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Great Northern Radio Show Shines Spotlight on Arts Scene

Story by Brad Tramel

Talented local artists treated a packed audience to a variety of live music, storytelling, and stand-up comedy Saturday, September 19th, at The Great Northern Radio Show’s “Back to School” show.

Broadcast live on 90.5 KAXE/KBXE from the Bangsberg Theater, the traveling variety show featured music from bluesman Corey Medina, folk musician Berit Dybing, rapper Thomas X and country rock group American Scarecrows; storytelling by comedy troupe The Great Northern Radio Players, including guests; and stand-up routines by comedians Jon Roberts and Rob Fairbanks.

Host Aaron Brown chided locals over their contentious parking concerns in a fun and informative opening monologue, saying Bemidji State students have a “Captain Ahab-like obsession” with the issue.

Brown also held interviews with Mayor Rita Albrecht, city council member Michael Meehlhause, and Tim Roberts, a BSU professor and author of “Within These Woods.”

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The music started early and played often. Corey Medina and drummer/backup vocalist Sonny Johnson performed heavy blues ballads familiar to any patron of downtown’s Brigid’s Pub. On Old Dog Cryin’, the power left Medina’s voice only briefly, to howl harmoniously with Johnson in what interspersed the chorus.

American Scarecrows lightened the mood with five songs of a more pop-rock variety, and got everyone on stage dancing by the night’s end.

Rapper Thomas X represented Red Lake in Can You Hear Me, dedicating his efforts to single parents, youth, and the “homies that I lost in ‘05’,” referencing the tragic Red Lake school shooting ten years ago. The song verged on self-celebration, but never came across as a brag, continually shining the spotlight elsewhere.

Berit Dybing serenaded the audience with two songs that showed off her powerful voice and bilingual talent. A student at the Concordia Language Villages, the always-smiling Dybing first covered Pete Seger’s My Rainbow Race—in Norwegian—then injected Hozier’s Someone New with the verve its lyrics deserve.

Stand-up comic and YouTube “Rez Reporter” Rob Fairbanks told the first professional jokes, skewering his own ambition. “I really wanted to be a motivational speaker,” he said, pausing. “That was about as far as I got.”

Jon Roberts won over the crowd with a more personal approach in a bit about how love evolves as he gets older. “[My wife] can’t see and I can’t hear,” he said. “So we need each other now more than ever—I guess that almost sounded romantic.”

The Great Northern Radio Players, the night’s comedy troupe, gave the audience three original skits. BSU English professor Mark Christensen lent his legendary baritone to a back-to-school skit in which a moose and deer have enrolled, and promptly feud over which species is best. “My father was a speciesist,” the moose concedes. “I never considered your feelings.”

At one point in the show, host Aaron Brown asked Bemidji city councilmember Michael Meehlhause what made Bemidji special. Meehlhause mentioned things he believes foster a creative atmosphere for local fixtures like Medina, from the downtown sculpture walk to “the artists that craft my coffee every morning.”Meehlhause had it right.

Everyone performed well by themselves, and by the end of the two-hour show, the diverse talent had served as evidence to his assertion. They had proven their own talent, but the group evangelized the town’s clearly thriving arts scene, too.