Friday, May 2, 2008

Grand Marais Jazz Festival

Every story is a human interest story. When I decided to write about the Grand Marais Jazz Festival for this week's MinnPost column, I thought I'd do a straightforward piece on who's playing when and where, with a bit of historical perspective. When I started talking with people about the festival, things changed.

I learned that festival founder Mike Raymond hosts a jazz radio show, sells real estate, and is a pilot who flies over area forests and wilderness to check for fires. People wear a lot of hats on the North Shore.

Last year, on May 5, a fire started that burned more than 75,000 acres at the end of the Gunflint Trail and into Ontario. This year, in recognition of the first anniversary of the Ham Lake Fire, the area is hosting a Gunflint Green Up on May 2–3. They're expecting hundreds of volunteers who will pitch in to plant 75,000 seedlings, weather be damned. (There's still ice on the water in northern Minnesota, and it could snow. It could snow in Minneapolis, too.)

I learned that the jazz festival is less about jazz, more about building tourism in the off-season in an area hard-hit by economic downturn with an off-season that lasts half the year. (Now factor in rising gas prices.) Headed by PR pro and go-getter Kimberly Soenen, the newly-formed Cook County Events & Visitors Bureau is convincing area business leaders, artists, outfitters, and lodgers to join forces, combine resources, and pony up dollars to fund events like the festival.

Soenen thinks Cook County could be the next Door County, and the Grand Marais Jazz Festival could be the north shore's New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. I wouldn't advise standing in her way. She's a woman on a mission.

And I learned that singer Rhonda Laurie and her family have a cabin in Finland near Silver Bay. She's originally from New York City and I never saw her as an outdoorsy type but there it is.

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