335 Concerts and Still Counting

Origin and support

Thoroughly woven into the fabric of a welcoming community, Grassroots Concerts has for more than a quarter century presented live music from artists who have put us on the national folk map. Our success is due to volunteers and audiences who like to listen.

The series is rooted in the era of river fests and house concerts, evolving beyond river bank and living room to serve larger gatherings in a sustainable schedule of spring and fall Fridays. Remaining dedicated to the intimacy and interactive environment, Grassroots has drawn music lovers to shows hosted in civic halls, churches, and for several years the Nisswa Community Center.

Now hosted at Journey Church's Live Well Nightclub and Coffee Bar in Nisswa, the non-profit series holds the line on the price of admission thanks to grant support from the Five Wings Arts Council, a regional authority periodically using tax revenue approved by Minnesota voters.

"Artists love our series, love the acoustic venue, appreciate not playing in a bar, and love that people are listening," said Dawn Stattine, artistic director, who books the performers.

Audience members have driven from as far as Saskatchewan, Canada, and routinely attend from the Twin Cities and most consistently from a radius of about 60 miles.

Among the treasured relationships with everyone involved is that with Journey Church, which provides a comfortable setting more like a living room than a sanctuary, complete with locally roasted Stonehouse Coffee and baked goodies. The concert series helps Journey maintain the comfortable setting and at every concert accepts food shelf donations that are shared across the area.

Other ancillary benefits that result from the series include the Friday night bump in business to Nisswa, from pizza to pub. Nisswa Motel discounts lodging for Grassroots artists.

Current board members are Katherine Davich, Maryann and Robert Eliason, Jan and John Lobben, Peter Lofstrom, and Dawn and Joe Stattine.


More than 100 musicians since 1988 have graced the Grassroots stage, including several who return when asked. Many don't ordinarily play concerts in communities with a population under 1,000. For this series, they will take a detour.

They often perform alone, with instrumentation perfected in countless gigs across the globe. Individual artist styles have included Celtic, Bluegrass, South African, New Age, and Blues. There's even been Canadian step-dancing (April Verch).

They have commanded larger fees and attracted thousands in a single show (Leo Kottke, the late Richie Havens, Greg Brown), but know the special energy and love to be shared among 150 to 200 seriously interested fans on these special Friday nights.

A complete list of past performers and the dates they played our series is on the Previous Artists page of this website.

"I love to hear a good story, and folk musicians all have that in their songwriting," says Janice Bradshaw, one of the concert series originators. "They tell the stories of their lives, of the people they meet and the places they've been."

"When Tom Paxton's wife said our sound system ran as well as the best, that said a lot," recalls Ron Miles, former artistic director. "Artists value the listening venue. Occasionally, one is moved to debut a song. Paxton did." ("There Was No Time to Say Good-Bye")


Grassroots Concerts: A New Home

Popular series lands in Nisswa's Journey Church


The lakes area live music scene is packed with variety for fans of rock, country, punkabilly and hip-hop for the bar crowd. And there's plenty of faith-based and old-fashioned gospel sound around.

For thousands of folks, the last two decades include cherished hours listening to scores of artists bonding with an alternative concert family. For them, Grassroots Concerts is the Friday night option.

Since 1988, a corps of music lovers has offered intimate, interactive musical refuge. Concert patrons from near and far relish a couple hours of seat time absent the big screen or alcoholic beverage. They are happy to have a refreshing change.

It all began in the day of house concerts, which filled living rooms in Little Falls and Baxter, in which musicians shared mostly their original songs. From homes, the venue moved to a town hall, the after-hours medical center lobby, the Congregational Church, the Odd Fellows Hall and Nisswa Community Center.

This spring, with the series facing its own economic crisis, a new commitment emerged to sustain the loyal following and keep the door open for newcomers.

Now hosted at the Live Well Nightclub and Coffee Bar in Nisswa's Journey Church, the concerts are offered at a rolled-back admission price of $10 per adult. Although the spring season was pared to three events (on the last Friday of February, March and April), the new concert home has proven to be a perfect fit.

Now, as musicians book this area into their tour schedules, the likelihood of more well-attended showcases seems as promising as the performances by popular folk musicians. The list of candidates for return engagements includes such favorites as John Gorka and James Keelaghan for the fall.

