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Minnesota punk vets Suicide Commandos adopt a highway

Who says punk musicians are ne'er-do-wells? / Photo courtesy Chris Osgood

Who says punk musicians are ne'er-do-wells? / Photo courtesy Chris Osgood

 

Western suburbs residents who drive along County Rd. 16 near the Minnehaha Creek crossover in Minnetonka will notice a new blue sign along the way that may seem like a joke at first: “Adopt-a-Highway / Next 1.5 Miles Thanks to the Suicide Commandos Punk Rock Band.”

Turns out, the sign is as real as the house fire used in a music video near the sign's location back in 1977.

“We certainly made a big enough mess around there in our younger years, it’s time we made up for it,” laughed Suicide Commandos guitarist/co-vocalist Chris Osgood, who approached Hennepin County staff on a whim a few months ago when he saw that particular stretch of road was up for adoption. “I’m frankly surprised they let us.”

Osgood and his bandmates, Dave Ahl and Steve Almaas, mean business. They plan to patrol their newly adopted stretch of road for the next two years, as the Adopt-a-Highway program dictates. “We have our green reflective safety vests now and everything,” Osgood said. “It might be our next album cover.”

It’s not just a random stretch of road for the Commandos. Considered Minnesota’s first punk-rock band – they recorded for Mercury Records in the late-'70s and mentored  Hüsker Dü, the Suburbs and the Replacements -- Osgood and Ahl spent three wild years living in a rundown house near the road (aka McGlinty Rd.), which they dubbed the Utopia House. It had no running water two of those years but was good enough for rehearsing and crashing -- and was only $30/month to rent.

“That $30 a month is the only way a punk-rock band in those days could afford to drive out to New York to play CBGB’s as much as we did,” Osgood said.

Chris Osgood, right, and Dave Ahl during a Suicide Commandos at First Avenue in 2013. / Star Tribune file

Chris Osgood, right, and Dave Ahl during a Suicide Commandos at First Avenue in 2013. / Star Tribune file

No surprise, the house was condemned in 1977, and the Minnetonka Fire Department planned a controlled fire to demolish it as a training exercise – which is what the Commandos and local filmmaker Chuck Statler (of Devo visual fame) used as the backdrop for the video to “Burn It Down.”

Osgood himself still lives in the area and says he already walks that corridor regulary toward the creek to go eye the fish quantity (he’s an avid fly fisherman). “I’m out there picking up trash already most days,” he said, half-jokingly calling on all his peers to consider their own highway adoption. “I think now is the time for every punk-rock band to make good on their reputation and serve their community like this.”

To give credit where it's due, plenty of local musicians probably already have donned reflective vests and done road cleanup before -- just not voluntarily.

Another Midwest Farm Aid: Sept. 19 in Chicago for its 30th anniversary

The Farm Aid Four: Neil Young, Willie Nelson, John Mellencamp and Dave Matthews. / Paul Natkin/Photo Reserve, Inc.

The Farm Aid Four: Neil Young, Willie Nelson, John Mellencamp and Dave Matthews. / Paul Natkin/Photo Reserve, Inc.

Willie Nelson’s Farm Aid is returning to the Midwest, where it has been helping small farms since 1985. The 30th anniversary installment of the musical fundraiser and ecological rally will be held Sept. 19 at FirstMerit Bank Pavilion at Northerly Island in downtown Chicago.

The lineup announced today of course includes Willie’s original partners in the organization, Neil Young and John Mellencamp, along with their adopted fourth wheel Dave Matthews. The long list of guests this year includes Imagine Dragons, Jack Johnson, Kacey Musgraves, Mavis Staples, Old Crow Medicine Show, Holly Williams (Hank Sr.’s granddaughter), Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real (Willie’s son), Insects vs Robots and Blackwood Quartet.

Tickets for Farm Aid 30 go on sale Monday at 10 a.m. CDT and range from $49.50 to $189.50. They can be bought via LiveNation.com or 1-800-745-3000. Click here to learn more about the concert and Farm Aid's year-round efforts.

The Farm Aid Four: Neil Young, Willie Nelson, John Mellencamp and Dave Matthews. / Paul Natkin/Photo Reserve, Inc.

One interesting twist this year: Young has been using Lukas Nelson’s group as his backing band on tour this summer and made an album with them called “The Monsanto Years,” whose songs hit on many of the environmental and corporate-greed themes that are part of Farm Aid’s topical hot spots. Launched in 1985 from comments Bob Dylan made at Live Aid (“Wouldn't it be great if we did something for our own farmers right here in America”), Farm Aid has raised more than $48 million since then to assist and promote family farms, encourage organic practices and launch the Good Food Movement.

“At Farm Aid 30, we'll celebrate the impact we've had and rally our supporters for the work ahead," Willie said in a press release for the event.

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