A Night at the Opera

Today’s post is from Occasional Caroline

Last summer or perhaps it was the summer of 2016, my sister heard about and attended several Grand Oak Opry concerts. She loved it, raved about it, told everyone about it. I knew from her enthusiasm that I would enjoy it, but I didn’t make time to join her at a concert until August 11. I’m pretty sure I won’t miss another one, except due to circumstances beyond my control. It can’t be adequately described, you have to see it for yourself to “get it.”

The Grand Oak Opry is a unique concert series that takes place in the backyard of Sean Kershaw and Timothy Hawkins, in St. Paul’s West Seventh neighborhood. They started by hosting two concerts in the summer of 2014, and have grown every year since. The 2018 schedule includes seven concerts, with two still to come; We Are the Willows on 9/1 and David Huckfelt & Erik Koskinen Band on 9/30.


The show I saw could not have been more fantastic. It was presented in partnership with the Schubert Club, and the performers were Maria Jette and Dan Chouinard! The Schubert Club delivered a Steinway grand piano to the backyard venue early in the day and picked it up when the event was over at about 9:30.


So, yes, the concert I attended will be hard to beat. Dan Chouinard played a rendition of Rhapsody in Blue that was absolutely amazing. Maria Jette displayed a remarkably diverse range of musical artistry; the whole night was magical. But, I think the Grand Oak Opry experience would be sensational if the entertainment was an elementary school band with a tone-deaf director. The setting is under a huge oak tree in the backyard of 273 W Goodhue St, St Paul. A crystal chandelier hangs in the branches of the tree, which is estimated to be about 200 years old and is still going and growing strong. The backyard décor also includes several brightly painted doors, each with a lantern hanging on a bracket. They are doors to nowhere, but provide a whimsical, colorful, touch to the setting. To put a cherry on top, as the sun began to set, fireflies came out to add to the magical ambiance.


There are no tickets or reservations. Shows start at 7:30 and gate opens at 6:30. Concert goers just show up with their chairs or blankets, bringing food and drink if they choose. A $10 donation is suggested from each guest; all the money collected goes directly to the evening’s performers. Children are welcome to attend the concert or to play in the front yard of the pre-Civil War era home, if the music isn’t quite to their taste. Pets are not allowed. Neighbors volunteer as greeters and information givers, helpfully pointing out the path to the restroom (in the house), a table with water and bug spray, and answering questions. It’s an amazingly friendly and welcoming atmosphere for both newbies and veterans. Attendance has varied from 40-45 at the first show in 2014 to about 500, including overflow into the neighboring yard, earlier this summer (I think it might have been Chastity Brown that night).


Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/grandoakopry/) is the primary source for schedule and other information about concerts. They do have a WordPress blog but a lot of the information there refers to past years and the Facebook page is more up to date.

OK, that’s it. I’m done. I liked it. A lot. Anyone for a Baboon field trip on 9/1 or 9/30?


Have you had an experience that was better than you could have hoped for or expected?

38 thoughts on “A Night at the Opera”

  1. Wonderful, Caroline. This is exactly the kind of initiative that I love. I’m also a great fan of house concerts. They are a great opportunity to meet and hang out with like-minded people. I’d be up for a baboon field trip on either of the dates you’ve suggested.

    In answer to your question, yes, I’ve had numerous experiences that were better than I had hoped for. Unfortunately, they don’t outnumber the disappointing ones. There’s always the danger that when you go in with high expectations that the actual event will fall short of meeting them. That may be one of the reasons I remember the ones that were magical?

    One experience that exceeded my expectations, and one that I share with a lot of baboons, was the memorial concert for Tom Keith. Memorial events, or celebrations of a life that has ended, often end up being less than joyful. This event was a joyride, and one I’ll never forget.

    Similarly, I was a regular at the very early Prairie Home Companion Shows, long before they became the well-rehearsed show with nationally known talent. Some of those early shows were precious precisely because they were unrehearsed and completely unpredictable. From time to time that resulted in a flawed radio broadcasts, but more often than not, the sheer exuberance of the crew and the audience, small as it often was, carried it through. I’m grateful to have those memories.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. Good post, PJ. I’ll answer OC’s question a bit later. I’d like to comment on your memories of PHC. It seems weird to think you and I might have been standing next to each other–along with other folks who would become Baboons–during those early concerts. I attended one held on the grounds of the Walker Art Center (jazz singer Debbie Duncan was the headliner) and one or two performances held on the lawn at Macalester. I believe those were among the very earliest.

      I used to walk my dog with the wife of a Shoe Band musician, and she had amazing stories about the improvisational quality of PHC. That was due strictly to Garrison’s habits. What she said suggested that he went on changing shows at the last second even when the show was large and presumably organized. Garrison used to revise the show until right up to the point it was actually being performed.

