Every once in a while, that “quality of life” thing everyone talks about when asked WHY they live in the Twin Cities smacks you in the head like a two-by-four—only without all the blood and pain. The experience is quite pleasant, actually, more like being smooched on the forehead than smacked. I had one of those days on Saturday, a day that affirmed for me why the Twin Cities is such a great place to live, work, and raise a family. Sounds boring on the face of it, I know, but days like Saturday don’t happen all that often, so one has to savor them.
First, as you all know, the weather was perfect all day long. Low-80s, clear skies, not too much humidity—a true gem. I began the day with a cup of Dunn Brothers coffee and a Mello-Glaze donut for breakfast (two fine local products) and read the paper, as I do every Saturday. I know: You’re thinking, how can it get any better than that? The man is living the dream. But wait—there’s more.
While many Minnesotans were out on a lake Saturday afternoon, or participating in Aquatennial activities somewhere, I was sitting in the Dakota Jazz Club’s air-conditioned splendor listening to my son, Hugh, play in a jazz ensemble, the culmination of a summer jazz workshop presided over by local bandleader Doug Little (Seven Steps to Havana, Charanga Tropicale) and drummer Kevin Washington. Every July, Little conducts workshops for teenagers interested in jazz, and the perk at the end is that the students get a gig at the Dakota. Dakota owner Lowell Pickett generously opens his doors to the event, even though, as Little says, “he probably loses money on the deal,” because the crowd is mostly families drinking lemonade and eating french fries. The Dakota does it to support jazz education in the Twin Cities, and Little does it because he likes working with talented youngsters and wants to share his passion and knowledge with them. This is just one small piece of the Twin Cities musical puzzle, but it’s people like Little and Washington (along with hundreds of other musician/teachers out there) who are responsible for seeding our community with so many great musicians. If you think the Twin Cities music scene is a key “quality of life” component in these parts, it’s people like this you need to thank.
Here's a clip of the jazz combo Vaguely Aware (so-called because they are all teenagers who had to wake up before noon to participate in the workshop). That's my boy back there on bass.
After the Dakota gig was over, we decided to stop by Ted Cook’s 19th Hole in south Minneapolis to pick up some of the best BBQ ribs in town; ribs so good you can actually take civic pride in them. Ted’s place is just a counter and a cash register, but the stuff in those brown paper bags he hands you is the real deal—smoky hot goodness right down to the bone.
After picking up our ‘cue, we decided to head over the Lake Harriet Bandshell to hear the Minneapolis Pops Orchestra play. When we arrived, a picnic table magically opened up the second we arrived, a sure sign karma is working in your favor, at least for a while. There was slight breeze on the lake, nudging sailboats across the water and allowing a few gulls to float around on the wind currents. People were walking their dogs, rollerblading, and toting tubs of ice cream around. It was simply a perfect summer evening, just the sort of pleasant, relaxing scene city planners envision when they build things like the bandshell and start scooping ice cream to the locals.
To hear the orchestra, we found a patch of ground and set up camp. The Minneapolis Pops Orchestra isn’t exactly the Minnesota Orchestra, but it’s a competent, spirited group. They opened with some Dvorak, then introduced a young cello soloist, seventeen-year-old Max Lundgren, who was invited to play an early Haydn concerto—the C Major, I believe—with the orchestra. The Lundgrens are family friends of ours (our sons have been taking cello lessons from the same teacher for years) and we were there to support Max, who had been at the Dakota just a few hours earlier supporting our son. Not that Max needed any help. At seventeen, Max played exuberantly and brilliantly for a crowd that had simply come out to hear some nice music. What they got instead was a glimpse at the future of the cello and classical music, which—if up-and-coming musicians like Max Lundgren are any indication—is in extraordinarily fine hands, as anyone who was there can attest.
As the orchestra loped through its program and the sun was setting behind us, casting a mellow orange glow over the lake, a young dad was lying on his back, hoisting his one-year-old daughter in the air. Every time he lifted her, she squealed with delight, and I couldn’t help thinking that this little girl was extremely lucky to live in a place like the Twin Cities—a place where institutions like the Dakota, the Lake Harriet Bandshell, and the Minneapolis Pops Orchestra support and encourage the talents of our youth, and every once in a while offer them a magical opportunity to shine, giving them moments they’ll likely remember the rest of their lives.
Put all that together with some damn fine barbecue, and you have a day that comes pretty close to perfection, in a place that would be hard to improve.
Hope you had a good one too.