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'Real-Phonic Radio' shelved at St. Paul's historic Hill Library

The high stacks of books softened the acoustics for the "Real-Phonic Radio" shows at St. Paul's James J. Hill Reference Library. / Photos by Jeff Wheeler, Star Tribune

The J.J. Hill Reference Library's high stacks of books softened the acoustics for the "Real-Phonic Radio" shows. / Jeff Wheeler, Star Tribune


What is it with live radio shows and St. Paul this month? A couple weeks after Garrison Keillor announced his retirement from “A Prairie Home Companion” and just a few days after the cancellation of “Wits,” organizers of “The Real-Phonic Radio Hour” now reveal that their upcoming season is in limbo after they lost their funding and agreement with the historic J.J. Hill Reference Library in downtown St. Paul to host the shows there.

Although not a genuine radio show like “Prairie Home” and “Wits” -- both syndicated public radio series from St. Paul-based American Public Media -- “Real-Phonic” is staged like one, with a similar variety-show vibe that made it a cult-loved monthly to-do for Twin Cities roots music lovers. National artists such as Mary Gauthier, Amanda Shires, Augie Meyers, Pieta Brown and Anais Mitchell and local favorites such as the Pines, Dead Man Winter and the Cactus Blossoms have joined “Real-Phonic” hosts Erik Koskinen, Molly Maher and the stellar house band once a month in the ornate three-story library going back to 2010. Both the Star Tribune and City Pages often raved about the series.

“One of the things that made it work was the fact that it was such a unique, beautiful space that both the artists and the audiences loved,” said Maher.

She and Koskinen are “looking for a foster family” to offer to host the show, she said – but finding one as likable as the Hill Library is going to be tough. The “Real-Phonic” shows, conversely, served to promote the library, which has seen its usage as a reference hub dwindle in the Google and Wikipedia era and now relies heavily on weddings and 225-capacity private event rentals.

Apparently the fall-out began with some disagreements between the musicians and the Hill Library board over Koskinen’s great new album off the series, “Live at the Real-Phonic Radio Hour,” which led to discussions about the show’s future. Library board member Thom Middlebrook, who also served as the narrator of the “Real-Phonic” shows, said the decision from the board was ultimately made out of “a desire to cut costs.”

“In the end the lure of a dollar proved to be a greater distraction than the laughter and delight of vibrating the air [in there],” Middlebrook said via email. “But if a lifetime in the arts has taught me anything, it is that ‘Real-Phonic’ was just the first act. There will be many more shows to follow.”

The "Real-Phonic" crew, from left: Erik Koskinen, Thom Middlebrook, Molly Maher and Paul Bergen.

The "Real-Phonic" crew, from left: Erik Koskinen, Thom Middlebrook, Molly Maher and Paul Bergen.

However, another Hill Library board member, Barry Gisser, said the "Real-Phonic" musicians themselves "have chosen to leave our venue." He did not elaborate but said the board has plans to launch a new music series in "Real-Phonic's" place.

"While we are disappointed to see the band leave, we are very excited about providing live music at what we think is an amazing venue," Gisser said.

Maher has already booked about half of the shows for the next season, September-May, and may have to cancel on some “amazing musicians” (she didn’t want to name names). “Real-Phonic” could still be staged at the Hill Library as an outsider rental event, but the economics of doing so would be tough, she acknowledged.

“It’s heartbreaking for us," Maher said, "and I think it's bad news for St. Paul, too. We brought a fair amount of people downtown and made them fall in love with that place."

See 17 Groveland Gallery artists in action for five hours Saturday

Scott Lloyd Anderson painted the "Spoonbridge and Cherry" in a previous Plein Air Smackdown.

Seventeen Minneapolis outdoor painters will ply their trade in public for five hours Saturday during Groveland Gallery's popular Plein Air SmackDown. Now in its fifth year, the event is a companionable  competition among friends and colleagues who vie to turn out the best possible painting in a limited time regardless of weather. Too hot? Too wet? Too windy? Never mind. The art goes on. 

Viewers can pick up maps at the gallery Saturday morning and observe the artists in action at their chosen sites. All are within one mile of the gallery which is located in a historic mansion at 25 Groveland Terrace overlooking Walker Art Center and the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden. Painting locations include Loring Park, Kenwood neighborhood, Lake of the Isles, Sculpture Garden and environs.

BYO lawn chairs for observing the action. All paintings will be available for sale during a reception at the gallery after the event. Beer, brats and watermelon available at the reception.

Painting: 11 a.m. - 4 p.m. August 1.

Reception and art sale: 4 p.m. - 6 p.m., August 1, Groveland Gallery, 25 Groveland Terrace, Minneapolis.

Participating gallery artists: Fred Anderson, Michael Banning, Kristie Bretzke, Robert Dorlac, Susan Horn, Mark Horton,Carl Oltvedt, Justin Terlecki.

Guest artists participating: Andy Evanson, Bob Upton, Josh Cunningham, Scott Lloyd Anderson, Aaron Jacobs, Christopher Copeland, Carl Bretzke, Kami Mendlik, Barb McIlrath.

Fred Anderson painting with audience.
Joshua Cunningham at Lk of the Isles.

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