Area Voices: Loonbird Cafe showcases musical talent in Northern Minnesota
Mary Overlie joined "Area Voices" to discuss the new singer/songwriter series LoonBird Cafe, a seasonal showcase for Northern Minnesota musical talent.
BEMIDJI — There’s an abundance of talented musicians in Northern Minnesota and a new way to showcase them is always welcome.
Mary Overlie from Bemidji started a unique event that seems to have struck a chord within the music community.
But there is something really special about finding the right mix of people who want to be there to listen, and the people who are ready to share their music, Overlie said on KAXE's Area Voices.
"There is something really special about finding the right mix of people that want to be there to listen, and the people who are ready to share their music."Mary Overlie
The LoonBird Cafe series is a singer-songwriter showcase in Bemidji with a listening-friendly intimate concert setting. Four artists perform each night. It’s loosely based on the Bluebird Cafe in Nashville, Tennessee, which is one of the most famous listening room-style venues, where artists tell stories and perform original music.
The LoonBird Cafe events happen once every season and are hosted by restaurant Table for 7, which features local food.
Partnerships in Bemidji
Overlie came out of COVID-19 pandemic worried about the local music scene.
“I just kept looking at the landscape in Bemidji's venue scene trying to figure out what was going to happen next, because I knew it wasn't going to resurrect completely. But it also felt like it really wasn't going to go back to like what it was when I first moved here in 2010,” Overlie said. “So, I knew I had to make my own fun.”
Amber Lynne, the owner of Table for 7, was into the idea of the LoonBird Cafe almost immediately.
The Wednesday, Nov. 1, musical guests were Lisa Mattson, Debbie Center, Mosi Palosaari and Sonny Johnson. Overlie says the goal for these events is to have different artists perform at each one because every artist brings a different listening crowd. The hope is to make regional connections through art.
Asked about how the artists selection process works, Overlie said, “It's so selfish, but it really just started as a way for me to listen to the people that I really don't get to listen very much.
“I should probably get more formal because people have reached out and have wanted to be a part of it, but I'm a theater artist at heart and I've been improving my way through, so eventually there might be some structure to that.”
At the performance itself, artists perform six songs each, round robin style. Usually, it ends up being two hours of music per night.
“It's sort of this popcorn effect where people are just trading songs all night,” she said.
The reaction from audiences has been very moving, according to Overlie. Sometimes at concerts, there are people who want to have conversations during the show. But what they’ve established at the LoonBird Cafe is an environment where the audience is there for the music.
“But the thing that's been really heartening to me is at the end of the night, there's a lot of conversations happening between listeners and songwriters, like people wanting to know more,” she said.
Overlie's hope is for people to take away a deep appreciation of place.
“If you set the table correctly, you can really access something deeper in terms of what human communities can do. I'm not trying to say that happens every time. It's not going to happen for every patron or listener who's there. But there is something really special about finding the right mix of people that want to be there to listen, and the people who are ready to share their music.”
To find out when the next LoonBird Cafe event is, visit Overlie’s website mudsong.net/loonbird.
Tell us about upcoming arts events where you live in Northern Minnesota by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Area Voices is made possible by the Minnesota Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund and the citizens of Minnesota.