In the 1800s, writers Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Louisa May Alcott and Nathaniel Hawthorne all lived in the same little town of Concord, Massachusetts. In the first half of the 20th century, Virginia Woolfe, John Maynard Keyes, E.M. Forster and Lytton Strachey lived, worked and studied near the district of Bloomsbury, London.
At a local level, Edina’s Morningside neighborhood, located in the most northeastern portion of the city, has fast become an artistic hub of its own. This wasn’t by design, per say, but rather by happenstance. “I remember commenting on the crazy talent in Morningside to neighbors Jim Mahoney and Laurie Lindeen while meeting for coffee,” says Rebecca Bell Sorensen, Edina resident. “I didn’t think you could go a block without bumping into a writer or musician.” That one comment launched them onto a 10-year journey filled with music, storytelling and community.
“We thought these artists could come together as a community in Minnesota’s coldest winter months,” says Bell Sorensen. “You could read a poem or short story or maybe dust off the guitar.” Bell Sorensen and Mahoney had seen these types of gatherings around the East Coast, in places like New York City. Where they hadn’t seen anything of the like was in Edina. “We thought about giving it a try,” says Mahoney. “Everyone knew where the Edina Morningside Community Church was, and we could hold it there.” The church was the neighborhood’s community center, after all.
The format that was settled upon was a show that featured 10 acts. The split would be half writers and half musicians. Some were established, some were not. “We have everyone from performers who do this type of thing for a living to the person who is totally freaked out because they’re doing it for the first time,” says Bell Sorensen. “The beauty of it,” says Mahoney, “is that everything lasts 10 minutes or less. If it’s not someone’s shining moment or it’s not your taste, [the] next person [is] up.”
These gatherings became known as Morningside After Dark, with Bell Sorensen, Mahoney and Lindeen as
its co-creators. “It’s just a cheeky name,” says Mahoney. “It sounds so salacious, but there’s nothing salacious about it. The shows attract a mix of all ages, and we hold them on Monday nights.”
Morningside After Dark performances are held three times per year, once in January, once in February and once in April. (March is out because of spring-break conflicts.) Shows are free, but donations are accepted. Each show is centered around a theme, which is open to interpretation.
This year, the themes are Silver Lining (January), True North (February) and Best Of (April).
Performers Joe Savage, Annie Mack and George Scot McKelvey on stage.
A packed house waits for performances to begin.
This year’s April show, to be held on April 25, represents Morningside After Dark’s 10-year anniversary, a feat both no one and everyone thought would occur. “It’s always been year to year,” says Katy Vernon, current co-host and co-curator. “Should we do it again?” she says they ask themselves each year. So far, the answer has always been, “Yes.” The show has always gone on, through snow squalls, polar vortexes and even a global pandemic.
Of course, COVID-19 led to a slate of virtual performances in 2021. The plan for 2022 was a hybrid—though the January event ended up being fully virtual. “We’re live-streaming it, so people can watch as it happens, and then we’ll edit and polish the live-stream so you can watch it anytime,” says Bell Sorensen. Live shows have attracted as many as 250 fans packed into the basement at Morningside Community Church, while one of last year’s virtual shows counted 20,000 views. “We could never stuff that many people in a church basement,” says Bell Sorensen. But that doesn’t mean an all-virtual format will be its future. “[Being in] the room is really special,” says sound man and regular performer George Scot McKelvey. “It’s like a theater gig, and the acoustics are fantastic.” But doesn’t this take place in the basement of a church? “Some rooms are good,” says McKelvey, “and this is one of them.”
“The audience is there because of a pure love of music or a pure love of hearing a good story,” says Bell Sorensen. “They’re hungry, they’re enthralled and they’re engaged.” The performers sense this. “They’re great listeners,” says McKelvey, of the show’s audience. “It’s nothing like if you were performing at a bar and people were drinking, talking and moving around.”
Joyann Parker (above) and Jana Shortal, KARE 11 host and reporter, (below) are two previous Morningside After Dark performers.
Evolving But Staying the Same
The show’s start centered around performers from the Morningside neighborhood. While that’s still mostly the norm, performers have come from beyond Edina’s borders—way beyond in some instances. “People hear about it and want to be part of it,” says Vernon. Over time, Morningside After Dark has evolved, balancing the roster with a mix of established and neighborhood performers, while also welcoming new voices.
Each performance has a mixed cast of characters, all bringing a totally different piece of art to the stage. “We can go from having a national stand-up comic trying out new material to someone giving a heart-wrenching talk on the passing of a family member,” says McKelvey. “This might be followed by a national recording artist trying out a new song.”
“You can’t look away,” says Bell Sorensen. “It’s why the three of us [Bell Sorensen, Mahoney and Vernon] still sit in the front row.”
It’s also why some members of the audience have been to every single show, 10 years running. “The main thing is still the sense of community,” Mahoney says. “That goes way back to when Morningside was incorporated, had its own school and had its own zip code.” He says they started Morningside After Dark “as the doldrum-beaters of winter. That hasn’t changed.”
People continue to crave the warming magic of live music and storytelling on a cold winter’s night. Bell Sorensen says that, year after year, “people leave the show and they’re wondering how in the world they didn’t know of this music or that writing.”
“It’s been 10 years,” says Bell Sorensen. “And we’re still as real and vital today as we were at the very beginning.”
Morningside After Dark
4201 Morningside Road; 612.968.0772;
Morningside After Dark
Morningside After Dark