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Local musician creates opportunity for other artists to share original songs

With dimmed lights and colorful orbs of light hanging from the walls, Rachel Schroeder strums her guitar and sings a folky tune.

Every Thursday from 7 to 9 p.m., The Music Space of Owatonna hosts a songwriter and open mic night. Schroeder has been hosting these nights for almost a year. Local musicians are invited on stage to perform, while Schroeder keeps the music flowing in between performers with some cover songs and originals.

Ashley Rezachek / By ASHLEY REZACHEK ashley.rezachek@apgsomn.com 

Rachel Schroeder typically plays a mix of cover songs and original songs during open mic nights. She makes sure to cover a variety of songs to appeal to a variety of audience members. Members of the public are invited to perform throughout the night. “I think everyone that has come out has had a really good time, it’s been great,” Schroeder said. (Ashley Rezachek/People’s Press)

The weekly event provides an opportunity for the public to watch others perform, listen to some music and form a sense of community during the pandemic in a safe way. Each new performer will be given a sanitized microphone cover to mediate COVID-19, and a clear plastic shield is strategically placed between the singers and the audience. In addition, audience seating is spread out, capacity is limited and masks are required. Unlike other open mic nights, which are typically held in a bar, this all ages event is held in a family-friendly space.

The origins of the night began when Schroeder asked The Music Space of Owatonna owner, Mark Woodrich, if she could start an open mic night there. Prior to moving to Owatonna, Schroeder had lived in St. Paul where she hosted a number of open mic nights.

“I kind of stumbled into it, but really found it to be one of my favorite things to do,” Schroeder said.

After reconnecting with Woodrich and learning more about the space’s mission of building a musical community, she began hosting the open mic nights.

Guests typically play a two- or three-song set, followed by Schroeder with a few covers and originals, as she invites the next guest up to play. The night’s structure is very flexible. Schroeder’s goal is to create a sense of community throughout. She mentioned that connections made between audience members offstage has led to stage performances together.

“As far as I’m concerned, my goal is to be up on stage the least amount possible,” she said. Lately, there has not been as many guests, and Schroeder admits she would like to see more.

For her, hosting is about communicating with potential players and making sure they are feeling comfortable. As a host, she gathers a list of people that want to perform, organizes the performers in an order that will accommodate musicians if they feel they need more time to prepare. She also keeps the night flowing and encourages those who are unsure about performing to take the leap.

“It’s one of my favorite things to get people that have never performed up there or to get musicians that have never played together before together to play,” she said.

Each week, Schroeder tries to perform a new song.

Ashley Rezachek / By ASHLEY REZACHEK ashley.rezachek@apgsomn.com 

Rachel Schroeder sings and plays her electric cello at The Music Space of Owatonna. She usual plays solo, but on occasion is joined by other local musicians. (Ashley Rezachek/People’s Press)

“The reason for that is I kind of want them to see me bomb a little bit or make a mistake, just kind of break that ice,” she said. “Especially when you are first starting out as a performer, the idea of messing up seems like it could be the worst thing that ever happened to you.”

Guests are welcome to play just one song, if that is what they are comfortable with. On slower nights they might have the opportunity to play more. People are strongly encouraged to bring their own instruments, although occasionally one will be available to borrow for the performance. As these weekly events begin to develop, Schroeder would like to see more creativity.

“Any kind of spoken word poetry or comedy, I’m open to that as well,” she said. “There’s also people that are doing live visual art too.”

She encourages anyone curious about the night to come check it out.

“No pressure, the goal is to have fun making music,” she said. She added that a part of being prepared is knowing you’ll be nervous and being OK with that.

Schroeder’s musical talent has local roots

Schroeder grew up in Owatonna and began piano lessons at a very young age. In fourth grade she jumped into the orchestra program, playing cello and participating in concert choir throughout high school. With praise Schroeder credits the program as one of her musical supports.

She says she loves the dynamic between her ability to play guitar and her ability to play cello, adding that she enjoys playing rock music on her cello. Having both an acoustic guitar background and orchestra background has come in handy.

As a musician drawn to folk music, she has an appreciation for bands such as the “Alabama Shakes” and “Lake Street Dive.” Her favorite musician of all time is Todd Snider. A more personal musical inspiration is her dad. A multi talented musician, her dad played the guitar, harmonica and sang.

“He could pretty much play anything with strings on it and he got me hooked since I was really little,” she said.

Schroreder’s dad died about four years ago after battling some brain tumors.

“I couldn’t play for a long time after that, I still haven’t really been able to write a whole song yet,” she said. “How much fun he had playing is a huge inspiration to me.”

Ashley Rezachek / By ASHLEY REZACHEK ashley.rezachek@apgsomn.com 

Thursday’s open mic night is a very flexible event, where people can come and go as they please. Guests are encouraged to bring their own instruments and are given the opportunity to perform and sing on stage. (Ashley Rezachek/People’s Press)

Although Schroeder makes sure to play cover songs that appeal to a variety of audience members, she also performs songs she has written herself. At a young age she began writing poetry which transitioned organically into writing song lyrics.

