it is. Some people think it's totally inappropriate to have this kind of social comment entering the State Fair. Why can't art be nice and pretty? And I think this is absolutely the forum for politically charged work. I mean, this is a place where you are going to be reaching more people with a message about how you feel about certain situations in society. And this is exactly the kind of art that I like to see and I look for when I come here.

BETH FRIEND: As we turn to our right and continue down.

MARGIE LIGAND: Well, what you see here on the right is what I think people do expect to see here at the Minnesota State Fair. Even though only 2% of Americans currently are still living on farms, I think people still expect to see farm imagery here at the fair. This is an honorable mention in photography. It's actually done by a Czechoslovakian artist that is currently living in Minneapolis, Misha Daniel. And it depicts three pigs going to market.

And it's exactly the kind of work that people when they walk by like to see it. They all go, aww.

BETH FRIEND: Chris Faust, the juror for photography at the exhibit, is the one we have to thank for the picture of the sweet piggies. He also chose the Stuart Clipper photograph, "Elvis sighting at South Pole," in which you see a velvet painting of the King stuck in an expanse of South Pole snow. Such photos were clearly highlights. Most of those submitted to the show, says Faust, were much more predictable.

CHRIS FAUST: For instance, there were 60 pet photographs, 20 ice castles, 50 flower photographs, 80 sunsets. When there's that much there, obviously that appeals to a broad spectrum of aesthetic. And people want to see that, too. So--

BETH FRIEND: So you have included one sunset.

CHRIS FAUST: One sunset.


BETH FRIEND: One ice palace.

CHRIS FAUST: Right, right. And the best one.

BETH FRIEND: Our tour continues on until we reach the back corner of the building. There, we see three paintings dealing with Native Americans. One of them, the painting by St. Cloud artist Kevin Staples, won the first award in its category. Its title is "Native American." And it features the figure of a blond-haired white-skinned male with a halo around his head. Shrouding his body is a tattered and dirty American flag that is touching the ground.

Now in other parts of the country, such display of the flag has engendered vocal controversy and dramatic confrontations. But at the Minnesota State Fair, a very democratic argument is peacefully being played out in the comment book that's provided at the front door. Margie Ligand.

MARGIE LIGAND: There is a running commentary that mirrors exactly the national debate on works of art just like this. Some say that they think desecration of the American flag is not something that they want to see at the State Fair, nor do they think that it's something that should be here. Which is immediately followed by a comment from someone saying that, don't they understand the First Amendment? And of course artists can do this sort of thing if they want to.

If they feel that this is what they need to do in order to make a statement about the nature of Native Americans' rights in this country at the present time. So I'm very proud of Minnesota for both putting this work in the show, giving it a First Honor Award. It's a very accomplished piece. And then again, to have this debate played out in a very nice Minnesota way.

BETH FRIEND: Thanks to Margie Ligand, Director of Education at Walker Arts Center for acting as our guide to the 81st Annual Fine Arts Exhibition at the Minnesota State Fair. When you go to the exhibit, remember to vote for the People's Choice, which takes the democratic nature of the exhibit to its final and very appropriate conclusion. You decide which is the best artwork at the exhibit, and your favorite artist is rewarded with $150 cash prize. So do your voting.

You're listening to Midday on Minnesota Public Radio. I'm Beth Friend. We're broadcasting live from the Minnesota State Fair right opposite the bungee jumper. So we're in just the perfect spot. Apart from bungee jumping and other such interesting activities, Minnesota is known for its many music makers in many genres. Two of the most influential are West Bank bluesmen, Dave Ray, and Tony Glover. You may know them as members of the folk blues trio Koerner, Ray and Glover, a group that figured prominently in the folk music boom of the 1960s.

30 years later, Ray and Glover are still playing the blues and recording them. Their newest CD is due out this fall on TK Records. Welcome, Dave Ray and Tony Glover.

DAVE RAY: Hi, Beth.

BETH FRIEND: So does it feel appropriate to be doing blues across from the bungee jumping?

DAVE RAY: Yeah, that's about par for the course.

TONY GLOVER: Only if somebody loses it.

