It's become almost de rigueur for bands to champion environmental causes and fuel tour buses with biodiesel, but North Shore singer/songwriter Michael Monroe has been a committed green musician for four decades. Monroe used solar energy for years to power equipment at outdoor concerts and even once drove his trailer of solar panels into the Mall of America to perform a show using stored power.
"People would come in and study it to see if I was cheating," he said. "It was a great way to show people how viable the source is."
Eventually, as solar became more common and Monroe felt he'd made his point, he unhooked the panels and started using them to power his log cabin and MisTree studio in the woods near Hovland, 15 miles from Canada, where he lived off the grid.
Monroe will perform Saturday at the community center as part of the new Frozen Apple Winter Concert Series during Apple Valley's annual Mid-Winter Fest.
David Peterson, president of the Apple Valley Arts Foundation, said organizers started the series this year after the continued popularity of the Kelly Park summer series.
"Michael's been one of our standards," he said. "He's been very popular. He tends to be a crowd favorite. He does some creative looping things. He kind of creates a one-man band. It's very lush and amazing."
About 20 years ago, Monroe started adding to his arrangements by using technology to work in harmonies and layer in instruments. "Some of my songs have 15 parts," he said. "It's a lot of fun to change it up during the show and bring in other textures and grooves."
Some of those textures come in the form of Caribbean rhythms, inspired by an extended trip to the Virgin Islands. "That's where I got the reggae bug," he said.
"I fell in love with the island and had to stay for two more years. I would go to sleep hearing this reggae vibe going on."
Monroe picked up the bamboo flute after spending time in India and plays it over a guitar background.
He uses four different handmade guitars, one built from bird's eye poplar and another from reclaimed birch, compressed from its years at the bottom of Lake Superior.
"It's very rich," he said. "These are huge logs that are like 200 years old. It's gorgeous wood."
Monroe found a like-minded eco-activist in National Geographic outdoors photographer/best-selling author Jim Brandenburg. He scored the 2003 Emmy-winning documentary "Chased By the Light," which features Brandenburg's images, and over the years, the two have showcased the work at such venues as the Guthrie Theater, where Brandenburg discusses his work and Monroe accompanies a presentation of the images.
"It's been a great collaboration," he said.
Monroe's show is the second in the new concert series. Each show will open with local band and choir groups from area schools. Local venders will sell food, beer and wine, and organizers will hold drawings for prizes including Kindles, CDs and DVDs.
The last show of the series, scheduled on March 3, will feature Menage a Neuf, a Twin Cities funk/R&B outfit with three female vocalists who cover artists such as Aretha Franklin and Amy Winehouse. "They're a very high-energy, fun band," Peterson said.
In addition to the concert, the Apple Valley Mid-Winter Fest includes a medallion hunt, ice skating, snow softball, face-painting, bingo, LARPing activities and demonstrations, adult boot hockey, indoor mini-golf, chicken-wing and pie-eating contests, a hot dog and s'more roast, a Wii bowling contest, volleyball tournaments, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing (equipment and lessons provided), plus snow tubing.
Liz Rolfsmeier is a Minneapolis freelance writer.