Preserving roots music in Dinkytown

A concert series out of a church basement started this March to promote the genre.

by Sadman Rahman

Pastor Doug Donley leads services at University Baptist Church in Dinkytown by day, but at night, he transforms the building’s basement into a music venue.
The Roots Cellar Music Series, a monthly program Donley started in March, aims to promote different kinds of roots music — like bluegrass, folk and Americana — in the Dinkytown area. Though they’re seven months into the series, Donley said the venue has yet to gain popularity among University of Minnesota student musicians. 
“We would like to have some more student bands and reach out more to the U community,” he said. 
The concerts are usually attended by his friends and acquaintances, Donley said, and less so by University students.
The series started as a way for him to explore his own passion for roots music, Donley said, adding that the venue’s small size — it can only hold about 120 people — allows for an interactive experience.
The church’s cellar had been vacant for two and a half years, after being used as an independent school for 40 years, he said.
Dinkytown has served as a historic folk music scene since the 1960s, he said, with musicians like Bob Dylan launching their careers there before leaving their Twin Cities roots for bigger venues.
Kitty Cat Klub manager Tom Rimarcik said roots music isn’t very popular, making it hard to attract fans to the Dinkytown area and other Twin Cities neighborhoods.
Genres like bluegrass, jazz and folk don’t draw as big of a crowd as more eclectic and contemporary ones like dance music do, Rimarcik said.
“I think the younger generation doesn’t care about jazz — with exceptions, of course,” he said. 
Still, venues like the Cedar Cultural Center, the 331club and the Nomad World Pub look for musicians who play roots music to perform at their sites, Rimarcik said.
The Kitty Cat Klub primarily uses social media as their marketing tool, he said, but performers also print their own flyers to get the word out.
The venue sometimes hosts performers like students and professors from the music school, Rimarcik said.
This Saturday, University music education graduate Kim Bahmer will perform at the Roots Cellar Music Series with her group, the Kim and Arthur Band.
As a music education teacher in the Roseville public schools, Bahmer met Donley through the church’s Sacred Harp Singing group, where students and church members
have been practicing every Tuesday night since 2005, when she created the group.
She said Donley likes to join musicians in singing the harmonies, and she looks forward to his enthusiasm this weekend.
The band will be performing songs in different roots music styles, Bahmer said, adding that she hopes the concert will be casual, which would complement the space.
“It’s a humble venue,” she said.