BETH FRIEND: Yeah? It's par for the course in the sense that it's comparable to a blues bar?

DAVE RAY: Yeah. There's always somebody jumping up, falling down on the blues bar.

BETH FRIEND: Yeah, right. What kind of blues do you do? From which strain do you credit yourselves?

DAVE RAY: Well, when Tony and I work together, we do mostly country blues. Late '20s, through the '30s, '40s. Some all the way up to the early '50s, but usually by solo or duo performers primarily from the delta. Deep south.

BETH FRIEND: So if it's country blues, then, specific mentors might be people like who?

DAVE RAY: The litany, Tony.

TONY GLOVER: Oh, Robert Johnson sunhouse. This one Bracey. Tommy McClennan. How long a list do you want?

BETH FRIEND: That's enough. That's enough.

DAVE RAY: We can go on all day.

BETH FRIEND: That's enough. Before you go on one Dave, why don't you start with a song so give people a sense of exactly the feel and texture of those country blues.

DAVE RAY: The genre?

BETH FRIEND: Yeah, the genre.

DAVE RAY: This is a tune by Cat Iron was the guy's name. I don't know what his real name was, but I'm sure that wasn't his Christian name. But this is a tune about an itinerant preacher that predates the current evangelical fare on TV.


(SINGING) Jimmy Bill's in town

Lord is walking around

He's got greenbacks and love

Good God, to buy a man a suit

To buy a man a suit

He's got greenbacks enough

Good God, buy a man a suit

Jimmy bills in the pulpit

The bottle in his hand

Watching them sisters way back in the corner crying, Jimmy Bell's my man

Jimmy Bell was my man

Watching them sisters way back in the corner, crying, Jimmy Bell's my man

Jimmy Bell told the sisters

Don't you scream and shout

If you don't pay your monthly fee, I got to turn you out

I got to turn you out

If you don't pay your monthly fee, I got to turn you out

Jimmy Bell told the Sexton

Said, run and toil the bell

He says some of these old members here sure is going to hell

Here sure is going to hell

He says some of these old members here sure is going to hell

Jimmy Bell told his wife

He told 'em late last night

If the time don't get no better, yeah, up the road I'm going

Up the road I'm going

If the time don't get no better, yeah, up the road I'm going


BETH FRIEND: Dave Ray and Tony Glover. West Bank bluesmen. What challenges are there for you to play the blues in 1992? This is an art form with a long history in American culture, and certain things are very time based and come from a certain historical period. And yet if you play the blues and sing them over and over, they have to get carried through.

DAVE RAY: Yeah when we first started doing it, it was out of some desire to carry on the tradition. But there's so much of it going on now and so many reissues with the new CDs and new record labels that are coming out that really, it's pretty much generally available if you want to look for it and pay for it. So now we just do it from-- because we've been doing it for so long. It's a habit.

BETH FRIEND: Yeah but you change it sometimes, don't you?

DAVE RAY: Yeah, we got one here that I wrote that is a changeup. It uses a couple of traditional takes off from a couple of traditional points. But it's not actually what you might generally hear from the country blues.

BETH FRIEND: Why? How is it different?

DAVE RAY: Well, the line is a little different going under it. And the words have a different tone to them than you might hear in the blues.

BETH FRIEND: All right.

DAVE RAY: But it's generally a blues form.

BETH FRIEND: Shall we hear it?

DAVE RAY: Sure. Just give us one second here to see if we're--


Yeah, will send this one out to Mary Jane and rocks and the people at the bakery who are working there because they knead the dough.


(SINGING) I'm going to get up in the morning

Do like Buddy Brown

Do like Buddy Brown

I'm going to eat my breakfast

Go and lie back down

I'm afraid to be here

I don't want to move too much

I don't want to move too much

If I sit right still

I might improve my luck

I was going to say something

I believe I'll shut my mouth

Breathe, I'll hold my tongue

I'm not sure of my opinion or even if I have one

Cancel my newspaper

Disconnect my phone

Disconnect my phone

I'm going to sit right here

Thank god I'm alone

Buddy Brown had the right idea

It sure looked good to me

A blanket and pillow was all the poor boy needs

I'm going to get up in the morning

Do like Buddy Brown

Do like Buddy Brown

I'm going to eat my breakfast

Go and lie back down

BETH FRIEND: Dave Ray, Tony Glover. What, Dave Ray? You're about to say something?


