I’m reporting the West End News this week from the far west end, all the way out in Bozeman, Montana. I’m here on tour with the Plucked Up String Band.
Everyone knows that touring bands live a life filled with wild parties fueled by crazy substance abuse and excesses of every kind. Well, I’m happy to report that is not the case for our current tour.
We chose Montana for our tour because my son, Carl Hansen, a proud West Ender, lives in Bozeman, where he is a freelance filmmaker. Carl’s boyhood friend, Beau Larson, originally from Lutsen, also lives in Bozeman, making his living as a wildlife photographer. So, this is really more of a combination band tour and family visit.
The band has been warmly received in Montana, with appreciative crowds at every show and many invitations to return. In our down time, our activities have tended more toward hiking, disc golf and many hours of playing music while soaking up the unseasonable 70-degree sunshine that Montana has been experiencing. Other than a pleasant overall tiredness and some sore fingers, the tour has been fulfilling and fun.
We’re ending the tour in Ashland, Wisconsin, where we’ll be headlining the Ashland Folk Festival, the oldest folk festival in Wisconsin.
I’ve been reading, with interest, all the recent news about economic diversification on the Iron Range. Although the West End is not generally considered part of the Iron Range, we are directly affected by what happens in our greater region.
I’m no expert on the mining industry, but it seems that the experts are thinking that mining may be in a more serious decline that just the normal ups and downs of a commodity-based industry. Long story short, the situation is a symptom of the global market place.
Just in the last few weeks, the conversation around economic development in northeastern Minnesota has changed. Governor Dayton came out with a strong message about protecting our wilderness. The IRRRB held a conference on how the region can attract young residents by being “cool and creative.” The IRRRB also announced plans to reform their governance and move their grant and loan programs more toward quality of life projects and away from trying to attract smoke-stack industries. Minnesota Public Radio has hosted an event focused exclusively on diversifying the Iron Range economy and the Minneapolis Star Tribune is running a series of articles on the same subject. Aaron Brown has continued his well-written efforts to inspire economic diversification on his popular blog, “Minnesota Brown.”
All this news is very encouraging, with the obvious caveat that it must lead to some substantial progress and not just exist as a flash in the pan. It is also encouraging because it is driven by community members who are rolling up their sleeves and asking themselves what kind of community they would like to live in and leave to their children.
Unfortunately, it’s a case of the people getting out ahead of at least some of their leaders, who seem to be stuck in the old thinking that economic development will come from giant industrial development. I’m also afraid the influence of money in our politics is moving our leadership away from the wishes of the actual voters. I hope our political leaders are paying close attention to this new regional spirit and will get on board before the train leaves the station without them.
I am proud to say that Cook County is providing leadership in this new regional mood. In my opinion, the West End is in a particularly good position to take advantage.
As we toured around Montana this week and told people we were from the North Shore of Minnesota, the most common response was along the lines of “Oh, I love the North Shore” or, “I’ve been to the Boundary Waters” or, “Grand Marais is a great town.” I believe this is because Montana and the North Shore share a quality of life based on outstanding natural beauty and a largely unspoiled environment. But, for whatever reason, the wonderful West End seems to be well thought of, right across this great United States.