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Veeder: Celebrating all the music makers under our big North Dakota sky

WATFORD CITY, N.D. -- It's a great time to be a musician in North Dakota. This thought crossed my mind as I sat in the back of the Belle Mehus Auditorium in Bismarck last weekend, dressed up to celebrate the second annual North Dakota Music Award...

Veeder
Jessie Veeder

WATFORD CITY, N.D. -- It's a great time to be a musician in North Dakota.

This thought crossed my mind as I sat in the back of the Belle Mehus Auditorium in Bismarck last weekend, dressed up to celebrate the second annual North Dakota Music Awards.

The awards ceremony is a concept put together last year by the owners of URL Radio, a local online radio station that often dedicates air time to hosting interviews and playing North Dakota music out of their offices in downtown Bismarck.

Their enthusiasm for their work inspired them to put a call out to the fans to nominate and vote for their favorite musical acts, teachers, writers and venues and then celebrate them in a ceremony in the following months.

The concept is in its infancy, but after the first year's efforts wrapped, it became clear this sort of recognition of the music makers, spread from Ellendale to Williston, was a refreshing and well-received concept, one that fans and musicians alike wanted in on.

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"Who do you dance to on a Friday night at your favorite bar after a long week?"

"Who helped your child to fall in love with playing the trumpet in school?"

"What locally written songs move you?"

When these questions are finally posed, the importance of the answers ring a little clearer and suddenly we realize we want to spread the word about those talented kids who play bluegrass gospel music in church every Sunday.

Because while North Dakota isn't known for its proximity to big stages and big connections, it's always amazing to me to find myself surrounded by such big talent, big ambition and big passion for the craft.

And inside that beautiful theater last weekend, an equally beautiful crowd gathered to celebrate folk, rock, rap, classical and bluegrass, piano players, teachers and marching bands, each of us likely to be categorized by our shoes or our hair style.

Yes, it turns out North Dakota musicians are an eclectic group, and I'll tell you it's been a nice discovery for me to hear the different ways this harsh and beautiful place sounds to other music makers.

And it makes sense that a place like this would cultivate such diverse and inspired sounds. There's likely no place in this country that needs or appreciates music more than us Northerners looking to endure our long, cold winters or celebrate under the big summer sky.

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It's been the case through the generations and I can't help but think about the sounds these prairies have heard -- the sharp echo of a fiddle against the wooden walls of a barn, the sound of the drums thumping like a heartbeat to the step of moccasins, the big voice of a girl practicing her school solo outside, the neighbor kid's garage band, your cousin singing James Taylor songs around the campfire, the Nashville band at the county fair.

This big sky has room to hear it all and endless ways to inspire a song. The music makers have always known this to be true. But as I watched a woman who has played bluegrass music for years accept an award on behalf of her band that participates in a festival along the shores of the Missouri River in the summer, I couldn't help but appreciate all of the new ways this community is creating to hear and celebrate their artists.

In a time where access to popular music is available at the click of a button, it seems, little by little, North Dakotans are putting stages and sound systems in breweries and restaurants and hiring local bands instead of relying on jukeboxes. They're envisioning local music festivals, hosting open mic nights and sharing YouTube videos of the neighbor kid playing Mozart on his keyboard.

Last week, my community cut the ribbon on a new multimillion-dollar high school. Part of the blueprint includes a state-of-the-art performing arts theater to be used by the students and the community.

That's a huge vote of confidence for the students and rural arts, and it's so refreshing to me.

Because you might not be a poet, a rapper or a singer of country songs, but you're inspiring the music we make. You're helping us tell your story.

And I thank you for celebrating and encouraging the sound.

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