      My friend described Sue Scott performing a dramatic skit which Garrison was rewriting while she was delivering her lines. Garrison stood behind her, his arms wrapped around her while he typed a new version of the script she was dramatizing. Garrison typed the latest revision of the script on a laptop computer while Sue Scott acted out lines that had literally been written seconds before she performed them. That would fit anyone’s definition of “unrehearsed”!

      Liked by 3 people

      1. We might well have been in the same PHC audience, Steve and perhaps other future baboons. The period I’m thinking of is late 1974 through 1976, when the Powdermilk Biscuit Band was in constant flux it seemed. It started out as just Bill Hinkley and Judy Larson, and then evolved into Adam Granger, Bob Douglas, Mary DuShane, Butch Thompson and Garrison on autoharp. Miss Stevie Beck, Queen of the Autoharp, was a frequent guest. A lot of the local performers where musicians Garrison encountered at the old Extemp.

        At that time, the show had no permanent home, but would pop up in various places. The old Park Square Theater (by Mears Park) in the same building that was MPR’s home at the time was one of them. Other venues were the O’Shaughnessys at both St. Kate’s and St. Thomas, the University of Minnesota St. Paul Campus Student Center, the First Unitarian Society of Minneapolis and, frequently, the theater in the old Science Museum of St. Paul or its sculpture garden.


        1. The first show I ever went to was at the St. Paul campus student center. They were charging a dollar for admission then, but they had run out of chairs, so they decided to charge us only fifty cents because we had to sit on the floor. Since I and my knees were only about 25 at the time, it suited me just fine.


  2. Because I usually hold low expectations for most things, experiences often exceed my expectations. But none come to mind
    Out driving this morning.

    Liked by 2 people

      1. It dawned on me this morning I am disappointed by people who don’t meet expectations
        My wife is never disappointed as she always assumes the people will fail and is surprised when they come through
        Different styles that can’t be adopted by the other personality
        She can’t be me and I can’t be her


  3. Rise and Shine Baboons,

    Thanks for this post, Caroline. I find this entire concept enchanting, and I cannot wait to attend one of these. Yes! To a Baboon Field Trip.

    Years ago, when Dale and JimEd started taking TLGMS on the road, we attended some of those shows, including the State Fair Show. Their State Fair Shows became a family tradition and friends party for us. We started to bring a pot luck breakfast. The sheer creativity of the experience was just mind-bending. Hide and Seek at the State Fair with (then) Strib Reporter, Eric Ringham, was irresistible, given the labyrinthine nature of the entire grounds.

    I have thought this represented the very best of the “counter-culture public radio” of the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s when there were no brakes on ideas there. It was Pre-Bureaucracy. I wish MPR would create a unit in which creative ideas were tried and executed without bureaucratic limits.

    When my son was very little, we drove by downtown Minneapolis which sparked a conversation about the IDS tower. He thought it was the “IDEAS Tower” and there were thousands of people in there thinking up new ideas to try. He and I both kind of live our lives in an IDEAS Tower. We both created a way to support ourselves financially in this mode, as well. It is amazing what you can do when there are no “Yes, But” people who want to sustain “The way it has always been done.”

    Including a Grand Oak Opry.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. I’ve recently started tuning in to Radio Heartland again after a hiatus. I don’t think of it sometime because I have to be near the computer now (my HD radio doesn’t catch the TwinCities transmittion). Several mornings have been beyond my expectations… a radio station can’t always be on-target, but this one is close. I know there are other stations out there I could try, too.

    Liked by 2 people

        1. BiR While there are much better tablets on the market, I use the Amazon Fire. It sells for $79. It can be that cheap because Amazon uses these tablets as part of their sales effort. For example, it is easy to order from Amazon using the Fire. Without WiFi, it is a highly limited thing. With WiFi, it is a small, portable computer with many nice features.

          Liked by 1 person

  5. Like Clyde, my expectations are almost always fairly low. I don’t do it on purpose and I don’t think I’m a negative person, but it does work out like Clyde says – I’m almost always pleasantly surprised.

    Most recently was today in the kitchen. I bought multi-colored carrots on a whim yesterday at the farmer’s market. Today I sliced them up, mixed them with olive oil, parmesan, garlic and breadcrumbs and roasted them for about 20 minutes. I’m not sure what I was expecting but was amazed at how well they turned out. YUMMY!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I forgot to mention that the 9/30 Grand Oak Opry is starting at 5:30 (gate at 4:30), rather than the traditional 7:30. It’s a Sunday, therefore a work/school night.; it should wrap up by 8:30. I plan to attend both September concerts, but possibly the Sunday one makes more sense for an “official” baboon field trip? Not too much to organize, come, find the rest of us and enjoy. I’ve heard they have only been affected by bad weather once in the entire history of GOO, that one was moved to a nearby church. The end of September can be iffy weather-wise, but worth a try?

