North by Northfield

North by Northfield, the second annual celebration of punk, DIY, alternative and independent music and record labels, took over Northfield the weekend of April 18. It offered the works not only of local musicians, but also of several writers, including some students and faculty of St. Olaf College.

The weeklong program of music and literature featured various performances in Northfield venues such as the Reub’n’Stein, the Northfield Eagle’s Club, Carleton College’s Cave and even a collaboration with Barely Brothers Records in St. Paul that featured local bands.

The festival kicked off upstairs in the Reub’n’Stein on Tuesday, April 14, with a reading from St. Olaf’s Writer in Residence Ben Percy, as well as a concert from Matt Arthur & The Bratlanders and Wesley Church & the Fabulous Vanguards. Percy read from his new novel, The Dead Lands, a gripping post-apocalyptic novel depicting a world of nuclear fallout and a deadly “super-flu.” Percy’s work includes writing for the DC Comics’ Green Arrow series and writing for Black Gold, a crime drama currently in development for the Starz television network.

Regarding the North by Northfield festival and the town itself, Percy said in an interview with the Northfield News, “This is an impossibly beautiful town with so many unbelievable spaces to experience art and share in community.”

Other St. Olaf involvement in the festival included performances around town from campus bands Air is Air, Megatherium Club, Fringe Pipes and solo act Christian Wheeler. Additionally, student poets Clair Dunlap ’15, Cynthia Zapata ’16 and Ola Faleti ’15 read their work at the Eagle’s Club on Thursday, April 16.

When asked about the artistic and literary culture of Northfield, Zapata said, “We have a really big poetry scene, much bigger than my hometown. That comes from being squished between two colleges. Northfield is really awesome about doing events through the public library, arts guild and the bookstore, like the sidewalk poetry competition. The town is definitely a healthy environment for writers and poets.”

Zapata went on to discuss the necessity of literature both in the town and on campus.

“This work is important because people don’t know that you can make money off something you love,” Zapata said. “I think a lot of people major in English or something like that and think they can only be an editor, or a journalist or a teacher; but you can be a performer, and this festival reflects that here in Northfield.”

Michael Morris, a local musician in the band Dewi Saint, not only played on the Wednesday bill for the week, but also assisted in organizing the festival as a whole. He discussed his enthusiasm for North by Northfield and the influence of art on the local culture.

“I truly believe that art made for honest reasons heals the human heart, soul and mind in so many ways, and ultimately makes the world a better place,” Morris said. “So, my hope in any effort to have more music played and written words shared is to raise the collective sense of empathy and compassion in the world – or at least in this world, the Northfield community – in which the art is shared.”

The festival spanned six days and concluded with a brunch at Martha’s Eats and Treats with a performance from Railyard Ghosts on Sunday, April 19.

North by Northfield attracted the attention of the students and faculty of both St. Olaf and Carleton, giving many residents a chance to engage with the local arts scene in an exciting new way. This unique celebration is sure to return next year with even more creative expression in music and literature and interesting performances from a wide variety of writers and musicians.