She always starts her songwriting process with lyrics, which she says can come to her rather naturally.

“When I get in that mode, it just kind of flows pretty well,” she said. “One of my favorite songs I wrote in like 90 seconds.”

Other times there are certain topics or certain personal experiences that she wants to write about. In a way it’s therapeutic to write and sing about her inner demons and what she is coping with.

“For me once I write about a problem, if I sing it on stage it’s no longer my burden to carry, it’s public now and you get to see somebody reflect on it ... it’s this feeling like yeah we’re not in this alone. There is community and bonding that happens in music,” Schroeder said.

Schroeder ends each open mic night with an original song — “Give Me a Stage” — which acts as a thank you to Woodrich for allowing the event to be hosted at the space and as a traditional finale for the event.

“I want to say thanks to Mark who owns this … just to thank the faith that he put in us and in the other people helping us pull this open mic off,” she said.

Schroeder will continue to look forward to creating a space for more local musicians to perform and to building the music community. She encourages the public to come check out the open mic night.

“I think that is a really cool resource, it’s something going on in town on a Thursday,” she said.


News
spotlight
Break-in at Salvation Army opens police investigation

The Salvation Army exists to meet human need wherever, whenever, and however they can.

While that is the slogan for the charitable organization that can be found worldwide, the store manager for the local Salvation Army Thrift Store in Owatonna was shocked and saddened to learn Monday morning that someone was working against it. Victoria Edwards found her store burglarized.

“You have no need to steal from the Salvation Army,” said Edwards. “If you need something, all you have to do is ask. It is what we are here for.”

According to the Owatonna Police Department, a suspect or suspects broke into the Salvation Army during the early morning hours on Sunday, gaining access to the business through the roof. Surveillance video captured a suspect in the building at approximately 3:30 a.m., though the gender of the suspect is unknown, as they were wearing a face covering.

Edwards said the break-in was discovered by an employee Monday morning when they entered the store and found the register damaged and laying on the ground.

“The register was laying on the floor all busted up, it looks like they took a screwdriver and tried to open the drawer which they accomplished, but we don’t keep money in it overnight,” Edwards said. “They also went in to one of the offices where a case worker works and just flipped it upside down; it was in total disarray.”

Edwards said the only thing she could notice missing was a set of keys, which prompted the business to have all of their locks replaced on Tuesday.

“That is a huge expense and one that we really don’t want to go at right now, but we have no choice,” Edwards said, adding that the Salvation Army does not operate on a budget with any surplus funds. Edwards said she was able to fix the register aside from having to order a new drawer, which she hopes will not be too difficult of a challenge considering it being of an older model.

Another direct impact the break-in had on the store was forcing them to close for the day on Monday, only accepting donations by pre-made appointments. Edwards said whenever the store cannot open, it negatively impacts the organization, both financially and in terms of the donations they depend on. And in 2020, the Salvation Army has been one of many nonprofit organizations that have suffered from the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

“We just appreciate everyone’s patience,” Edwards said. “All we can do now is work through this and start over – the reality is it could have been worse.”

The store was able to return to regular hours of operation on Tuesday.


State
State: PhRMA doesn’t have standing to challenge emergency insulin program

Minnesota has filed a response to a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of a landmark emergency insulin law, arguing that the suit brought by the pharmaceutical industry is premature and that the group lacks legal standing.

The original suit, filed in federal court in July by PhRMA, the trade and lobbying organization representing the nation’s largest makers of pharmaceutical drugs, claims that Minnesota’s new emergency insulin program constitutes an unlawful taking of private property without compensation — because it requires large insulin makers to both reimburse drug stores who provide emergency supplies of the hormone to diabetics and to offer insulin to low-income patients through companies’ charitable patient assistance programs.

In a 35-page response to that claim [PDF], Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison points out that the U.S. Constitution doesn’t prohibit the taking of property, but rather bans such takings without just compensation. And until those things happen, the state argues, PhRMA can’t ask to have the statute overturned.

“The complaint is devoid … of any factual allegations that any insulin has been ‘taken,’ that the alleged ‘takings’ are imminent, or that just compensation remedies are unavailable for such takings,” the state response states.

“Even if the Act were to result in a ‘taking’ of insulin as alleged — which defendants dispute — the Act would not be void for unconstitutionality because the Takings Clause does not prohibit the taking of private property.”

The state’s response also asserts that PhARMA lacks legal standing because — as opposed to the individual insulin makers — the trade group won’t be affected by the new law; the state also argues that the named defendants, the members of the state pharmacy board and the state MNsure board, are immune from such suits.

As expressed in a passage of the Minnesota law in question, the Alec Smith Emergency Insulin Act, lawmakers believe the requirements for drug companies under the program are not a taking of property but a response to the rapid rise in the price of insulin caused by the industry itself. Many legislators, especially DFL members of the House and Senate, opposed any tax dollars being spent to resolve the insulin affordability problem since the price charged to patients far exceeds what it costs to produce insulin.

