- The Hideaway Coffee Shop and Winebar is serving free Christmas dinner to all on Friday
- Hank and Rita are back in Mankato on Christmas night
- The Vietnamese All-Star event Tuyet Trang will perform at Mystic Lake on Friday night
- Lost Highway are at The Wicked Moose on Saturday night
- The Johnny Holm Band is at the Diamond Jo Casino on Saturday night
In a public forum such as this one, we’re not really supposed to say Merry Christmas, and I understand the reasoning behind that. This is an inclusive conversation, and we don’t want to make those who do not believe that Jesus Christ’s birthday is the holiest night of the year feel alienated. This makes perfect sense to me. There’s a point to be made that, despite our differences, we’re all in this together.
But, if we really are all in this together, shouldn’t we share phrases and culture and sentiment? I think of the Hebrew phrase “Mazel Tov,” which conveys the ideas “congratulations” and “good luck” in a more loving combination than anything that English has to offer. I’m a white anglo-saxon man, raised as an Episcopalian and then “rebelled” by joining the Great Lutheran Horde when I married a Lutheran girl. Yet, when someone tells me they are getting married or having a baby, the most appropriate thing I can find to say is “mazel tov.” Just because I don’t have a Jewish background, is this somehow insulting or offensive? Absolutely not. I’m wishing someone all the best, using the best tool we have in this world.
Similarly, I’m quite fond of the Arabic word “Salaam.” There is no word in my native tongue that conveys the wishes of good faith, peace and unity better than Salaam. Yet, in this day and age you really have to be careful where you say the word, and to whom. Go open a Donald Trump rally with a greeting of Salaam, and see what happens. At best, you’ll get a lot of confused looks. More likely, you’re going to end up the star of a YouTube video.
To me, this is ridiculous. Why do we take offense to good wishes, simply because they are outside of our culture? If I wish you a Merry Christmas, I’m not demanding that you accept Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior (trust me, I’m far from the most pious guy in the world and I would have no business making such queries). It’s just that, where I come from, wishing someone a Merry Christmas is wishing them love and peace and acknowledging their importance in my life. If I were to wish you a Merry Christmas and you responded to me with “Mazel Tov” or “Salaam,” I would feel pretty good about that. It’s all the same thing. We’re all in this together.
So, Merry Christmas, SoMinn. Now let’s talk about the weekend.
This isn’t the kind of thing we normally highlight, but sometimes you come across something so extraordinary that you just have to talk about it. On Friday, for the third year in a row, The Hideaway Coffeehouse and Winebar in Northfield will serve free Christmas dinner to one and all.
Let’s try to make this as crystal clear as possible. A restaurant, which, in my opinion, happens to serve some of the best coffee in Southern Minnesota, is going to feed everyone who walks through the door a real Christmas dinner on Christmas Day. There will be turkey and ham, mashed potatoes, stuffing, cranberries, Christmas cookies – the whole thing.
This is a remarkable endeavor in 2015 America. Certainly, organizations like the Salvation Army and many, many churches and soup kitchens are doing their best to feed as many people as possible, but those are non-profit organizations put together specifically for projects like this. The Hideaway is a small business that faces all the same day-to-day issues as any other for-profit entity (paying the rent, keeping the lights on, paying taxes). But owner Joan Spaulding and her family, along with the Hideaway employees are all in on this.
The Spaulding family, supplemented by community donations, provides the food. The servers and cooks are volunteering their time, and most- if not all the employees – will put in some time on Friday. They simply feel, and rightly so, that this is a good thing to do for the community. Plenty of people are alone on Christmas, for whatever reason, and plenty more are without the means to provide a feast like this one. This is something they can do to bring people together and give back to the community. As a member of that community, I feel like someone should thank the Spauldings and the Hideaway staff and friends who volunteer to put this together.
Well done you guys! And thank you.
If SouthernMinn Scene were to do a “Year in Review” story, which we don’t for a number of reasons, The Best of Hank and Rita would most assuredly be at the top of the list. The fictional country duo created by Joe Tougas and Ann Rosenquist Fee (better known as The Frye), are the stars of the most original show, a one-act “Barroom Operetta” as they call it, I attended all year. The show has taken Tougas and Fee all over the state this year, including a heralded run at the Bryant Lake Bowl in Minneapolis. But on Friday night, after all the presents have been opened and all the food eaten, and most of the Christmas magic is used up, they will be back on their home turf of Mankato, presenting this unique show at the Mankato Brewery.
Hank and Rita were once on top of the charts and had success all over the world. But that was in the 1970’s, when Hank’s honky-tonk writing style and Rita’s smoky, sultry vocal style played perfectly. By 1986, though, the hits have dried up, Hank spends more time in the news for his bad behavior than for his music, and Rita has had enough. After one more performance, she’s ready to leave Hank and move on with her life. So, is this the final show for Hank and Rita? This show takes us on so many twists and turns that we never really know until the last minute.