BETH FRIEND: No. Oh, you looked just about to.

DAVE RAY: No, just looking.

BETH FRIEND: On your last release before the very last one, Ashes in my Whiskey, there was a song called HIV Blues. And it stuck out to people and made a dramatic impression on them. Because it was a blues song about something very contemporary, very current in people's lives. And most of the material that we're used to hearing that we associate and label the blues is their perennial problems. They go on forever. They can't be hooked to any particular period. Do you want to keep doing that kind of work? Do you want to be able in the future work-- maybe in this next CD, have a song that really is hooked very clearly to something very modern? Tony?

TONY GLOVER: Well, it was a song I wrote. And it was like I couldn't not write it. And I hope I don't get into situations where I have to write songs like that anymore, frankly. It's about a painful experience and writing a song about it's a way to get rid of it, deal with it. Make it into something else. Make it into something you can deal with. And I'd rather not have to deal with stuff like that. But if I do, I'd probably write songs about it.

BETH FRIEND: What about the songs on the new CD? Are any of them related to something current, or they're all very traditional blues?

DAVE RAY: Well, I think they're in a traditional bag. Like this one, may be a little more currently phrased or turned. But they have to do with the timeless universality that is the core of the blues, as Lake Hammond might say.

BETH FRIEND: That's right. So what's the name of the forthcoming CD?

DAVE RAY: Well, the names of Ray and Glover will be prominently featured. But we don't have a title for it yet.

BETH FRIEND: No working title?

DAVE RAY: We had a working title. "Too Little, Too Late." But--

TONY GLOVER: There's also a couple obscene ones that we can't really get into.

DAVE RAY: Yeah, we can't get into those on the radio.

BETH FRIEND: Did you decide against "Too Little, Too Late" because it was a little bit negative in terms of promotional possibilities?

DAVE RAY: Yeah, it's a little bit negative, and we didn't want the people that have already given us all the money to make the record to think that we weren't getting paid enough.


DAVE RAY: But we generally run through maybe 50 or 60 of the obscene titles when we play live every week down at the Times on Thursday nights. So if anybody's really got a hankering to hear some of those, they can stop down there and ask us.

BETH FRIEND: OK. That's the Times bar in Minneapolis?

DAVE RAY: Yeah, 11th and Eckel at 9:30.

TONY GLOVER: You can find it by the big hole in the street that you can't drive down.

DAVE RAY: Yeah. That's if you can find it at all downtown Minneapolis.

BETH FRIEND: This is all very appropriate for blues, isn't it?

DAVE RAY: Oh yeah. Trying to get there.

BETH FRIEND: Trying to get there. OK, well thanks for trying and getting here. Succeeding.

DAVE RAY: Thanks for having us. It's a pleasure.

BETH FRIEND: Dave Ray and Tony Glover.


42 minutes after the hour. Time now for a story that's told without guitar and harmonica. It's from a man who loves this state and it's fair. Actor, director, and all round Minnesota patriot, Kevin Kling.

KEVIN KLING: I'll never forget the time my dad and I were struck by lightning. I was working on an airplane with him, a Bonanza airplane. A Bonanza has a split tail in the back, a V tail. It's called an unconventional tail, and I always liked that. My dad and I were laying underneath this airplane working on the fuselage. We were laying in a puddle of water.

And my dad had just asked for a screwdriver. And I reached over, and I was handing it to him. When I looked up and these thunderheads, these big clouds we get in Minnesota started moving in over our heads. And I'm thinking, aw man, we're going to get soaking wet.

When all of a sudden, bam. This bolt of lightning comes into the puddle and shoots through my body. I feel my limbs shoot out to the sides and my organs bonk together. I feel my liver hit my spleen hear my stomach. And I'm thinking, God, I've just been hit by lightning. I've been hit by lightning. And then I think, hey, the fact I know I've been hit by lightning means I'm still alive. Dad, Dad, we've been hit by lightning. And my dad said, God damn it, that does it. Let's go home. He's a farm boy. Can't stay out here all day. We'll just keep getting hit by lightning.

