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Little Red Wing Goes Big with Downtown Music Festival

April 11, 2018

When Red Wing resident and frontman for the Double Down Daredevils, Tom Peschges, heard that there was going to be a music festival downtown in February, he was skeptical.

“They do know we are in Minnesota, right?” he thought.

But now Tom is a believer in Big Turn Music Fest. And who wouldn’t be after the event successfully drew in artists like Caroline Smith, Dave Simonett and Porcupine to play shows in Red Wing’s quaint downtown?

The festival went off without a hitch Feb. 16-17, featuring more than 100 bands and 18 venues. And that was in year one.

“The concept was so well thought out and so well organized that it ran smoothly and by all accounts it was a huge success,” he said. “It was exciting to be eating pizza and watching all these people walking by on the way to more music. The crowds for some of the bands were at capacity for their venues. It was like having a front row seat to the creative economy flexing its muscle.”

It’s true; those behind Big Turn – founder Sam Brown, who was unavailable for comment on this story, and a small committee of creatives – say there were several years behind the scenes coordinating a hundred concerts within a couple blocks in unconventional venues, like a framework shop or comic book store.

But word on the snow-covered streets is that it all paid off.

Sam’s cousin, Adam Brown, served as the art director creating all the festival’s branding and marketing. He said Sam called him up one day a few years ago and they sat down and started talking. “It changed from an idea to ‘Alright, let’s give it a whirl,’” he said.

“Let’s bring this festival mentality to Red Wing – it’s such a beautiful community with great people,” Adam said. “What really differentiates it is the winter, and the winters get pretty long around here. To really help buffer that and get spring kicked off … it manifested from that idea of being a different style of festival, wanting different venues to give an experience unlike any other.”

Festival organizers ramped up for Big Turn in January with a pre-festival show at St. Paul’s Turf Club featuring three artists performing in Red Wing the following month: General B and The Wiz with TABAH and Lydia Liza.

Enthusiasm already surrounds Big Turn’s latest announcement: the second annual festival dates. Go ahead and mark calendars for Feb. 22-23, 2019.

So far in the weeks that have passed since downtown Red Wing revolved into a hub for regional music, incoming reviews suggest there will be some adjustments to next year’s venues, since some weren’t big enough for the crowd.

A big inaugural turnout isn’t necessarily a bad problem. Big Turn sold 2,200 wristbands for the two-day community event.

Patty Brown, Red Wing Chamber of Commerce executive director, said the city established very specific capacity numbers and a lot of venues were full with some lines forming outside.

“That speaks volumes right there,” she said. “It was very attractive right off the bat to have it in the dead of winter when our businesses could really use some help and make a really positive impact.”

The festival’s founder is her nephew, and she said Sam was thinking of putting on the festival for about four years before it came to fruition.

Sam has successfully created Midwest Music Fest, now going nine years strong in Winona. But it was so rocking that Midwest expanded to La Crosse in 2016. Though Sam is no longer heavily involved with Midwest, the city of Red Wing entrusted him to start a festival in his hometown because he clearly knows how to throw a good party.

Patty said Sam did a great job stating his mission early on that he wanted a walkable festival.

“He was very adamant about that. He wanted it to be very walkable for people to stroll the streets and not have to drive.”

Because of this, Patty said they implemented several non-traditional venues due to the fact that downtown doesn’t have enough lounges and bars to host all the bands. Instead, venues included an array of retail space, a bicycle shop, the YMCA, plus a few bars, a coffee shop, church, bookstore and library.

“A music festival is typically in a location in a field where people come to it. This was totally different in that people went to all the different venues,” Patty said. “It was a unique model that hadn’t been used here before.”

The chamber director said it was a great business booster for downtown Red Wing, “where they may be competing with a festival if it were at a different location.”

Along with an eclectic mix of venues were a variety of performers. From hip-hop acts like Heiruspecs and Toki Wright, to rock headliner Porcupine, and indie artists like Smith and Simonett, there were plenty of big names on the lineup as well as many novice acts looking ahead to promising music careers.

Tom said the stage set-ups and sound techs were awesome and his band saw the same professionalism at the other venues, which he was sure to check out after his band’s performance.

“The lineup offered something for every musical taste,” he said.

Brian Stewart was the festival’s onsite luthier – a fancy name for the guy who fixes guitars.  A highlight for Brian was chatting with one of his favorite Minnesota artists, Jeremy Messersmith, who wanted Brian to take a look at his guitar before his show.

As owner of Tree Strings Guitar Shop in Red Wing, Brian said Big Turn was a valuable addition to the city’s music scene. Overall, he felt it was a positive experience and next year looks promising for the festival’s return.

“I think it was great,” he said. “It was done very well considering it was the first time anything like this had been done here. The turnout was really good, better than they had expected.”

To learn more about Big Turn Music Fest, check out


By Kim Hyatt

All photos credited to Bob Good Photography Studio

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