The good news regarding this year's Cedar Commissions series is the application process behind it began last spring. The bad news, of course, is everything that's happened since then.

"These hardworking artists have been pulled in a lot of different directions," said the Cedar Cultural Center's communications manager, Aida Shahghasemi.

Featuring six thematic sets of music and storytelling written specifically for the occasion — all funded via Jerome Foundation grants — the Cedar Commissions has been recast as a virtual festival, streaming Friday through Sunday via or

However, organizers are sticking to the same game plan from the series' 2011 inception to present a broad range of new voices from within the Cedar's diverse community — which might be as important as ever this year.

The list of 2021 commissioned acts range from a rock and hip-hop artist singing about Hmong and LGBTQ cultures' complicated relationship, to a classical composer exploring mental illness, to a guitar-strumming Black Muslim singer/songwriter.

"It's artists from all different walks of life," said the latter entertainer, Hassan Shahid, who performs under the name Shahidi.

That the show is happening at all may come as a surprise, since the Cedar has not been open to the public since last March. Last year's Commissions series was actually one of the last events at the 32-year-old nonprofit venue in Minneapolis' Cedar-Riverside neighborhood.

But Cedar staffers — many of them furloughed over the past 11 months — returned several weeks ago to begin rehearsing and pre-filming this weekend's performances without any audience.

After delivering his performance on camera a couple of weeks ago, Shahidi said he traded the worry of performing before a crowd to "stressing over the audio and video being just right."

"Performing at the Cedar is a dream for me, however I do it," added Shahidi, 30, who got to know the center well through the neighboring Muslim community and his time at the University of Minnesota.

His set for the Commissions, titled "Songs for My Ummah: A Black Muslim Father's Exploration in Vulnerability," is based around his experiences growing up in sometimes dichotomous worlds. Like most of the performers in the show, he applied for it last spring and then spent much of the summer writing. And what a summer that was.

"George Floyd happened right when I was getting started, and it just overwhelmed everything I was doing," said the tender-voiced tunesmith, part R&B crooner and part confessional folkie.

"I'm used to writing songs about me. It's time I was more focused on the world."

The Cedar will archive this weekend's performances for future viewings. Sadly, that will probably be the closest the rest of us get to being inside the beloved music room until at least fall.

"There are still so many unknowns, it's impossible to plan," Shahghasemi said, noting that the venue is especially challenged now in booking international artists, long one of its strong suits. So when the doors do reopen, she added, "We're going to be focused heavily on the local music community for shows."

Here's a quick rundown of the five other artists performing in the 2021 Cedar Commissions (one of whom had to postpone recently).

AJ Isaacson-Zvidzwa (Fri.): The composer and violinist enlisted opera soprano Maria Jette and a string quartet to help stage "Angels Sang to Me" about poets who've faced mental illness.

Beatriz Correia Lima (postponed to a later date): A multimedia artist originally from Portugal, she will explore her homeland's tales of diaspora in a mix of modern and traditional music titled "Trebaruna."

Farrington Llewellyn (Sat.): The Minneapolis rapper and multimedia artist, who also performs as Farr Well, will open up about being bipolar in "Empathy Rooms."

Tearra Oso (Sat.): A St. Paul native steeped in the song and dance of Bomba music, she will blend Puerto Rican history with current American social injustice in "Griot del Rio."

Sunah (Sun.): Born in France, St. Paul singer/songwriter and beatmaker Schoua Na Yang is debuting "No Word for Queer" about the lack of inclusivity in Hmong culture.

Chris Riemenschneider • 612-673-4658


The Cedar Commissions

When: 7:30 p.m. Fri.-Sun. (two sets per night).

Virtual tickets: $5-$15 donation, or