Clearly, this doesn’t sound like standard holiday fare, and it isn’t. But consider the context; you’ve spent the last few days cooped up with your family, probably crowded into a space not meant for the number of people that are there. All ages are represented, for better and for worse. Christmas is one of the best days of the year and you love your family dearly, but usually by 7:00 or so, even the closest families could use a break. Send the kids off to see Star Wars, and you and your Baby/Boo/Bae could go see this fantastic and unique piece of musical theater and drink some really good beer, too. Do it for your family. Do it for Hank & Rita. Do it for yourself.
Honestly, I really don’t mean to disparage quality family time at the holidays. I’m old enough to have two daughters in college, so I only get to see them periodically. Because of that, I cherish these few days around Christmas when I can be puttering around on an article, or more likely on Facebook, at the kitchen table and look up to see one of their beautiful faces drinking a cup of coffee and just hanging out. What was once mundane is now something to be appreciated, especially as a parent. But I’m also still young enough to remember what a drag it was to have my parents just kind of staring at me when I was home from school or visiting for the holidays. I love my parents dearly, but there were times you just needed to sneak off and have a cigarette and neither of them wanted to see that. Sometimes to avoid a holiday season meltdown, everyone just needs to get a little space.
I’ve seen countless movies, been to plenty of bars and seen a whole lot of concerts on Christmas night (and thank you to every service industry employee who has ever had to work on the holiday). It’s an inevitable necessity. We love our kids, and our cousins and our parents, grandparents and in-laws. But at some point, man, all that concentrated togetherness is bound to get stuffy. Every family needs the near-temerity to say “enough is enough.”
If you’re looking for something completely different on Friday night, you could always head over to Mystic Lake to see Tuyet Trang. I know, you’re asking “Who?” But this is the kind of thing you just don’t come across very often at all. Imagine if Taylor Swift, Justin Bieber, Selena Gomez, Katy Perry, Nick Jonas, Shawn Mendes and, let’s say, Five Seconds of Summer all got together for a package tour of South East Asia. That would be a big deal, right?
Well, that’s sort of what’s coming to Mystic Lake on Friday night, just in reverse.
Vietnam is sending us a package tour of their biggest stars to perform on one stage. Ngoc Anh, Luong Tung Quang, Mai Thie Van, Thien Ton, Henry Chuc and Huong Tram, along with The Ban Nhac Hoang Thi Thi. Look, I won’t pretend to know much about these people, but I know in their homeland, they are all really big deals. There wouldn’t be a stadium in Vietnam to hold the crowd that would come to see this show, but you can enjoy it in the comfort of the Mystic Showroom, and that’s pretty cool.
One of the things I keep preaching is “just because you’ve never heard of them, doesn’t mean they aren’t great.” I’m really intrigued by this show, from both a music fan’s perspective and from a sociological one. This is a major slice of Vietnamese pop culture. I think it’s going to be cool as hell.
Now, I’m certainly not advocating that you should do something to ruin Christmas. If it’s more appropriate for you to spend the entire day and night at home so as to not offend your mother, then please stay at home. But you’re only back in town for so long and you have to hang with your old friends at some point, right? Well, Lost Highway is back at the Wicked Moose on Saturday night. Unless your mom has some kind of weird thing about Boxing Day, this is not a bad way to blow off some steam.
Lost Highway, the pride of Wanamingo, has been voted the best country band in the Best of SoMinn for two years running now. Their music is a collection of good time, small town, beer soaked hymns celebrating the good life in the corn fields and two-lane highways of Southern Minnesota. Obviously, the best place to hear and see them is playing outside on a warm August night, but since none of that is available around here this week, the next best option is the event center at The Wicked Moose. If you haven’t been over there, it’s one of the few SoMinn venues with a stage big enough and a system with enough quality for a full blown production. It gives this band enough room to stretch out and play to their strengths, namely the kind of hook-laden, guitar driven Top 40 country that makes the beer taste better. Songs like “Tubin’” and “We Run This Town” will make even the snowiest of December nights feel like summer. So dust off the boots and the hat that have been put away since the end of September and spend the night away from the realities of your overbearing family by dancing your ass off to one of the best country bands SoMinn has to offer.
And finally, no holiday weekend roundup would be complete without a mention of The Johnny Holm Band, who will be at Diamond Jo Casino, just over the SoMinn border in Northwood, Iowa on Saturday night.
An Upper Midwest institution, Holm has carved out a career most bar bands can’t even dream about. His shows can run up to four hours at a dizzying pace and are filled with the sort of “good time” music that is guaranteed to have a crowd constantly dancing and beer taps constantly open. His band is always stocked with top quality musicians, and now includes his daughter Jordan. Don’t go looking for much in the line of introspective artistry or poetic subtlety. The Johnny Holm Band is all about having as much fun as one human filled bar room can muster.
This could actually work in your favor. If the timing of your visit home is awkward because Christmas is on a Friday, leaving you with certain expectations that you must spend the ensuing two days at home, Holm and Diamond Jo may have provided you with a legitimate excuse for leaving early. Heading back to Des Moines or Omaha? Boy, you really want to go see Johnny Holm, don’t you? And that just happens to be on the way home…
Seriously, enjoy your time with your family and loved ones.
Merry Christmas, SoMinn.
Talk to you next week.