Why Not? Minot Festival

Why Not? Festival 2011 from Cantankerous Titles on Vimeo.

There aren’t many events that we go to every single year for Microcosm, so when we make repeated appearances it’s either a matter of three different things: Getting to catch up with very special friends who live there, consistently awesome support for what we are doing, or a truly amazing and inspiring event. Somehow Why Not? Minot Fest offers all three.

You wouldn’t exactly think of Minot as a cultural epicenter or even associate it with art, necessarily. Which is why it surprised me so much when I made my first trip back in 2006, after seven years away, to discover a vibrant music scene at The Red Carpet, a DIY venue on the outskirts of the city. 

I was confused for Joshua Ploeg, who I was on tour with, and had apparently delivered a memorable performance in 1994. We sold literally every piece of merch we had with us that night, which admittedly was only a few boxes, as we were traveling on Amtrak.

You see, Minot knows that when you support the people on tour they will come back. And they’ve also got heart. Talking on the phone with Why Not? Fest co-founder Billy Luetzen, he expressed how disillusioned he was going on tour with his band The Father, Son, and Holy Smokes where the shows were not always well organized or promoted at all. It gave him further resolve to do the best job possible in Minot.

And the best job possible became the order of the city. 

So when I got the phone call that our presence was requested at the first Why Not? Fest in 2010, I felt like I owed it to Minot. So we booked our tour around it and I’m fairly sure we left  as much merch in Minot as we did on the rest of the tour combined. 

Not content to rest on their laurels, the scene got together and created a new DIY venue, after the collapse of The Red Carpet, called Pangea House. It was the hard work of Luetzen, his buddies Jake, Daniel, Jazmine Wolfe, and no less than sixteen people named Chris. Whenever any of them are asked who is responsible for doing the work, they will all endlessly point to each other in the most charming manner. 

And not content to limit themselves to music, Why Not? Fest has featured belly dancing, improv comedy, theatre, films, an old amusement park, a dunk tank, a short shorts competition (for men), readings, a worst mac and cheese cookoff, and most notably, after the Souris River flooded in 2011, destroying much of Minot and straining an already tight housing market, the fest organized attendees to do free cleanup of people’s homes. 

And if you’re thinking, “All of this sounds great and all but is the music any good?” Well, that’s the best part. I have since come to believe The Future of Music Coalition that local and regional scenes operate best when left alone from the trappings of the music industry or other barometers of commercial “success.” Bands like Mr Dad, Chapstick, Victor Shores, Kids with Beards, Acoustic Sparkle Additive, Idaho Green, and Johnny Unicorn are all innovative songwriters and performers in a way that is captivating for even myself, who is absolutely burnt out after going to shows for twenty years. The fact that you’ve likely never heard of any of these bands—even if you’re a devout music fan—and that most of them don’t even have a website is, I believe, the reason they have been so successful at being great bands and creating a great festival. And the reason why we’ll be there every year that Why Not? Fest continues to happen!