The first time I ever heard Caroline Smith, I was with a friend and a cup of jasmine tea on a Thursday night in a Northfield venue unknown to many musicians and fans. The Chapel, a cozy upstairs venue that hosts music and art events at 310 ½ Division Street, is run by Michael Morris.
In September, the Chapel put on North by Northfield, bringing in local and Pacific Northwest bands for three full days of music. This past weekend I had the pleasure of chatting with Morris at Tandem Bagels about his vision with the venue, his two record labels and making Northfield weird.
Morris spent much of the last decade touring with his bands, which include Dewi Sant, Valley Fair and Wesley Church and the Fabulous Vanguards. He split his time between the Twin Cities and Seattle before settling down in Northfield based on the recommendation from bandmates. In Northfield, Morris found culture and a pervasive interest in art, but a subtly divided community. Everyone knows that the Olaf and Carleton rivalry is mostly nonexistent, but a pseudo-competitive relationship is often stressed over a collaborative one. The older Northfield crowd has bohemian associations with the college music scene. Morris believes this has opened the Chapel to "try to bring a segregated town together."
During our conversation, Morris continually stressed the importance of giving back to Northfield in a meaningful way. He described the Chapel as a "listening space," not a "beer-first, music-second" venue frequented by trashed college kids. His goal is to "bring together parts of the community that were not sharing intimate, vulnerable and meaningful human experience."
Looking forward, this means expanding the notion of a traditional music venue and placing more emphasis on the space itself. Partly inspired by a realization that the Chapel, located up a long flight of stairs, is not handicapped-accessible and by the association that listeners make with a space and a certain genre of music, Morris is looking into alternative music spaces in Northfield. The Chapel will present shows at halls in the Eagles Club, the Northfield Arts Guild, the Key and the First United Church of Christ.
A mutually beneficial relationship, these concerts will increase the visibility of both the Chapel and of the space in which shows are held. Many of these shows will feature bands on one of Morris' record labels, Rice County Records and Plastic Horse Records. Morris also runs The Barn, an all-analog studio in Northfield where many of these bands record.
One of these events is right around the corner on Thursday, Oct. 30 at Heartwork Yoga Studio where Portland electronic folk band Musée Mécanique will be performing. Listeners will kick their shoes off and escape from the horrors of academic life for an evening. I'll be there. With my jasmine tea.
Comparing the Chapel's goals in Northfield to the official slogan of Austin, Texas' small businesses, Morris explains that he wants to make Northfield weird.
"It should be weird… but it's not," Morris said.
So come out to a show at the Chapel, or one of its affiliated venues, and help Michael Morris make Northfield weird.