Few years ago, my father passed away. And I was at his funeral sitting around a large round table with my uncles and my brother and my grandpa. And we were remembering my dad as vividly as we could. We knew we weren't going to get any new memories, so we were holding on to those old ones as tight as possible. And I decided to tell that story about the time Dad and I got hit by lightning.

So I started into it. When all of a sudden, my uncle Don sitting next to me says, hey, wait a minute. He says, wait a minute, I've been hit by lightning. He says, I've been hit three times. And you know what? Once you've been hit by lightning, your chances of getting hit again increase by over 50%. Uh-oh, my brother says. My brother said uh-oh, because the summer before, he'd been hit by lightning pumping gasoline at a gas station.

My grandpa says he's been hit by lightning four times. Grandpa said that one time, he was coming in from the fields because it was raining. He had his tool belt on. And he got to the front yard when all of a sudden, bam, lightning hit next to him. And Grandpa went up in the air and formed a fountain with himself and his tools. My Uncle Byron said he'd been hit three times. And Uncle Byron, he has a metal plate in his head from the war. He even drives this airstream trailer, one of those metal trailer homes. We're saying, Byron, you're begging for it, pal.

So I found out right then and there that my brother, my grandpa, all my uncles, my dad, and myself have all been hit by lightning. And that's when I told him the story. Or the day, as they put it, I found out I was not adopted.

BETH FRIEND: We're talking about the arts and culture in Minnesota while we're here at the fair in Southern Minnesota. That includes Czech style polka music, featuring the instrument known as the concertina. From Montgomery comes one of the area's most popular bands, the Novotny trio which is led by Larry Novotny. This is a group that's quite well known for the snappiness of its dance tempos and for its use of Czech vocals.

So we welcome Larry Novotny, who is really a one man band and is furiously in the midst of setting up his concertina, tuba, and drum scenario here on our fair stage. His son, Larry Novotny, Jr., is helping him. Larry comes from the Montgomery area. He and now his brother and son play in a trio. And they play, as you can imagine, in the Knights of Columbus Halls and VFW Halls around the Montgomery area and the New Prague area.

Also often seen in the ballrooms around town, the Medina and others. That's his forte. He's been playing polka music since he was 11 years old. He started in the bars in Montgomery. Those nice 3-2 joints, as he calls them. The old time crowd. The atmosphere being just right, not like bars today. His brother joined in, and that's how the group got started. And from there he went off to play. So you ready to give us a sampling now of the polka music?


BETH FRIEND: OK. It will be the Black Crow Polka.



LARRY NOVOTONY: Now in English, here we go.

(SINGING) Once there was a black crow sitting in a tree

Then there came another

And soon, there were three

Said the first one to the other

You are not my promised lover

You can see, I see

You're the very two to me

Said the first one to the other

You are not my promised lover

You can see, I see

You're the very true to me

Here we go.


BETH FRIEND: A definite crowd pleaser. Larry Novotny of the Larry Novotny Trio. You have to picture this. His hands are on the concertina. His mouth is on this giant brass tuba in front of him, and his feet are doing the drums all at the same time. Now this is not the way this kind of music was done years and years ago when it started in the area around Montgomery and other places among German and Czech communities, is it? I mean, there used to be large polka bands, right?

LARRY NOVOTONY: Yes, correct. There used to be a lot of large bands years ago as far as like Elmer Shine and Whoopee John. The Six Fat Dutchmen from [? Nome. ?] There used to be seven, eight, nine piece bands years ago. And now as the years went on, the bands are getting smaller into three, four piece bands. Some five piece. And it's pretty common to see three, four, five piece band right now.

BETH FRIEND: Well then, what happens in terms of what each instrument has to do? For example, if you're in a really small group, then your concertina has to do more than just melody, then?

LARRY NOVOTONY: The concertina is the main instrument. Along with that, with the drums keeping the beat. And also with tuba putting the after beat into the music. So the concertina is a main instrument. The drums is kept for the beat. And the tuba is the filling more or less for the beat, tuba.

