Posts Tagged: luther college

Q&A with Mollie B!

INTRO AND INTERVIEW BY BENJI NICHOLS

Life in the Driftless just wouldn’t be the same if it weren’t for all of the dance bands. Sunday afternoons filled with polkas, two-steps… a schottische here and there – gracefully (or maybe not so gracefully!) sliding across the well-worn wooden floors of the Upper Midwest.

It would be easy to call them “old-time” dance bands, but that would be wildly inaccurate, particularly in the case of Spring Grove, Minnesota’s own Mollie Busta (aged 39!). Having grown up singing and playing – eventually more than one instrument at once – with her Dad and family in the Jim Busta Band, then leading the way through middle, high school, and Luther College music programs, Mollie has become a preeminent Polka Front-Woman on a national (and international) level. You’ll hardly know it when you meet her, as her personality radiates not only great music, but an honest and authentic love of people and the dance floor.

Mollie B. growing up surrounded by music

Mollie B. shared a variety of images of her life growing up surrounded by music. Photos courtesy Mollie B.

It’s quite possible you’ve seen Mollie B with the Jim Busta Band, or Squeezebox (with her husband, Ted Lange), or on the “Mollie B Polka Party” (most recently aired on RFD-TV), or, perhaps, in the Warner Brothers movie The Mule, directed by and starring Clint Eastwood.

Well, we’re here to tell you that your chance to slide across the floor is just weeks away when Mollie B, SqueezeBox, and the Jim Busta Band play the Spring Grove Fest Building, May 11, 2019 from 1-5pm. The event will help celebrate local non-profit Giants of the Earth Heritage Center’s 10-year anniversary.

Inspire(d)’s Benji Nichols caught with with Mollie B. to ask a few fun questions!

Read on, and mark your calendars to see her in Spring Grove this May!

Mollie B. and Squeezebox with Clint Eastwood

Mollie B. and Squeezebox pose with Clint Eastwood after filming their scene in the Warner Brothers movie, The Mule. Photo courtesy Mollie B.

I: It’s been quite a year since the release of The Mule with Clint Eastwood. Any favorite moments stemming from your musical feature and on-screen appearance?

Mollie  B: The premiere, itself, with Diane Wiest three seats down from me, Tim Moore two rows in front of me, Clint Eastwood and his family behind me, and Toby Keith to the right side of me, across the aisle.

I: We’ve had the great fortune to watch your continued success over the past decade or two from afar, but what’s the best part of coming ‘home’ to Southeast Minnesota?

Mollie B: The people – I have always loved the people, particularly my long-time friends! And the beautiful country side.

I:  We know you grew up in a “Polka Family”, but do you remember your first-ever polka dance, or have a specific early memory?

Mollie B: I loved dancing the polka a lot more than being on stage. Yes, it was fine to make the music, but dancing to it made my heart soar!!! I was simply on Cloud Nine every time I could go to a festival, or even a dance. I didn’t realize how unique my childhood was. Easily two-thirds of my weekends growing up were at dances and festivals. I danced with my siblings, mom, polka friends, and even lots of people I didn’t know. The joy this music and dancing brought to me was simply indescribable. My favorite festival from age four until 13 was Gibbon Polka Days. It took place the last weekend of July in Gibbon, Minnesota. There were times I would arrive at the festival on a Thursday and dance every day through Sunday. It may sound a bit stretched, but I really danced for 12 hours – each day – then I’d sleep on the grounds in our tent or rented pop-up camper. There were up to six locations with polka music on the grounds and as soon as one band finished playing a set of polkas, my brother and I would RUN to the next location where the band was playing polkas and would dance until they finished the set of polkas, then run again. This pattern would last for 12 hours every day. Our breaks were only for food about one time a day – an ice cream cone – and for the daily 4:00 parade, in which I usually played drums or trumpet in.

Mollie B.'s unique childhood of growing up at dances and festivals

“I didn’t realize how unique my childhood was. Easily two-thirds of my weekends growing up were at dances and festivals. I danced with my siblings, mom, polka friends, and even lots of people I didn’t know.” – Mollie B.

I: How did you ever discover you could play multiple instruments at the same time?!? It seems like some sort of sorcery!

Mollie B: Sorcery – ha! I have never heard it called that 🙂 In all honesty, it’s not difficult. I already was playing piano with two hands, why couldn’t I play two different instruments with two hands? So I did. Yes, when I am playing in the key of G in my left hand on the piano; my lips, breath, and fingers are playing in key of A on my trumpet, since the trumpet is a Bb instrument.

It was NEVER my dad suggesting any of my music ‘craziness.” He hired me as his trumpet player when I was 11, for in his eyes, that is what the band needed. Of course, I saw things differently. When I was eight, it was my idea to play my keyboard in the band for I thought the band needed it. When I was 14, it was my idea to play sax and clarinet, again because the band needed variety. Also, when I was 14, I felt the band needed to put on more of a show, so I added a little choreography. And yes, when I was 16, I really confused my dad by bringing a keyboard with me. I told my dad to trust me when he made the comment that he hired me to play trumpet, not piano.  So, I did it – I played my first gig on piano and trumpet – at the same time – when I was 16-years-old. And, the instruments kept multiplying. But I must admit, after playing three, the rest simply made sense.

