The Bright Side of Winter

Artists draw audiences to evenings of music and storytelling.
A performance by Buzzirique, featuring Steve Diedrich, Ryan Williams and John Hewitt, with special guest Sara Diedrich.

Plunging mercury and towering snow piles are the co-parents of invention, especially when winter nights stretch longer than our imaginations. A remedy to cure an ailing spirit is offered at Morningside After Dark (MADark), music and storytelling events, which are held in January, February and April in the basement of Edina Morningside Community Church.

“It’s been wildly successful for reasons that make us very happy,” co-organizer and University of St. Thomas English instructor Laurie Lindeen says, adding that about 200 audience members gather to watch a total of 14 three- to five-minute music and spoken word sets. “It’s a great showcase.”

Each monthly performance includes a theme, which performers are asked to fold into their music, story or poetry. Acts alternate between music and the spoken word. Outside of that, organizers are hands off when it comes to directing the show. “The highlight comes in the surprise in how well it comes together,” Lindeen says. “It’s always fabulous in how it plays out.”

The beauty in MADark is not only in what is performed but who takes the stage. “We love to open it up to adult garage bands,” co-organizer Rebecca Sorensen says. “Some people joke it’s like an adult talent show.” There are some unsuspecting performers, too—the closet poet or the quiet songstress. “We give them an audience and a stage to make themselves vulnerable,” Sorenson says. She hopes audience members feel compelled to share their artistry, too. “Maybe it will be their turn next,” she says. “We want it to feel accessible to everyone there.”

Seasoned performers also join the sets. Sorensen says past performers have included reggae artist Ryan Liestman and writers Lorna Landvik and Joan Steffend. Katy Vernon, singer, songwriter and ukuleleist, felt a bit out of her comfort zone two years ago, when she first participated in MADark. She was concerned that the one-and-done format wouldn’t foster an audience-performer connection. She was wrong. “It’s one of the best listening environments,” Vernon says. “The reason I get up to perform is to connect with people.” She also relishes the synergy that is created among performers and their material choices. During one evening, the night’s theme was love, and Vernon was prepared to perform “Loving You,” which was inspired by the Replacements’ Slim Dunlap, who had suffered a stroke. As she waited backstage, she heard spoken performances touching on a writer’s connection with a late father and another author’s story of his wife’s cancer battle. “I felt very connected as a writer,” she recalls, noting how her song organically overlapped the other performances. “As a songwriter, that was a gift,” she says.

Sorensen brought the idea for MADark from New York City, where she attended similar events. Referring to the Morningside neighborhood as “the West Village of Edina,” she recalls thinking, “There is so much talent imbedded in the neighborhood. [The event] could be a really great way for people to gather and get out of hibernation.” The events began in 2013 at the hands of Sorensen, Lindeen and Jim Mahoney, dean at the Blake School.

Caribou Coffee provides beverages, and local professional and neighborhood bakers share their sweet offerings with patrons. Local businesses donate gifts for performers. While the event is free to the public, Sorensen says a free will offering is encouraged. Funds are given to the church to help defray utility costs.

MADark’s success has resulted in offers to move the event to other locations, but Sorensen is content to stay put. She says the performers enjoy the smaller venue because it allows the audience to really absorb their artistry. “These performers feel so appreciated,” she says. The intimacy of the setting and the infusion of local talent seems to draw audience members in tighter. “When you walk out of the event, you feel more connected to your community,” Sorensen says.

For additional information, call 612.968.0772 or visit the website here. MADark will be presented from 7:30-9 p.m. on January 25, February 22 and April 25 in the Edina Morningside Community Church basement, 4201 Morningside Road.