Over the years, Owatonna has produced a sizable list of musicians who went on to build successful careers.
Boston-based drummer and Owatonna High School graduate Billy Conway went on to play with nationally acclaimed bands Morphine and Treat Her Right. Har Mar Superstar and members of national touring bands Rogue Wave, Cloud Cult and Owl City also grew up here. Many have returned to Owatonna to perform.
When the city built a band shell in Central Park in 2003, Mark Woodrich saw an opportunity and ran with it – booking summer shows where native musicians returned to play. Nationally acclaimed Jeffrey Foucault – featuring Conway on drums – played there last year.
Woodrich also began renting out the old library at Pillsbury College, and converted it to the Concert Club of Owatonna. Minnesota bands with heavy airplay on Minnesota Public Radio’s the Current like Dusty Heart, the Pines and the Roe Family Singers played there thanks to Woodrich.
After any given show at the Concert Club, fans encouraged him to put on more than the four shows a year he’d been booking there since 2016.
“People kept telling me I need to do more, so it gave me encouragement,” Woodrich said.
He couldn’t have picked a better moment when he set his sights on opening a downtown Owatonna music venue and record store, it turns out city leaders were thinking the same thing. Owatonna has seen a series of revitalization efforts in recent years to bring back business to the downtown area. One particular storefront had been occupied by various owners, but nothing lasted. Woodrich took notice.
“I kept peeking in a few windows, going ‘well that would make a good space, there’s plenty of room.’”
Woodrich entered a contest held by the Owatonna Economic Development Authority (EDA) in an effort to further revitalize the business district.
Contestants created a business proposal and the winner would receive a $20,000 loan to jump start the business. It turns out his proposal was exactly what they were looking for.
“When I pitched that idea; that’s when I found out that actually was their mission; to combine businesses that work together that drive a variety of people downtown at night,” Woodrich said. “So without even knowing it I pitched what they were looking for.”
Out of six proposals, the EDA selected Woodrich’s, so he got to work renovating an old storefront that had been vacant for years. The Music Space of Owatonna is now open sporadically as the finishing touches are completed; Woodrich expects it to be fully open to customers and concert goers by April. Stay updated at www.facebook.com/musicspaceowatonna.
On a particularly cold winter day, Woodrich is found preparing the space for its opening. Other than the bars and a couple restaurants, most of downtown closes at night. Regularly working into the evening with the lights on, he invites curious passersby in for a look as he fills the front shop area with records on display.
“I’ve got thousands of records to sell,” he says.
In the digital age, vinyl is making a comeback of sorts. Twin Cities based Johnny Go Records has been so popular it’s expanded to three locations. Woodrich himself is a customer who says owner John Kass’ business model of buying them up over the past three decades at garage sales and reselling them as they enjoy a resurgence is finally paying off. Customers at the Music Space can expect rare collectibles and modern releases.
“John Kass is a visionary; he’s just been stockpiling for it to come back and it’s back. So I bought a warehouse from him.”
In the meantime, it’s a backbreaking process of reopening a building that until now lay vacant for five years, that means installing new plumbing, getting everything up to code, sorting through records, and booking the first bands.
It will be the first nighttime gathering place downtown devoted to music, featuring non-alcoholic drinks like unique and hard-to-find craft sodas and more frequent concerts of touring, local and regional musicians, at four shows a month.
While the Concert Club became known for its roster of Americana and folk music, expect the Music Space to include a more eclectic variety adding jazz and hip-hop to the mix.
Woodrich already is in contact with bands that easily draw a good crowd when they come through the Twin Cities on tour, and he thinks Owatonna’s success with the Concert Club will attract a larger mix of musicians and fans.
“I’ve been planning this for a long time,” he said. I think the time is right. I’ve gotten a lot of encouragement and support from the public that I didn’t used to get.”
By Dan Greenwood