Eight years. Twenty-one Minnesota towns. More than 30 live broadcasts. An unimaginable number of hours spent writing, revising and rehearsing. And that’s just scratching the surface. We’re talking about the Great Northern Radio Show (GNRS) — a personal development project turned public variety show that’s the brain-child of writer, producer and host Aaron Brown.
The GNRS is a travelling program produced by Northern Community Radio, an independent National Public Radio affiliate serving northern Minnesota, that features original stories and music celebrating life in small towns and rural places.
The show’s “Season Finale” is scheduled to broadcast between 5-7 p.m. on Saturday from the Historic Hibbing High School Auditorium. Audience members must be seated by 4:30 p.m. Admission runs $15. Tickets are available through Hibbing Community Education, by visiting greatnorthernradioshow.org, or at the door the day of the show.
The GNRS’s on-air debut happened on Oct. 15, 2011. The pilot episode was broadcast live from Hibbing Community College and featured a handful of local musicians and actors, dubbed the Great Northern Radio Players. The first show, as archived by the show’s website, states, “Our adventures included a journey down to the Soudan Underground Mine to rescue the victim of a sarma monster attack,” and various other far-fetched scenarios about a mine staffed by giant transformer robots and a rap about the three-way watershed near Hibbing, with fictional characters Ole and Nels swapping lumberjack conversations.
At the time, neither Brown nor the Great Northern Players knew what to expect or how the show would be received, but eight years later, Brown says he’s happy to go out on a high note. “I’m proud of the development of the show,” Brown said. “I think we’ll be going out on top.” He predicts this will be the best show yet.
This weekend's show is set to feature The Great Northern Radio Players Jason and Louisa Scorich (Duluth), Brett Carter (Bagley), C.J. Anderson and Lauren Nickish (both from Pequot Lakes). Plus the house band, the Occasionals who hail from Bemidji and feature band leader Katie Houg (keyboard and vocals), Eric Carlson (guitar and vocals), Aaron Schnackenburg (bass) and Doug Quance (drums). Plus closer-to-home talent of organist Vicki Gornick with musical performances by Voices of Reason under the direction of Roy Berg.
The show will also feature rising Minnesota music star Jillian Rae, who grew up in Eveleth and now calls Minneapolis home. According to her website, “she’s made a name for herself as the go-to violin accompanist for dozens of bluegrass, rock and pop bands (including the Okee Dokee Brothers, Corpse Reviver, Adam Levy and Steve Kaul & The Brass Kings).”
“I usually tell people I have a rock band with a lead violin,” Rae said, describing her music as being “pretty genre-fluid.” She explained, “I am influenced by and listen to pretty much everything, so a variety of styles show up in my music.”
Rae is looking forward to this trip to the Iron Range. “I am a big radio fan and try to support it as much as I can,” she said. “The show plus venue plus the trip to the Range are all factors in why I jumped on this performance opportunity and said ‘yes’ to the gig.”
Expected performances also include Sugar on The Roof — an old-time Americana band featuring Jefferson and Megan Reynolds of Hibbing and Clancy Ward of Duluth. Sugar on the Roof touts that they cover songs that are so old, no one would recognize them. Brought back by Sugar on the Roof, they become instant winners with Megan on vocals and guitar, and Jefferson volleying between the banjo and trombone while Ward sings and plays the fiddle.
All-in-all, it takes nearly 30 professionals to produce the two-hour show. Brown credits himself with doing the majority of the writing for the shows but has assistance from long-time Great Northern Radio Players Jason Scorich and C.J. Anderson. “The players have always taken my words and make them funnier somehow,” Brown said.
In the days leading up to the show, the players and band work out all their parts in small groups, but never gather as a large-group to do a full-on rehearsal of the show. “It’s terrifying,” Brown said. “We’ll get together on Saturday morning and do a full run-through of everything to see how it all times out. Then we’ll cut and fix things that don’t work.”
Historically, the GNRS has been supported by grants through the Minnesota Arts and Culture and Heritage Fund. This weekend’s Hibbing show is being underwritten by the Hibbing Foundation, who will benefit from the proceeds. All the players and musicians will receive a small stipend for their work in the performance.
Looking back on the past eight years, it’s easy to tell that Brown is proud of what the show has accomplished — giving an outlet for countless actors and hundreds of musicians to perform, including Charlie Parr, Reina del Cid and Actual Wolf.
“We try to make it so it’s family friendly,” Brown said. “There will be music and light humor, some sophisticated humor that kids won’t be scarred by watching.” He continued, “It’s good for grandma and jaded adults who like sarcastic humor.”
“This show has been an important part of my life and the Minnesota music scene,” Brown stated in the event’s press release. The show will enter an “indefinite hiatus while Brown works on a special podcast serial and book.”
If making it out of the deer shack isn’t in your cards for Saturday, you can still tune in to The Great Northern Radio Show. Catch the live broadcast from 5-7 p.m. on Northern Community Radio Stations 91.7 FM KAXE (Iron Range) and 90.5 FM KBXE (Bemidji and Bagley). Ely-area residents can tune in to 103.9 FM, or stream it online at greatnorthernradioshow.org