In W.P. Kinsella’s novel, “Shoeless Joe,” later made into the movie “Field of Dreams,” the farmer Ray Kinsella builds a baseball field in the middle of his corn. People think he’s crazy. I suppose he is. But the experience heals him.
Even though this story is fiction you can still visit the actual baseball field they built for the movie near Dyersville, Iowa. I’ve been there twice. Next year they’ll play an official Major League Baseball game on that field. Somehow, fantasy became reality.
Next Saturday, Nov. 9, I’ll host the Great Northern Radio Show on the stage of the Hibbing High School auditorium. It will be our 32nd live broadcast event and our last one for the foreseeable future. After eight years of live music, comedy and storytelling I’ve decided to put the show I created on hiatus to work on a new project. And like Ray Kinsella I find myself strengthened, healed and changed for the experience.
Hosting a live radio variety show is not normal. It’s not something you do accidentally or on a whim. I can give you many arguments why one shouldn’t even try. It requires many crazy ideas, lots of people, and weeks of hard work to produce two fun hours. But that’s not the most important thing I learned in doing the Great Northern Radio Show.
Over the past several years I’ve visited small towns (and a couple medium-sized ones) across Minnesota to help them celebrate their history, culture and talent. Every show was different not because of me, but because of the unique qualities of the places and people we met.
We played five times in Grand Rapids; four times in both Hibbing and Bemidji, twice in Brainerd, and once in Eveleth, Bigfork, Bagley, Grand Rapids, Crosby, Fosston, Virginia, Ely, Park Rapids, Walker, Brooklyn Park, Grand Marais, McGregor, Aurora, Pequot Lakes, Tower and Duluth.
Now, if you go into these towns and ask a random person about their community you’re liable to hear a complaint. If you scan the comments section of stories from local newspapers or social media you’ll probably see a lot of negativity. These feelings seem prevalent across rural Minnesota and any place that feels left out or overwhelmed by change.
But, there’s one thing I want you to know about Northern Minnesota. And there aren’t many people who have had the perspective to tell you this. Sure, you’ve seen the news about crime and drug addiction. You get worked up about politics, how liberals or conservatives are ruining everything depending on your point of view. You see the declining enrollment in our schools and the rapid change leaving empty storefronts and ghost malls in our towns.
None of that matters as much as what’s right about these communities. In every show I met someone making excellent music right here in Minnesota. I met funny, talented people who speak with our accent, from our point of view. I met people who work to make their communities better, who overcome barriers, who make change right here. They’re not waiting. They don’t need permission. And they’re here right now, working alongside all the complainers.
Telling stories is easy when the stories are good. And the stories of these places in Northern Minnesota would sound like fiction if we didn’t know better. I have been to all these places. It’s not fiction. It may not be heaven (and it’s certainly not Iowa), but it’s home. And it’s a good place to live, despite how we so often talk ourselves out of that fact.
This Saturday’s show will broadcast live from 5-7 p.m. on 91.7 KAXE locally. You can stream it at www.kaxe.org. But the best way to experience the show is in person. Tickets are $15 with proceeds benefiting the Hibbing Foundation, whose support made this special episode possible. You can find the link to order tickets at www.greatnorthernradioshow.org or order them by calling Hibbing Community Education during business hours at 218-208-0852, extension 1.
Northern Minnesota isn’t just one thing but many. It’s made great by many different kinds of people. Our changing communities are not something to fear or badmouth. Our shared future is something to celebrate. I’m glad I’ve had the chance to tell that story and will continue doing so in new ways going forward.
Aaron J. Brown is an author and community college instructor from Northern Minnesota’s Mesabi Iron Range. He writes the blog MinnesotaBrown.com and hosts the Great Northern Radio Show on Northern Community Radio (KAXE.org).