BETH FRIEND: But does your concertina have to even do more than, let's say, it did 40 years ago in a group when it had much more harmonic fill-in?

LARRY NOVOTONY: Correct, yes. Years ago, the concertinas didn't have that many reeds in them. Some had two sets of reeds and three. And right now, they're quads and-- more or less quads right now. So you got four sets of reeds playing at the same time. And so that does a lot of filling in. And also with the amplification now compared to what it used to be is more now than before.

BETH FRIEND: All right. Shall we hear another song?

LARRY NOVOTONY: Sure. We'll have Waltz Across Texas. OK.


(SINGING) When we dance together, my world's in the sky

It's a fairy land tale that comes true

How would you look at me with those stars in your eyes

And I could waltz across Texas with you

Waltz across Texas with you in my arms

Waltz across Texas with you

Like a storybook ending

I'm lost in your charm

And I could Waltz across Texas with you

My heart ache and problems are just stopping on

The moment that you come in view

Now with your hand in mine, dear

I could dance on and on

And I could waltz across Texas with you

Waltz across Texas with you in my arms

Waltz across Texas with you

Like a storybook ending

I'm lost in your charm

And I could waltz across Texas with you

Here we go, one more time.


BETH FRIEND: Larry Novotny on tuba, concertina, and drum. The one-man band. As I said before, it's hard to picture this, but let me describe it to you. He's sitting here with the concertina, the tuba, his feet on the drums. The sun is shining through the trees. People are hanging from their ankles as they bungee jump right across from us.

So it's a very picturesque and artistic and athletic setting here at Midday on Minnesota Public Radio, live from the Minnesota State Fair. Larry Novotny, this is an art form that many people say is slowly dying out. The heyday of the ballroom days is long gone. The bands are smaller, as we were just talking about. What do you see as the future for polka music and this kind of work that you do, the kind of playing you do?

LARRY NOVOTONY: As far as polka music, My opinion is it's going to be around for a long time, for many years. It's been up and down the last 50 years. I talked to a ballroom manager. He's seen it go up and down 50 years. Up and down, like a roller coaster. And now it's on its way up, as far as my opinion.

We played for a lot of wedding dances. I see younger folks getting involved dancing, singing. And the ballrooms are starting to have a lot more music, a lot more old time music.

BETH FRIEND: Well, why do you think that's happening?

LARRY NOVOTONY: I would say probably it's just a change in probably lifestyle. Things changed during the years. And a lot more bands, a lot more different sounds of bands.

BETH FRIEND: Well, do you attribute any of the popularity of the polka music or increasing polka popularity to people turning to country music? A lot of young people are leaving rock and turning on the country station.

LARRY NOVOTONY: That could have a lot to do with it. I see on the television in radio is country music is coming in real strong. And that could have a lot of influence on the people in general of the old [INAUDIBLE]. Line dancers coming in. A lot of people are into line dance. And along with that is the polka hop, the two-step. That's coming into popularity pretty strong.

So a lot of that. And with the country music coming in, they're almost hand in hand. So a lot of the two steps are country. And so it's hand in hand.

BETH FRIEND: All right. Well, good luck with your art form. May it live long and prosper. Larry Novotny, thank you for being with us today. I'm going to ask you in just a second to play one more polka song for us and take us out of this part of our live from the fair segment of Midday. Before I ask you to do that, I just want to thank our technical staff here at the fair. Michael Osborne, Steve Griffith, and Brian Tonison for their assistance in making this performance midday happen.

LARRY NOVOTONY: OK, we're going to have one selection. Number called the Red Rose Polka. There'll be a Czech vocal on this one once again. Here we go.




In 2008, Minnesota's voters passed the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment to the Minnesota Constitution: to protect drinking water sources; to protect, enhance, and restore wetlands, prairies, forests, and fish, game, and wildlife habitat; to preserve arts and cultural heritage; to support parks and trails; and to protect, enhance, and restore lakes, rivers, streams, and groundwater.

Efforts to digitize this initial assortment of thousands of historical audio material was made possible through the Minnesota Legacy Amendment’s Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund. A wide range of Minnesota subject matter is represented within this collection.

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