    Liked by 2 people

    1. My sister and I went to our first Big Top Chautauqua show in June. I had heard about it for years, but never gone. We saw Keb’ Mo, a perennial favorite of ours. We had planned a 2-night stay in Bayfield, but our mother’s poor health at the time made it more of a one-or-none proposition. The extended drive time due to closed roads from spring flooding cut into the time we had for sightseeing, but we loved the show and the area in general. I had built a bigger, big top in my mind from years of hype; I wasn’t disappointed, just surprised that it wasn’t as enormous as I’d pictured it.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. The Big Top tent was made in Italy, where the tradition of making canvas tents lives on (if barely). The programming has changed since my family came to enjoy the shows. They do more national music performances now. What we found unique and appealing were history shows. They still do a few of those, but not so many as in the late 1980s and 1990s.


    2. Tim, this is right down your alley. No question you will love it when you’re able to go. Nothing is posted for next season, yet.


  7. Excellent lead story and photos, OC.

    We had an identical experience when we bought our cabin near the Apostle Islands. A surprising number of local folks, when they heard we had bought the place, were quick to recommend the Big Top Chautauqua shows that run many summer evenings on a big hill south of Bayfield. Those shows were described as musicals that told stories about the history of that region. That description didn’t do much for me, but I had to notice that the local folks recommending these shows had a sort of glow of pride when they talked about the tent shows.

    When we went we were blown away. It sounds silly to say we “fell in love” with the shows . . . but we did. I went back to see my favorite (Riding the Wind) at least six times. To this day when anyone in my family happens to hear one of the tunes from those shows we get wet eyes and have to run for a tissue. They were unique and magic.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. OT – The Great River Folk Festival happens in La Crosse, Wisconsin, Aug. 24 to 26, and the lineup includes artists Pert Near Sandstone, Dead Horses, The Yellow-Bellied Sapsuckers, Them Coulee Boys and many more! We’re giving away TWO pairs of all-event festival passes — enter for your chance to win (entry closes on Wednesday, Aug. 22, at 12 p.m. Central). You need to go to the Current’s website to register.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oops, I neglected to put quotation marks around the above blurb that ended with the deadline and which I lifted from Radio Heartland’s FB page. For those of you on FB, if you click on the photo accompanying that blurb, it takes you to the registration form.


  9. Nothing sprang to mind when the question was first posed, but I can remember a couple of theater performances that were so good, I had to go back and see them again.

    One was Charlie Bethel in his one-man performance of Beowulf. At the time, he was doing it at the Jungle Theater but he has performed it elsewhere since. Bethel has also done solo interpretations of Gilgamesh and the Odyssey and more but it’s Beowulf I remember because it was so much more than I expected.

    The other performance was Ain’t Misbehavin’ at Penumbra. I had the music on a vinyl album and knew what to expect, but this was the first time I had a chance to experience the full cast of Penumbra regulars in one production. It was glorious.

    Liked by 4 people

  10. A recent evening at the Oldenburg House in Carlton MN: Debbie Duncan singing jazz backed up by piano, bass and drums…20 or so people gathered in the living room for dinner and music. Pinching myself to be sure it was really happening and really happening in the tiny town of Carlton. How could that be? Well, it happens once a month with professional jazz musicians and divine dinners. Check out the Oldenburg House on Facebook…it wasn’t a dream!

    Speaking of Debbie Duncan, PHS.

    Liked by 3 people

  11. My, the experiences you Baboons mention sound really good! I am pretty burned out and I am excited to travel to Tacoma on Wednesday. I would love any of the venues mentioned here today. On the other hand, having my tonsils out sounds better than working right now.


  12. I knew I would grow to enjoy the festivals here, esp. the Beethoven and Shakespeare. I didn’t realize how MUCH I would enjoy the Shakespeare! I got to see 3 of the 4 plays done by this year’s Company, and getting to see the same actors in multiple plays and roles – sometimes radically different from each other – is really something new. I’ve fallen in love with a couple of the actors and hope they return for another season.

    Liked by 3 people

      1. Cajun and flamenca music would be great, but I don’t know how large the Cajun and Spanish population is in Washington State!


  13. Went to a really nice show at a bar in downtown St. Paul that featured Dan Chouinard and Kevin Kling. Dan Chouinard opened by playing “King of the Road”, and the audience immediately began to sing along. Everyone knew all the words. He and Kevin Kling took turns, a song then a story, then another song then another story.

    I also remember the “Duos” concert Dale Connelly hosted at the Fitz when Radio Heartland was a new thing. Storyhill sang “Steady On”, and the acoustics in the theater were absolutely perfect, and the two voices blended flawlessly. The audience burst into wild applause at the end.

    Then there was a performance by Martin Sexton at Sundin Hall a number of years ago. At the beginning of the show his mic was malfunctioning, so he just turned it off and performed the whole show without amplification. And just nailed it, from beginning to end.


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