All’s well that Groundswell

(Left to right) Amanda Churchill, Jess Smith, and Danny Churchill of Eustace the Dragon pose at Smiths home in St. Paul. The local folk band is one of many musical acts that will perform at Grounds and Sounds music festival at Groundswell in St. Paul on August 15.

Juliet Farmer

(Left to right) Amanda Churchill, Jess Smith, and Danny Churchill of Eustace the Dragon pose at Smith’s home in St. Paul. The local folk band is one of many musical acts that will perform at Grounds and Sounds music festival at Groundswell in St. Paul on August 15.

Grant Tillery

Andrew Thoreen embodies a DIY ethos in his music career, without crossing the line into punk territory. The Har-Di-Har frontman has community organizer chops that make him an asset when putting together concerts, including this year’s Grounds & Sounds music festival in St Paul. 
 
While Grounds & Sounds stays true to its grassroots origins, Thoreen’s presence makes the motions easier to run through.
 
“The first year we did it was more volunteer driven,” Groundswell general manager Megan Greulich said. “For a grassroots thing, we thought it was a smashing success. Of course, it was super cold. We had it too early in the year. It was rainy — we were all soaked putting up the tent.”
 
2015 marks the third year of Groundswell’s Grounds & Sounds music festival. This year’s event will be held next Saturday, a far cry from the gloomy May chill of the 
first event. 
 
Hosted by local comedians Joey Hamburger and Drew Janda, Grounds & Sounds is centered around two stages of local music — one indie-folk heavy stage outdoors and an experimental music showcase indoors — featuring a diverse lineup that includes the likes of Tabah, RONiiA and Paul Metzger.
 
Art vendors will line the street in front of Groundswell, and a food menu relying on ingredients from their sponsors, Dogwood Coffee and Flat Earth Brewing will feed hungry revelers.
 
While the partnership between Thoreen and Groundswell began through friendship, he seemed to be the perfect fit to organize Grounds & Sounds because of his
understanding of the economic difficulties musicians endure in their day-to-day lives. If anyone could create an economically feasible free music festival, Thoreen is the guy.
 
“I saw that there was a need for somebody to come in and organize [Grounds & Sounds],” Thoreen said. “The main idea is to treat bands well — that’s the heart of the idea of
putting on shows. Most of the time, bands are not treated well.”
 
With his band Har-Di-Har, Thoreen has experienced the harsh realities of how a bottom-line economy affects small bands in terms of self-promotion and building an audience.
 
In a corporatized music world, it’s hard for small outfits to flourish.
 
“The band gets the date, and it’s on them to hustle to get people to come out,” Thoreen said. “If people don’t come out, then the band’s going to have a hard time getting a date next time.”
 
Thoreen’s can-do attitude and grit have brought him success organizing concert and music festivals in the past, however. He cut his curating teeth in Cedar Falls, Iowa, while studying music at the University of Northern Iowa. He drew upon incredible local talent and created a music-filled street party with the cornucopia of small bands populating the town.
 
“[In] Cedar Falls, Iowa, the ratio of fantastic bands to how big that city is really amazing,” Thoreen said. “[The scene is] super supportive. Pretty much anybody that plays in a band is going to go to the cool show that’s happening that weekend. Most people in the audience are musicians, writers, poets or professors at the university.”
 
The festival’s goal, however, is to expand beyond the neighborhood’s scope. While Grounds & Sounds began as a centralized affair designed to bring arts opportunities to the underfunded Galtier Community School, Thoreen’s acumen has Groundswell’s management hoping for a raised profile while retaining the festival’s original cause and spirit.
 
He’ll also stay on with the cafe as a music organizer beyond Grounds & Sounds.
 
“[Thoreen] is going to be taking it beyond the festival,” Greulich said. “This is his first big project here. He loves Groundswell.”
 
Thoreen’s collaborative nature and passion for other bands defines his career in music. Without the community aspect, he said he feels like a lot of the art’s importance, significance and base would be lost.
 
“In the music industry, there’s two main choices: You can work to get an edge over the other bands that are making the same music that you are, or you can work to be supportive, create community and lift up the musicians you think are talented,” Thoreen said. “All we have as people who are making art and making music is each other to continue to fuel ourselves.”