Rochester's music scene is beginning to take on a different tone
If you’ve paid attention over the last few years, you might notice something interesting: Rochester is starting to look different. City initiatives have prioritized business and infrastructure, unveiling the beginning stages of an architectural facelift.
If you’ve paid closer attention, though, you might notice something even more interesting: Rochester is starting to sound different.
Rochester is starting to sound like bluegrass and hip hop. It’s starting to sound like live shows that draw crowds and music mixed underground until well after last call. It’s starting to sound risky — and like risks that are paying off.
“There’s a ton of talented people here,” said Chris Roberts, half of the husband-wife duo that owns The Jive Mill. “As we’ve been here longer, we’ve been realizing how many people have a lot of skill and a lot of really creative stuff to offer and just don’t have a place to provide it.”
Through conversations with local artists, business owners and music fans, the same theme kept emerging: the community had a need that wasn’t being fulfilled so they made it happen in their city themselves.
“I saw a niche. I saw a need — a hole — and decided to fill it.” Just like that, Zach Zurn, owner of Carpet Booth Studios, summed up Rochester’s local music scene without even realizing it.
Rather than taking their skills to more musically developed communities, these talented and impassioned individuals are staying and investing in their own. Because of this, Rochester’s music scene is growing more cohesively now than ever.
So, who are these individuals?
They are doers.
Rather than complaining that the city lacked the musical opportunities they sought, they have dedicated themselves to fixing it.
“I would have been perfectly content working at a music venue, a publishing company, a record label, but not having any of those at your disposal when you first come here causes you to dream about what could be,” said Noelle Roberts of The Jive Mill.
“When things are changing and when things are improving,” Chris added, “it’s because the creative people have said, ‘No, we need this. We’re going to do it. We’re going to make it.’ ”
For the Roberts, this meant establishing an intimate music venue. With their love of music and Noelle’s existing background in music management, they began by organizing house concerts in 2012.
Eventually, after finding the right space, the couple took a new step with The Jive Mill, establishing a permanent fixture on North Broadway, which is hosting its grand opening June 16.
As Rochester’s first music-first venue, the space mimics the intimate atmosphere of attending a house concert, minus the house.
For Zurn, his service to the city was opening a recording studio in early March to provide a professional and affordable opportunity for artists, local and not, to produce their music.
He hopes that this will encourage “more artists in the southeastern Minnesota area come out of the woodwork to record and perform.”
For Dylan Hilliker, a Rochester-raised musician, teens were the priority, so he founded and organized a music festival last summer that now has plans to become a non-profit organization.
“ROCKchester was built to give teenagers the opportunity to play in a professional setting and get paid for it. I am crazy proud of how it has inspired musicians to ... share their art,” Hilliker told us. This year’s RockCHESTER “Pt. 2” is scheduled for July 15.
DJ John Gavin Boss, owner of Apollo Music Group, was looking for the “darker music scene” he grew up with in New York, which led him to starting the Elysium series. His goal with Elysium is to disrupt Rochester’s normal bar routine and provide a different nightlife option.
“We want it to be a place where people can go and experience a different world than what they’re used to,” said Boss, also a co-founder of the mobile app Spark DJ.
The first Elysium event included “reggae bands. We had rappers. We had acoustic guitar players. We had live painters. It was kind of this mix of all the different dynamics that were missing in Rochester. We tried to put them all together.”
Boss carefully wraps each event in mystery, only disclosing the location, which is usually a unique, handpicked space, the day of. He wants to “create new experiences every time,” keeping a good time and unpredictability as the only predictable aspects of the series.
They are supporters.
Chris Pickett, the general manager of Forager Brewing Company, has made a point of supporting live music since it opened. While you can find live music playing almost every night of the week already, he’s taking it to another level this summer with Forager’s first Under the Windmill Concert Series.
Pickett spoke with each performing act, asking about their favorite styles of food and beer, as well as important influences in their musical careers. Using this information, Forager’s brewers “have brewed beers specifically for each artist and crafted food that pairs with it” resulting in what Pickett dubbed an “all sensory experience” combining music with aroma and taste.
It’s Forager’s first ticketed music event — a trend Rochester is starting to see more of.
“Having a paid show changes the dynamic,” Pickett said. “It builds a sense of community. People want to go out and enjoy art ... and be in close proximity to people who are enjoying the same thing.”
When you give up your hard-earned money for a show, you come ready to take in everything the experience has to offer. Music becomes the main event instead of just background noise to another night out. It creates the “music-first” atmosphere that The Jive Mill aims to provide.
They are collaborators.
The Jive Mill is moving in next door to Carpet Booth Studios, a very happy accident for the Roberts and Zurn, who are hoping to see the area turn into a sort of music district.
“I think that’s one of the things that helps create a sustainable scene — when you have various people with various connections to the arts who are all in one way or another connected and collaborating,” Chris Roberts said. “If we bring in a musician for a show and they want to do some recording, we can pair those things together and create a more holistic experience.”
Christian Clements started Positive Tuesday to bridge the musical gap between Rochester and the Twin Cities. He works to bring in Twin Cities-caliber artists to perform at local hotspots such as Forager and Kathy’s Pub, which Clements thinks has “lit a fire under some people’s behinds.”
Clements hopes to continue working with young music lovers to build a “more robust music scene” that will be sustainable in the future.
These talented doers are creating community among themselves, working together, thinking together and, as a natural next step, making things happen together — making Rochester sound different.
The result? A cohesive and sustainable evolution as Rochester becomes a place that celebrates music and the community it builds.
As the hip-hop artist Astronautalis said during a recent show in Rochester, “Support sh— like this. It's what makes cities great."
Written by contributor Madison Conte. A 2015 graduate of Mayo High School, Madison now studies journalism and political science at the University of Missouri. Follow her on Twitter.
Cover photo: Second Story performing at a Positive Tuesday show / William Forsman