By Nolan Arentz –
Sculpting the Next Generation of Driftless Music
Nope, not the place where you go to get an oil change or where a guy disappears for hours at a time. This Garage is a little bit rowdier and for a crowd where most of the attendees aren’t even old enough to hold a driver’s license. The Garage also has nothing to do with cars since its inception in 1999.
This Garage is a music venue for high school students that is used as an after-school retreat during the day and as an alcohol-free night club during the… night. This venue had substantial difficulties to get started before its official opening day in 1999. The idea of this after school venue was voted down by the community in 1995. However, in 1997 grants came in that would cover the initial expenses the venture would accrue. Then a year later in 1998, an advisory board called the “Garage Advisory Board” was created, which would oversee all decisions when it came to the after-school venue. Finally, four years later after being voted down, The Garage opened to all on July 17th, 1999.
When I arrived to take a tour of the facility and to interview the head guy Jack on a beautifully sunny day in the driftless, I was met with the sight of an outdoor concert and skateboard party. There were around sixty teenagers outside watching some sort of performance. I was thinking it would have been some sort of local artist throwing a concert. To my surprise, it was just some of the kids that go to The Garage regularly that were rocking out on stage! I never saw or even heard of something like this except for some local open mic nights at cafés in my neighborhood. Those are always filled with teenagers singing sad slow songs that make you wonder why you bothered showing up in the first place. The kids that were performing when I showed up in Minnesota were rocking out to their “own” original songs and everyone was into it, including me, even though I was probably at eight years older than most everyone there. But when you rock, you just rock man.
After I was able to pull myself away from the grungy teenage angst being displayed powerfully on the outside stage, I met up with Jack. Jack is a Driftless man who originally hails from Sheboygan but moved away for college to none other than my alma mater the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse where he studied music and was even a part of a band that played local gigs, including open mic nights that I mentioned before. I got the sense that his band did not do the usual performance at these open mic nights. He took my two confidants and me on a tour of the storage unit turned high school music venue. It was impressive. The first room we walked by was the concession stand. The prices were a bit much for my taste, but then again, any concession stand pricing is. After guffawing at some inconsequential pizza prices, we proceeded to the main indoor venue. This bad boy was set up impressively as seen by the pictures. The venue can hold around 470 patrons at a time, but there is also a more intimate stage to the side of the main one in a little room that holds about a quarter of that. I can only imagine the kind of sweaty shenanigans go on in there.
The most impressive room, in my opinion, was the studio where kids could go sign up for studio time to practice playing songs like they would if they were at a professional recording studio for a record label. When I asked Jack how much all the equipment in this room cost, he responded with, “A lot”. I’m no recording equipment expert but he seemed right on the money. Jack went on to explain that they do a lot more for the community than just throw concerts. Jack and his team also hold after school music classes, from theory to actual playing lessons. The Garage gets about 13,000 attendees a year for concerts and after-school programs. There is also a rec room with ping pong and a skate park right outside. The plethora of activities appears to be a high school student’s dream.
The Garage has turned out some popular artists over the years as well including:
– Remo Drive
– Tiny Moving Parts
– Motion City Soundtrack
– Mod Sun
– Early Eyes
– Yam Haus
The Garage has been a cornerstone to the youth community in Burnsville for over twenty years now and has a great track record to show for it, which makes me believe it will be around for at least another twenty. It provides a much-needed alternative and productive way for teenagers to spend their time instead of doing more counterproductive activities. There are few more things more rewarding than to be able to imagine and create your own sounds and music, and then to also perform them in front of your peers consistently. This is the kind of place that allows kids to express themselves during a time in their lives that they need that outlet, which is not always available to kids in other parts of the country. The Garage is currently expanding into the St Paul area, which would be an amazing opportunity for even more kids to have this opportunity. I admire the work that Jack and his team have done and look forward to being able to hear the new sounds the next generation of the driftless can dream up next.
Where did I stay after my time with Jack from The Garage? Great question. It was at the Graduate Hotel Minneapolis. An impressive and cozy hotel right next to the University of Minnesota.
Save Our Stages – Click Here