Those are two of many to have graced the Grassroots Concerts stage more than once. They are drawn back in a mutual admiration for the venue that is now able to comfortably accommodate 200 guests in soft seats and cozy couches amid relaxed lighting and the bonus of fresh-brewed Stonehouse coffee, baked goods and cold soft drinks at the Live Well.

The first concert this season paired internationally known Twin Cities talents Peter Ostroushko and Dan Chouinard. The March 27 outing brings the gifted Cam Waters from Rochester and the April 24 show will introduce the April Verch Band, a Carolina-based quartet.

When musicians decide to play for this series they often do so as informed performers. They look at the long list of fellow artists who have preceded them in Nisswa. They understand that a gig good enough for Tom Paxton, Leo Kottke, Eliza Gilkyson and Greg Brown is going to be just right for them.

STEVE WALLER, Breezy Point, is a volunteer for the nonprofit Grassroots Concerts.

4:36 PM on Wednesday, April 6, 2005

Good friends, good music

Grassroots tunes up for 200th Concert

April 29, 2005

By Christine Lupella

Ron Miles remembers spending Saturday nights with the Gibson family, surrounded by the sounds of banjos, guitars and fiddles blending together in passionate harmony. Martha Gibson would make a big pot of ice tea as the friends played long into the sultry Georgia night.

Miles is the artistic director and one of the founders of the Grassroots Concerts, held at the Nisswa Community Center throughout the spring and fall each year since 1988.

Miles grew up in Piedmont, Georgia. "The melting pot of music," he said. The sounds of old time Gospel and hillbilly music permeated his soul. He and his friends sometimes hitchhiked to Nashville, Tennessee, on weekends, to watch numerous performances at the Grand Ole Opry.

Ron learned to play guitar after years of piano lessons. The guitar is more portable, he said-more suited for travel, and custom-made for campfire settings.

Miles headed north to Minnesota in 1960, guiding canoe trips in the summer and going south for the winter. He married his late wife-a member of the ski patrol, and spent the winter of 1966 at Sugar Hill Ski Resort in Grand Rapids, earning his way through guitar and song.

He returned to Minnesota on a permanent basis in 1972, working for the state park system.

"There was always some form of music," he said.

Meanwhile, Gary and Janice Bradshaw, who co-founded the Grassroots Concerts with Miles, were nurturing their own musical interests. The couple attended the Winnipeg Folk Festival in 1978-and fell in love with the folk style.

A few years later, Miles and the Bradshaws met at the Mississippi River Revival, a series of concerts held in communities along the Mississippi River to raise money for environmental restoration.

They began holding and attending house concerts.

"We would host musicians to come in and play," Miles said. "The whole idea was the intimacy of getting good music in front of anyone who was interested."

A Little Falls couple who frequently hosted the concerts moved away. "There wasn't any venue," Gary said.

The team created their own venue, and the first Grassroots Concert was held November 11, 1988, at Long Lake Town Hall. Gull Lake native Jim Miller performed. Admission was $3.

The second concert, featuring Peter Ostroushko and Dean Magraw, was held at the First Congregational Church, Brainerd. The now-defunct Oddfellows Hall in Brainerd became the Grassroots Concerts' home base until fall of 1992, when the concerts moved to the Nisswa Community.

The concerts have been held there ever since, although several "bigger" acts have performed at the Pequot Lakes High School auditorium, to accommodate a larger crowd.

Miles said the move to larger venues was "simply to try to offer it (the musical experience) to more people, without losing the intimacy."

That intimacy has been preserved. A Grassroots Concert becomes a communion of thought and emotion between musician and audience. A patchwork tapestryhangs on the wall, a symbol of simpler times and the lives stitched together by the continuous thread of music.

The music varies, from Celtic and bluegrass, to Cajun and South African, to New Age and blues. Nationally- and Internationally-known artists have graced the Grassroots stage, many of them more than once.

"It's been a real joy over the years to have this happen," Janice said. She credits Miles with Grassroots' success.

"He's not afraid to call an agent and ask," she said, adding that Miles makes sure there is a "good mix" of performers.

The 200th Grassroots Concert will be at 7 p.m., Friday, April 29. Miles, musician, poet, balladeer, and storyteller-who has never taken the stage in the group's history, will provide the evening's entertainment. The $15 admission is also entry to Grassroots' silent auction.

Nonprofit Grassroots Concerts are held at the Nisswa Community Center. At all shows, seating is first-come, first-served. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. Non-perishable food donations for the local food shelf are always welcome.

Music Links


photo Ron Miles