Durkees’ Front Lawn Concerts a community connector

By Maya Betti

Under the foliage of light-strung trees, dozens of people gathered May 22 on the front lawn of the Paul and Kim Durkee home to enjoy another night of music and fun.

As the Irish tunes of The Northerly Gales filled the air, children dashed back and forth across the street, dogs sat contently next to their owners and Kim served homemade cookies to every neighbor.  

The event was one of many Music on the Front Lawn concerts hosted by the Durkee family in front of their house at 1386 Grantham St. These Front Lawn concerts, which have been held since October 2020, have become a way for the neighbors and the wider local community to connect through music.

         The concept arose from the isolation of the pandemic when music could no longer be enjoyed safely indoors. The Durkees came upon a novel solution.

“We knew of some bands and musicians and we said ‘Hey, we can do this in our front yard,’’ Paul said.

         The couple hosted four times in the fall of 2020 and then eight in the summer of 2021, believing that would be all.

However, before the season was over, musicians started calling to ask if they could play at their venue the following year, and, just like that, Music on the Front Lawn became a local staple.

         While the venue itself is unique, another aspect draws musicians in: The generosity of the neighborhood. Despite only being compensated through tips, musicians typically receive no less than $1,100, with some earning up to $4,600.

“They generally make more money here than they would at almost any venue in the Twin Cities,” Paul explained.

         Randy Conaway, who does vocals, bass and various other instruments for The Northerly Gales, is also a neighbor to the Durkees, living just three houses down. He remembers that sometimes while his band was practicing, they would hear the concerts, stop practicing and come enjoy the show. He eventually gave Paul a CD, which led the Gales to perform this year.

         The band members, who have been together for nearly 10 years, noted how delightfully different the Durkees’ set-up is.

“We’re used to playing in a really crowded space where we can barely hear what we’re playing and we barely hear anyone around us,” said Tamara Maluda, who does fiddle and vocals for the band.  “It’s kind of a treat to get to play something like this where we’re really exposed and people can really hear what we’re actually doing.”.

         Getting selected to play at the Durkee venue is not first come, first serve. Paul noted he has a long list, currently around 30 names, of bands that want in. He and Kim want the community to know they’ll find good bands, which is why they listen to the bands before selecting them and seek out a variety.

         Paul and Kim’s dedication to find good bands has not gone unnoticed by attendees.

“It’s good music,” said Charlene Chan-Muehlbauer, a local community member.  “Some of these bands are spectacular, and everyone’s always happy. You can see how much effort they  (the Durkees) put into making their music really good for the audience.”

          Karen Kistler, another community member and long-time friend of the Durkees, loves the combination of grassroots music, community gathering and the outdoor environment.

“It’s one of the highlights of the summer and they’ve developed this into a gorgeous, gorgeous, comfortable down-home kind of night,” Kistler said

         The Durkees said they are happy to connect community and music. “Between the appreciation from the bands and the appreciation from the people who come, it’s amazing how many people appreciate listening to live music,” Kim said.

         The Music on the Front Lawn series continues into October with concerts running from 6 to 8 p.m.  

Upcoming shows:

  • June 27 – Erin McCawley’s Harrison Street Band (please note that Good Morning Bedlam canceled their show)
  • July 11 – Belfast Cowboys with Robert Wilkinson/Steve Brantseg opening
  • July 25 – The Stella Vees
  • August 8 – The De’Lindas

Maya Betti, a journalism student at St. Olaf College, is a summer intern for the Bugle.

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