But the state’s legal opinion, for now, is that a violation of the 5th Amendment would come only after PhRMA first asked for and then was denied compensation. That suggests that should the industry seek compensation from the state and be denied, a future lawsuit could be filed against the statute.

A response to

an affordability crisis

Minnesota’s emergency insulin program was passed into law in April 2020, after a year and a half of trying.

While diabetics had been complaining for several years about the increasing cost of insulin, the 2017 death of Alec Smith put a face and a vivid story behind it. Smith died shortly after his 26th birthday after falling off of his parents’ health insurance. Employed but uninsured, Smith was rationing his remaining insulin until payday. He died of ketoacidosis.

His parents, Nicole Smith-Holt and James Holt, Jr. began raising awareness of the issue and were a regular presence at the state capitol as well as in Washington, D.C. pushing for a plan to get insulin to those who couldn’t afford it.

The program has two distinct parts: an urgent need program and a continuing need program.

Under the first, diabetics who are uninsured and cannot afford supplies can go to a pharmacy and — after asserting that they are financially eligible— receive a 30-day supply immediately for no more than $35. Pharmacies are to be reimbursed for their supplies from the insulin maker.

The continuing need program allows eligible diabetics to get up to a year’s supply for no more than $50 for a 90-day refill.

Three drug manufacturers — Eli Lily, Novo Nordisk and Sanofi — supply nearly all of the insulin in Minnesota. Under the act, companies would be fined for not taking part in the program: $200,000 per month and increasing to a maximum of $600,000 per month after a year of continued noncompliance.

‘We know that people are using it’

During the debate in the Legislature over the program, the drug companies testified against the bills, arguing they were illegal under the 5th amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which contains what is called the Takings Clause. Yet supporters from both parties said they had unofficial assurances that the industry would not challenge it. And many Republicans believed the law as passed, leveraging the drug companies existing patient assistance programs, was preferable to DFL plans that would have included tens of millions of dollars in fees on large drugmakers.

But just hours before it was to take effect on July 1, the suit was filed, with PhRMA challenging the law under both the takings clause and the commerce clause of the U.S. Constitution. “If Minnesota believes … there is a need for further action to help some Minnesota residents obtain insulin, it could have created a state‐run program in which it purchases insulin from PhRMA’s members and distributes it to residents in need,” the suit states. “But instead of using public funds to address a matter of public concern, Minnesota chose to enact a law that effects per se takings of the manufacturers’ property without compensation, so that the state can achieve its policy objectives at no expense to its taxpayers.”

While the suit didn’t seek to immediately enjoin the program from getting underway, it did ask the court to find it unconstitutional and eventually void it.

Cody Wiberg, the executive director of the state board of pharmacy, said he knows from talking to pharmacies that the program is being used. Manufacturers are making reimbursement for 30-day supplies and are enrolling applicants for the continuing need program. Problems so far have been relatively minor, something he said is expected for a new program for which there were just 10 weeks to prepare.

“We know that people are using it, we don’t know yet how many people are using it,” Wiberg said.

His board and MNsure are conducting a survey of pharmacists to get more information on usage and the companies must report to the state annually.

It’s unclear how many people could be helped by the programs. Insurance companies have taken action to reduce out-of-pocket costs for diabetics with coverage, and there have been campaigns to find affordable coverage for uninsured people. The insulin makers’ patient assistance programs have also been enhanced, partly due to public and political pressure.

During hearings on the final version of the bill earlier this year, an industry lobbyist said those programs are important and improving. “We acknowledge that our patient assistance program could work better,” said Sharon Lambertson, a deputy vice president for PhRMA. “We do have incredible programs that are offering patients the assistance they need. This bill does acknowledge these programs and create a more comprehensive education and awareness about these programs.”

The state’s response to the PhRMA suit says that the number of diabetics helped by the law vs. those who would be helped by the patient assistance programs could be small. “The manufacturers’ affordability programs actually undercut the alleged imminence of PhRMA’s predicted injury, because they target the same populations that the Act seeks to protect,” the state argues. “No taking claim can arise until some property has actually been taken from the manufacturers. Given their existing affordability programs, it is not clear when the manufacturers will be required to provide insulin under the Act.”

“As a safety net, the Act is not sure to be utilized if the needs of Minnesota residents with diabetes are adequately met.”

PhRMA is set to reply to the state’s brief later this month, and a summary judgment hearing is scheduled for Oct. 29.


Owatonna’s Aaron Bangs (18) is introduced before a game and runs through a handshake line with his teammates early last season. The OHS boys and girls soccer teams will play roughly 45% of their regular season schedules in a 14-day span this season. (Jon Weisbrod/People’s Press)


Department of Human Services Commissioner Jodi Harpstead told a House panel Monday that a $27 million shortfall is projected for fiscal year 2021, which ends June 30, 2021, and a $96 million shortfall for the 2022-23 biennium. (House Photography file photo)