Planning a Minnesota road trip? Check a local landmark off your bucket list—specifically, one of these places made immortal by shout-outs in song. Get your playlist and your map app ready!
“Kelly’s Bar,” Trampled by Turtles
Our musical road trip starts on Old West Main Street in Red Wing, Minnesota, where a particular bar and grill inspired the lyrics for a song by Trampled by Turtles. With the band’s trademark upbeat Americana vibe, “Kelly’s Bar” sets the pace for a sprightly journey.
The real Kelly’s Bar was where the band’s frontman, Dave Simonett, found himself on a regular basis when he was living in Red Wing. In February 2018, the band dropped the single “Kelly’s Bar” to announce the upcoming release of their album “Life is Good on the Open Road.”
Mitch Anderson, son of the owner and a bartender at Kelly’s, remembers Simonett. “He’d come down a couple nights a week,” Anderson told The Current’s Luke Taylor. “He was really quiet; no one really knew who he was at first, then someone outed him as the singer for Trampled by Turtles.”
“Juicy Lucy” by Sonny Knight & The Lakers
Sonny Knight’s 2014 album “I’m Still Here” opens with a blast of local flavor, but the song isn’t exactly about its namesake hamburgers. “Whoa,” sings Knight, “there that Lucy go walking by right there!”
Since Knight’s death in 2017, though, Matt’s Bar in Minneapolis’ Powderhorn Park neighborhood has become a go-to landmark for fans of the local soul legend. In 2015, the singer stopped by the bar to leave his signature, pose for a photo, and, of course, grab a bite.
General manager Amy Feriancek told The Current’s Cecilia Johnson that Knight said he’d enjoyed many of the bar’s signature burgers over the years, adding, “This is the best one.”
Duluth (or St. Paul)
Haley grew up in Rapid City, South Dakota—but she’s also lived in Duluth, where she’s often welcomed back to play songs including this opening track from her 2016 album, “Impossible Dream.” For many Minnesotans, this song’s gentle vibe and sighing chorus evoke the North Country and the Lake Superior shore.
“I have multiple hometowns,” Haley told Westword. “All my family is based out of Brandon, Manitoba, so that’s kind of the original hometown. I grew up in Rapid City and spent the bulk of my youth there, but then I moved to Duluth for three or four years and kind of cut my teeth on the music scene there. And I’ve been living in St. Paul for almost a decade now. So this is my hometown to me.”
As she sings: “Hometown goes wherever you go.”
“North Country Blues,” Bob Dylan
Some of Dylan’s local references are ambiguous: Is “Positively 4th Street” really about Dinkytown? Where’s “56th and Wabasha”? One of his most haunting songs about Minnesota, though, was clearly inspired by his St. Louis County upbringing.
From his most outspoken period as a political folksinger, this track off of the 1964 “Times They Are A-Changin’” album tells the stark story of a woman who married a miner and initially enjoyed life during the boom years, but then fell into dark desperation when the mining jobs dried up. “My children will go as soon as they grow,” Dylan sings in his character’s voice. “There ain’t nothing here now to hold them.”
“Mythological Beauty,” Big Thief
One hundred and thirteen miles southwest of Hibbing, Minnesota, is the city of Nisswa, where Big Thief frontwoman Adrianne Lenker lived for a period as a child. “Mythological Beauty,” the first single from the band’s sophomore record, “Capacity,” mentions the town in the context of a severe accident the singer suffered when a railroad spike fell out of a treehouse. The gently throbbing song also explores Lenker’s mother’s life and sacrifices. “I’m not quite sure if I’m writing the songs from myself to my future child, or to my inner child, or from my mother to me,” she told Pitchfork in 2017.
“On a Bus to St. Cloud,” Trisha Yearwood
Recorded in 1995, “On a Bus to St. Cloud” by Trisha Yearwood brings our expedition closer to the Twin Cities. The slow and melancholy piano ballad written by singer-songwriter Gretchen Peters appears on Yearwood’s fifth studio album, “Thinkin’ About You.”
There’s also a St. Cloud in Florida, but there’s no doubt about which city Yearwood’s riding this particular bus to. “On a bus to St. Cloud, Minnesota,” she sings, “I thought I saw you there/ With the snow falling down around you/ Like a silent prayer.”
“The Biggest Ball of Twine in Minnesota,” Weird Al Yankovic
Cawker City, Kansas, currently holds the “World’s Largest Ball of Twine” record, a massive lump added to regularly by community members and visitors. But it’s Darwin, Minnesota, that has the “World’s Largest Twine Ball Rolled by One Man,” a feat created by Francis A. Johnson, who worked at his nine-ton marvel for nearly 30 years.
Mimicking a stereotypical Minnesotan accent, Weird Al Yankovic sang “The Biggest Ball of Twine in Minnesota,” released in 1989. The nearly seven-minute song acts as an extremely detailed narrative of his visit to the tourist spot. Still, Yankovic got one important detail wrong: the ball actually weighs 17,400 pounds, not 21,140 pounds as he sings.
“Paisley Park,” Prince
When Prince released his song “Paisley Park” in 1985, the legendary studio didn’t even exist—at least in the physical realm. The second track off his seventh album, “Around the World in a Day,” refers to a utopian place called Paisley Park. It’s a place where “colorful people” gather with smiles on their faces, indicating “profound inner peace.” It’s a place where people can come and leave the worries of reality behind.
Because “Paisley Park” was more of a feeling or idea than one specific place, there were many places and things that were referred to as “Paisley Park.” The tracking of this song took place at the Flying Cloud Drive Warehouse in Eden Prairie, Minnesota, and to Prince that was Paisley Park. It was also used as the name of his record label, Paisley Park Records.
Two years after the song was released, Paisley Park as we know it became real. Prince built a 65,000-square-foot, $10 million recording complex, which you can now visit as a museum. Although, as Prince sings, Paisley Park is still “in your heart.”
This article was produced as a part of a collaboration between The Growler Magazine and The Current, Minnesota’s non-commercial, member-supported radio station playing the best authentic, new music alongside the music that inspired it. Find this article and more great music content at thecurrent.org.