As spring blossoms and the bluffs surrounding our island city grow greener and greener each day, as the river and lakes melt back into flowing, playful waters and as the people of Winona start venturing out of winter’s hibernation, springtime in the city of Winona grows lively. For Winona, springtime means regaining its active, buzzing population, as cyclists, longboarders, strollers and runners fill the streets. Springtime in Winona not only basks in new-found warmth and sunshine, but also in music and art. For three days every April for the last five years, Winona has enthusiastically welcomed spring with its annual (and quickly growing) Mid West Music Fest.
Mid West Music Fest, which this year occurs April 24-26, is a community-wide festival, including over sixty regional performing artists strewn across thirteen different stages throughout Winona; as well as musician’s workshops, organized dances and the delicious food of community vendors. This is the festival’s fifth year to energize Winona, and it continues to grow in its scope of musicians and audiences alike.
Returning headliner, Caroline Smith is coming back to Winona, full force. Hot on the last leg of her national tour, Caroline Smith will enchant Winonans with another high-energy, deeply soulful, and unapologetically sassy musical experience. Smith, who frequently performs in Winona, is enthusiastic about returning to Mid West Music Fest, saying it has “more energy” with its “community and pride,” compared to larger festivals that she’s played at. It is by no mistake that Mid West Music Fest’s smaller venues create a more intimate and unified festival-going experience. She says Winonans have “overwhelming love and energy,” when she comes to play, which translates into a powerful, positive energy shared by all. “We like to sound good and be good energy leaders,” she says, speaking about how much she enjoys performing music from their new album.
Caroline Smith has shifted her sound from indie-rock featured on her Little Wind album (2011), to a nostalgic 90’s Neo-Ladysoul in her Half About Being a Woman album (2013). The new album channels smooth and heartfelt lyrics, with themes of self-acceptance and self-empowerment which manifest into feel-good music for both men and women. “It has kind of become an album of female empowerment, but I love seeing [that] the guys really get into it,” she says of the reception she has gotten from her enthusiastic fans. As a Minnesota native, Smith enjoys playing for her fellow Minnesotans–never disappointing–always ensuring to give them everything she’s got.
Other must-see regional acts include the bluesy folkster, Charlie Parr, hailing from Duluth, who was featured in a documentary film this past winter at Winona’s 2014 Frozen River Film Festival. Mid West Music Fest will also be featuring student and alumni artists from Winona State University, represented in bands Gravy Train, Jaybone Bell & The Restless Light, Jake Illika & The Heavy Set (their new EP has a heartfelt, upbeat song, “Minnesota Homegrown,” about living in Winona, paying homage to the great Mississippi) The Old Fashioneds, and The Ditchrunners, to name a few. One very valued aspect about MWMF is that the festival allows WSU students an outlet to showcase their talent and perform for a large array of audience members from near and far to enjoy.
Thoroughly organized, the fest promotes local and regional community business, vendors, artists, of which students have learned to take advantage. Students at WSU have several opportunities to win tickets, as well as options to volunteer in exchange for tickets. With over sixty bands on thirteen stages around historical Winona, to polka and barn dances, to musicians’ workshops, and film showings, Mid West Music Fest ensures that there is something for everyone to enjoy. Whether it is the soulful, cool, spunky energy of Caroline Smith, the bluesy, folksy authenticity of Charlie Parr, or the twang and feverish energy of Jaybone Bell & The Restless Light, all Winonans can find some music that they can genuinely connect with.
Caroline Smith plays at the Historical Masonic Temple (5th and Main) at 9:30pm on Friday, April 25. You can check out the festival’s full schedule, sponsors, descriptions of the bands and buy tickets here.