The Passing Zone

The Passing Zone is one of many performances that will be included in Northfield Shares Evening of Entertainment event Jan. 23. Pictured are The Passing Zone members Jon Wee and Owen Morse. The duo is well-known for their comical juggling acts that re-define the art form, taking it to new heights. (Photo courtesy of The Passing Zone)

Looking to celebrate artists and musicians in Northfield while supporting local food delivery services and restaurants, Northfield Shares developed an event to bring families together for an evening of entertainment from the comfort of their homes.

Beginning at 7 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 23, Northfield Shares hosts a virtual event showcasing talent from across Northfield, featuring music, art, stories of community engagement and an opportunity to support the community foundation Northfield Shares. The nonprofit, which came from the merger of Fifth Bridge, which promoted volunteerism, and the Northfield Foundation, which promoted philanthropy in the community, blends the two organizations while promoting collaborative leadership.

Northfield Shares Board member Justin Stets said whenever the organization engages with the community, they strive to provide a quality, unique event. While this event is only its second go at soliciting funds from the public, Stets hopes those who “attend” will enjoy the event, learn more about Northfield Shares and if they feel so inclined, engage through a partnership by donating.

“We encourage people to register for this free event,” said Stets. “We’re just trying to bring some light and hope to what has been historically some dark times, amid a season that is typically dark. There’s no requirement for any financial equipment. Northfield Shares desires to bring quality experiences to residents of Northfield, another representation of who we are.”

The event will include performances from over 15 musicians and an online auction of work from local artists. It will also encourage attendees to order off special menus from 15 area restaurants. A substantial amount of money has already been raised in advance through the sponsorship of acts and volunteers as a way to support the community foundation. Up to this point, Stets said almost everything has been done on a volunteer basis, something he chalks up as the beauty of Northfield Shares.

“There’s been people working for months. We had a talent committee, as well as hospitality and marking/communicating,” said Stets. “Our hope is that we’ll have 2,000 individuals from Northfield or wherever with us that evening.”

A rich history of local talent

While determining which musicians to ask to record performances for the event, Stets said the committee looked to balance gender, race, age and musical genre, along with the quality of the music itself.

Jonathan Wee, of The Passing Zone, originally from Northfield and now living in Los Angeles, hopes the duo’s performance adds some laughs and excitement to the evening. The Passing Zone is described as an American comedy-juggling duo and teams Wee with California native Owen Morse. Wee and Morse met at a juggling convention in northern California in 1986 and decided two years later to team up.

Thrilled to have an opportunity to give back to his hometown, Wee wants their performance to remind people that there are individuals all over the country and the world who call Northfield home.

“It’s a big part of who I am (I began my juggling career there), and who my wife is (Leah Vriesman, who was a classmate more than 40 years ago, and who I married in Northfield at St. John’s Lutheran Church in 1996),” added Wee. “I have held a strong connection to Northfield for my entire life. I grew up there, my parents have always lived there, and I return anytime I can to enjoy the beautiful sights and charm of Northfield.”

Performing in Northfield numerous times over the years, Wee said The Passing Zone is excited to have the opportunity to “return to Northfield” virtually to be a part of Northfield Shares event.

Another participating performer is Sam Ryden, a 2019 graduate of Northfield High School and currently studying at the University of Memphis. The singer-songwriter wanted to be a part of the event because of the organization’s important work in Northfield and a desire to support the impact they’ve having in the community.

“I have deep ties to Northfield and am excited to be a part of a cause that promotes volunteering, leadership and vitality in programming, amongst residents and beyond,” said Ryden. “My dad is also a part of the planning committee for this event, which is a great connection!”

Now, more than ever, Ryden said initiatives like Northfield Shares are so important, serving a great purpose and providing a support system of sorts in difficult times.

A reason to play music

For Steve Jennings of The Over & Back Band, being asked to participate in the event was more than just recording a song.

“It gave us a compelling reason to get together to play, which we haven’t been able to do for months,” said Jennings.

The Over & Back Band has been together since their start as the house band for the renowned Northfield benefit show, Over & Back, hosted by Will Healy. Along with Jennings, the band consists of members Craig Wasner, Gordon Oschwald, Kenny Wilson and Mike Hildebrandt. Several of the members, Jennings said have been part of the Northfield community for “a very long time.” On the surface, Jennings said participating in anything that’s helping people in need is an extension of why the band got together in the first place.

“The four of us, Craig, Gordon, Mike and myself were part of that house band starting in the early ‘90s,” said Jennings. “We’ve been together since then off and on. Northfield Shares seems like an extension of what the band is doing.”

Karl Amundson, performing with Emily Kristen Morris, feels lucky to have grown up in Northfield — a “vibrant educational and artistic community.”

“I am now pursuing a career as a performing artist because of that awesome arts education and encouragement I was lucky to receive growing up,” said Amundson. “I’m just delighted to be performing in this Northfield Shares event, because I know their foundation has a commitment to investing in those institutions that were so supportive of me.”

Knowing Northfield Shares is putting forth a great effort to invest in COVID relief and health initiatives in Northfield, Amundson hopes people will attend the virutal event to support Northfield Shares and their spirit of “engagement and generosity within the Northfield community.

“The people performing in this event are people I grew up performing alongside, looking up to, and learning from — I know it’s going to be really special,” added Amundson.

Reach reporter Michelle Vlasak at 507-333-3128 or follow her on Twitter @apgmichelle. ©Copyright 2020 APG Media of Southern Minnesota. All rights reserved.

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