Seeing the City You Live In

 A Taste of Minnesota musical preview—plus memories of years past.  


While I’ve only lived here a couple years, I’ve managed to enjoy many of the archetypal Minnesota summer activities: mosquitoes, Juicy Lucys on the patio, and seeing friends come and go “up North.” But due to my mid-pandemic Minnesota move-in, there’s one quintessential summer pursuit I’ve had minimal exposure to—concerts in the parks. And this year, DISPATCH is presenting the return of Taste of Minnesota after a seven-year hiatus. 

I caught up with three local musicians who will be performing at the reimagined Taste of Minnesota July 2 and 3 to get a sense of what I’ve missed—and what is to come. 

Molly Maher and her Disbelievers

“When I was in high school we would go, it was, like, the biggest thing to do. For me, it was always a part of the summer,” Molly Maher says on a scorching June Saturday afternoon. Maher, born and raised in St. Paul, has been making and performing music in the Twin Cities for decades, and played Taste of Minnesota when it moved from its original location at the State Capitol to Harriet Island toward the end of its original run. Weaving strands of Americana and rootsy blues with her guitar, Maher has a compelling, perceptive voice and mesmerizing command of her instrument. Her most recent album, Follow, is a solo project recorded in 2020, rife with Latin flavors and the poetry of traditional corridos. At this year’s festival, Maher will be playing with her band, The Disbelievers. 

“We’ve played together so long, there’s something very interesting, something very fluid—people who’ve seen us perform know what that is, whatever that spark is, and that history that we have together,” Maher says. “I get excited to play any show, but when it’s [Molly Maher] and her Disbelievers, I’m so excited because when I play with them I’m incredibly supported and I know that we put on a very good show.” 

White Iron Band

That support, incidentally, is something that Maher says is integral to why the Twin Cities are a great spot to perform—a sentiment Matt Pudas of White Iron Band echoes. He spoke to me from his home in Georgia while gearing up for a reunion with the band for one of their first performances since the beginning of the pandemic. “Minnesota has always been a really vibrant, underrated music scene,” he says. “A real community kind of vibe, you’d see a lot of the same people at shows.” 

White Iron Band has been playing together for more than 25 years, from their high school days in the ’burbs self-educating on outlaw country sounds to developing their performance chops through years of touring the Iron Range. Drawing inspiration from the likes of Waylon Jennings and the Allman Brothers, the band serves up a rollicking concoction of blues, rock, and alt-country. When they settled back in the Twin Cities they played local venues several nights a week, including a seven-year run of regular shows at the now-shuttered 5 Corners Saloon. 

“A lot of the fans that we had from that time period are still some of our best fans today, so that was a really important time for the band and our growth,” says Pudas. It’s been a while since the band performed together, what with relocations and side projects, but Pudas says they’re excited to be playing multiple shows together in Minnesota this summer. (Pudas also continues to write music and play shows with his recently formed Matt Pudas Band, including the solo album Working on Me, which he recorded at Pachyderm Studios.) 

Pudas says when he was younger “you had to go” to Taste of Minnesota. “That was the thing to do if you were in town for the 4th of July weekend,” he adds. 

White Iron Band will carry that energy into their own performance at the festival. “I would say at Taste of Minnesota, you’re going to get our best show,” he says. “A lot of fan favorites, and some of the band’s favorites too. We’ll probably keep it pretty high intensity, pretty rockin’.” 

Jearlyn Steele

Jearlyn Steele, of the musically inclined and ubiquitous Steele family, says she has been attending Taste since its inauguration in 1983—a show of true longevity! This will be Steele’s first solo performance at the festival, but she’s also performed in years past with her siblings, The Steeles.  

“People would come from all over,” she remembers of early Taste gatherings. “We would bring blankets, and a tub of water, and lay down and look up at these amazing fireworks.” 

 For the uninitiated, Steele has had a storied career; she was still a child when she shared a stage with the legendary Mahalia Jackson—and in a twist of fate befitting of the poetic rhythm of her life as a performer, she would later play the gospel icon in a production of Come On Children, Let’s Sing, at the Penumbra Theater in St. Paul. Steele is also a multi-hyphenate in the truest sense: a musician, voiceover artist, motivational speaker, academic, and radio host. 

She points out that music festivals like Taste of Minnesota are important for a number of reasons: Not only do they afford accessibility through a wide range of free entertainment for the whole community, but they also act as a hub where disparate communities can mingle and share in the joy of musical expression. 

“There were people from everywhere. People that would never really entertain anyone else except people that they knew in their own group of people. We came together,” says Steele. “We love to sing in Minnesota, even if our voices are not perfect, or even considered beautiful. We are much better in Minnesota when we sing. When we find a way to meet and greet, and tell our stories to people we don’t know.” 

Maher, too, is looking forward to once again gathering around a free, accessible community event. The most anticipated moment for her? “I want to look out into the audience and see the city that I live in.”