I: We know you spend an incredible amount of time on the road – do you have a standout location that is somewhere you are always hoping to get to (or get back to!)?

Mollie B: I want to get to New Zealand someday – but I don’t need to play there. I have been told Brazil has wonderful music, and I would like to experience that. I would jump at the chance to return to the Dominican Republic with Tony Guzman and an ensemble again (I went twice with the Luther College Jazz Orchestra) And lastly, I play often in Texas, but since my first time there in 2009 – I have loved Texas. It’s like the Midwest, but warmer.  And I get called ma’am and miss down there, even by perfect strangers and long-time friends.  Who doesn’t love good old-fashioned manners?

I: Butter, sugar, or brown sugar on your Lefse?

Mollie B: Brown Sugar 🙂


Benji Nichols met Mollie B around 1994, thanks to the amazing Emily Engen, also from Spring Grove. Benji met Emily because of one Paul Scott, then owner of KRDI Radio in Decorah, IA – where somehow we were hired to be on-air announcers while we were in high school. Ain’t life funny? Now go dance a polka!


See you on the dance floor!

Mollie B with Squeezebox and the Jim Busta Band
Saturday, May 11, 2019, 1-5 pm – Spring Grove Fest Building
Tickets are $15 at the door, and $12 in advance at
www.mollieb.com or by calling 507-498-5070.

But wait, there’s more!

• Come learn the polka-hop (and other fun dances) with Mollie B and the Squeezebox team. There will be lessons at the Spring Grove Fest Building from 11:30 to 12:30, with dance instructor Patsy Linehan.

• All students 12 and under get free admission to the show, & teenagers are $5 (with a paid adult). Luther College student admission is also $5 (must present Student ID).

• There will be food and drink for sale at the Fest Building.

December 2018 Calendar!

December 2018! It’s hard to believe this is the last month of 2018! There’s lots of fun to be had before the year is done – start your planning with this handy-dandy December 2018 calendar (you can download the pdf here). Happy holidays! XO, Inspire(d)

LOOKING FOR MORE DETAILS ABOUT EVENTS ON THE CALENDARS?
Check out these great December 2018 activities! In chronological order, each event’s number coincides with its number on the calendar!

1. December 1: Helping Services Holiday Lights! The Lights are open for drive-through every night through December 25, 5:00 to 9:00pm. Pulpit Rock Campground, Decorah. Freewill donation. helpingservices.org

2. December 7: Ultra Mega Mega! Fall studio open house for Art, Dance, and Theatre for the Visual and Performing Arts Department Luther. 6-9pm in the CFA www.luther.edu

3. December 8-9: Bluff Country Christmas at the Chatfield Center for the Arts. Craft Fair, Cookies with Santa, Brad Boice, Brass Band Concert, HS Art Club Art Auction. www.chatfieldarts.org

4. December 14-15: Pinball ARTcade – 80s Party! Fall youth classes have built cardboard pinball machines Come celebrate! Friday Adults Only 80s Party, 8pm. Saturday Family party, 1pm. www.arthausdecorah.org

5. December 31: Decorah Elks NYE! Guilty Kilts (8:30-10) – Avey/Grouws Band (10pm-1am) $10 advance, $15 door. Tickets Venmo or Paypal aveygrouwsband@gmail.com or Oneota Coop beginning Dec 1. aveygrouwsband.com 

Q&A with Rosanne Cash

rosanne cash

By Aryn Henning Nichols

Music and family. These are the threads that tie Rosanne Cash’s life together.

Not just because her father was the iconic music legend Johnny Cash, or because she works closely with fellow musician, songwriter – and husband of 21 years – John Leventhal, or even because some of her five kids have dabbled in music here and there.

Music lights her soul on fire.

She chats about her 35 years of music-writing and performing from her kitchen in her family’s 1855 brownstone in Chelsea in New York City. The windows look out over a “tiny little postage stamp yard” with a garden filled with hydrangas and hostas.

Cash is currently touring to her three-time Grammy Award-winning latest release, The River and the Thread – a collaboration with her husband, John. The album is about traveling Hwy 61, the “main drag” of the South, and visiting places like the Tallahatchie Bridge and the location where 14-year-old Emmett Till was lynched in 1955, along with trips to the Historic Dyess Colony during the restoration of the Johnny Cash Boyhood Home.

“We were having all these really soulful experiences – it was hard to not write songs,” Cash says. “After we got a couple of songs in, John said, ‘There’s something here, we could write an album with this.’ So we got to work.”

The song, A Feathers Not a Bird, is written about Cash’s friend, Natalie Chanin, who taught Cash how to sew on one of those trips south. Chanin runs a company called Alabama Chanin (alabamachanin.com). They produce hand-sewn heirloom pieces made from 100 percent organic cotton.

