It's a long way from here to Minneapolis. About 14 hours, in fact. I know because I made the trip myself last weekend, having packed everything I own into a U-Haul and hopping on Interstate 35, which I followed virtually from one end of the country to the other. When I left, the Land of 10,000 Lakes was just emerging from one of its most frigid winters in recent memory. Now I find myself in Dallas, taking up the reigns as music editor for the Observer, just in time for what will likely be a summer much hotter than what I'm prepared for. Timing is everything.
And yet, the timing couldn't be better. I spent the past five years in Minnesota (having grown up in southern Wisconsin), most of which I spent working at the Minneapolis alt-weekly, City Pages. I'm thrilled to be joining the Observer, not only because it's such a fine staff of people, but because I get to join in a line of editors who have done so much to shape the musical landscape in North Texas over the past 30-plus years. Already, it feels like home.
There's not a lot to see between Minneapolis-St. Paul and Dallas-Fort Worth. The cities along the way — Des Moines, Kansas City, Wichita, Oklahoma City — are each two to three hours apart from one another, as though spaced deliberately to create some semblance of regularity. Along the way, it's open, empty spaces: the pungent fields of Iowa; the blackened plains of Kansas, charred by the springtime burn; the redbud trees of Oklahoma.
My truck had only an AM/FM radio, so there was a lot of time devoted to silence (and conversation with my mother, who graciously came along for the 1,000-mile trip). After a while, it all began to make some sort of sense, as though you could drive forever and find only minor changes in the scenery. Most of the country is that way, after all — farm fields and small towns. Even without music, a rhythm takes shape, and it's only rarely broken by civilization.
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On paper, Minnesota and Texas don't have much in common. One was the lone state to vote for Walter Mondale and, just last year, legalized gay marriage. The other gave us George W. Bush and is governed by Rick Perry. But in the shape of MSP and DFW, there are sneaky similarities. Both have thriving arts scenes. Both have experienced booms in locally brewed beers since the turn of the decade. And both tend to get a little overlooked, thanks to not being on a coast or, well, being Austin.
The same goes for their respective music scenes: Like Dallas, Minneapolis prides itself on its hip-hop contributions, and has a rich history with punk bands. (Not so much with the metal though, admittedly.) Where they perhaps differ is in their senses of history: Texas may be a state steeped in blues and country, but as a growing music scene, it feels young. There are no Prince or Replacements to loom overhead, reminding everyone of the glory days gone by. Dallas is still the Wild West. It's a story yet to be told.
As a critic, such a scenario is music to my ears. While I was at City Pages, I made a point to seek out artists who flew under the radar — the beatboxer who's a social worker by day, or the rock band hellbent on a gypsy lifestyle. Regardless of the specifics, it was all about finding interesting people with unique stories, who also happened to play great music and used it to express their views of the world. Seeking out those people is what any good critic should do, no matter the city.
Seeking them out in Dallas will be a fresh challenge, and one I relish. There's a lot I'll have to learn still — from musicians, from fellow writers and, of course, from readers — but there are also innumerable stories to be told. I have no idea where this journey will lead me next, but I can't wait to find out — and to put it down in writing.