“I loved Natalie’s clothes and I loved Natalie,” Cash says of her desire to learn how to sew at this point in her life. “A couple of my friends were [starting to sew] and I wanted to do something without words and with women – I’m with men all the time with my work. I was ready for something else.”

The first thing Cash made was a skirt. Now, she’s got her own sewing circle. Alabama Chanin sells “kits”, materials and threads are all ready for groups to hand-sew.

“It’s me and five other women – we get together regularly,” she says. “It’s been really enriching.”

It’s likely something Cash’s grandmother might have done in her day. Cash remembers her fondly.

“She was the best Southern cook in my life. She and my father were very close,” she says. “She worked so hard, and her work ethic was passed down to all of us.”

With the amazing number of songs and shows under Rosanne Cash’s belt, that much is certainly clear.

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Inspire(d) had a great time talking on the phone with Cash earlier this fall – check out some of that conversation here, then head over to luther.edu to get your tickets to Cash’s Center Stage Series show at Luther College in Decorah November 12!

You’re not only a talented and prolific singer and songwriter, but an author of books and essays and columns – has writing always been a part of your life?

Oh yes, always. Since pre-teen, at least.

Is the creative process totally different when you’re writing words for readers vs. writing songs for listeners?

I mean your toolkit’s a little different and the form is a little different – but it all comes from one source. I write a lot of essays…for Oxford American, the New York Times, Rolling Stone…I enjoy it. It’s kind of refreshing – to free myself up from a rhyme scheme. I like the interplay of written song and prose. I’ll write both out sometimes – from prose to song and back – as I try to work it all out.

You’re the mother of five kids – how did your work change after children?

After you have a baby, there’s basically two years where all you do is raise a baby. There were times where I thought, “am I ever going to write again?” But for me, it made sense to carve out time for a baby. I was lucky it worked out that I could do it.

It made me able to write in short spurts, you know, being interrupted every five minutes. And that was actually really useful – not having the luxury to sit down for eight hours to write was good for me. I’ve learned to write from pretty much anywhere.

see rosanne cash live

Johnny Cash, aka dad… I can’t not mention him, of course.

People always say that. Like they can’t ask about my dad, but you can!

Do you ever get sick of talking about Johnny Cash?

Well, no. I love my dad, and I don’t get sick of talking about him. I do start to wonder whether other people my age still get asked about their parents. Really! Do other people have to talk about their parents all the time?! (laughs)

Over the past several years, you’ve worked with Arkansas State University on the restoration of the Johnny Cash Boyhood home in Historic Dyess Colony (dyesscash.astate.edu). Did this open up some new (or renewed) memories for you?

It was a moving project – to go back to a place where your father was raised. And the things I learned about my grandmother…how tough her life was. I’m a modern woman in New York City; I have every amenity available to me, but then you go two generations back to a family of cotton farmers. They didn’t have electricity – my grandmother worked taking care of seven kids all day and still managed to go out and pick cotton.

And I thought, ‘I couldn’t do that.’ The things she went through – there’s really gotta be some tenacity there. I just hope I inherited some of it.

I adored my grandmother. When I was pregnant with my first baby – I heard horror stories of how labor could go and I asked my grandma, ‘So, Grandma, how do you get through it?’ And she said, ‘Honey, you just endure it.’ And that really stuck with me.

There were so many things she just endured.

What do you miss most about having your dad around?

I miss both my parents. You know, they were my parents, and you miss both your parents. I miss the things all people miss about their parents. I wish I’d taken their advice. I wish had asked for advice. I wish I had asked things about their early lives. You just don’t think about it when you’re young and raising your own kids.

You work with your husband, fellow musician John Leventhal, all the time. What’s the best and worst thing about working with your spouse on projects?

The best thing, I think, is the depth of the conversation you can get to about what you’re doing. The lack of self-consciousness with things that you might not show to anyone else. The honest feedback…

And those are also the worst things. You feel free to criticize. It can turn personal, although I think we’ve learned to avoid that over the years. We still get into arguments over the some things, but generally in service to the song. It’s always for the song.

Do you have a favorite show in memory?

Yeah, well, there are many. It happens unexpectedly. You’ll be in some town in the Midwest in some renovated theatre and you never expect the audience to be so there with you and connected to what you’re doing.

And then there are the shows that you expect to be great, and they live up to those expectations and more. For me, that was Carnegie Hall in February (2016). It felt like a culmination of almost 40 years of work – that I had earned this moment. I felt like our souls were on fire the whole show.

You’re definitely one to stand up for yourself and other artists, even in the political arena – you even testified for the Subcommittee on Intellectual Property in 2014. With everything that’s going on right now in our country, we here at Inspire(d) feel it’s important to stay positive. From your most optimistic side, what is an exciting thing you see coming up for America?

I feel like congress is listening. Sometimes artists have to give up, sometimes because they can’t make enough money at it, and that’s heartbreaking to me. That’s why I advocate for artists rights and intellectual copyrights. We need to protect artists – care for them – and it feels like congress is on board.

And even though there is so much tension and conflict and bad behaviors in this election – that’s the negative part – the good part is that people really care. They are involved in the democratic process. And I hope the voting poll numbers swell this November.