Minnesota Music Scene Chock Full of Homegrown Talent

By Loren Green

Prince. Bob Dylan. The Replacements. Tiny Tim. These are but a few homegrown Minnesota talents that have captured the ears and hearts of the masses. But they’re not alone.

Mid West Music Fest in Winona_Shannon Porter
Mid West Music Fest / Photo by Shannon Porter

For every arena stage those artists have graced, there are countless local talents playing smaller stages across the state every single night, many just as talented and with just as dedicated a fan base. From Mankato to Duluth to Bemidji, songwriters and musicians are loading their vans and playing late night sets to bolster a following, whether in-state or abroad.

Here are some of Minnesota’s top current performers who can be found performing regularly across the Land of 10,000 Lakes and beyond. With festivals like April’s Mid West Music Fest in Winona and the Homegrown Music Festival in Duluth in May, there are ample chances to see local talent up close and personal across the state.

Bad Bad Hats

An indie rock three-piece from Minneapolis, Bad Bad Hats started in 2010 and have since honed a rhythm-heavy quirk-pop that blends distinct vocal stylings atop melodic hooks. Currently opening for Third Eye Blind on a national tour, the band also frequently plays closer to home, including upcoming dates at Mid West Music Fest and in St. Cloud. Hear their song “It Hurts” in this Explore Minnesota commercial.

Dessa

Dessa Darling
Dessa / Photo by Bill Phelps

Whether solo or with hip-hop collective Doomtree, Dessa’s logged a lot of miles from Mankato to Maine and beyond. She blends thoughtful hip-hop with R&B and spoken word, showcasing language through a writer’s lens that’s diverse in influence but unified in sound. Born in Minneapolis to parents who met at a Duluth music store, Dessa is an active local arts leader, frequently performing live and promoting local creatives across all platforms.

Farewell Milwaukee

Smoothly in the middle between country and rock, Farewell Milwaukee blends lush 1960s harmonies and soaring melodies with country guitar and a hint of rural twang and grit, though it’s really the heart that shines above the rest. Peaceful and reflective but with a longing for more, the band has three records to their name.

Nachito Herrera

A jazz pianist with Cuban and classical influence, Herrera blends traditional Latin sounds with modern jazz and more. Born in Cuba and now living in St. Paul, Herrera has been named an Immigrant of Distinction and received an American Heritage Award from the American Immigration Council while traveling the world with his high-energy fusion sound. When he’s not traveling the world, he can often be seen at the Dakota Jazz Club in Minneapolis.

Lizzo

Lizzo_courtesy Atlantic Records
Lizzo / Photo courtesy Atlantic Records

Born in Houston, Texas, and living in Minneapolis since 2011, Lizzo performed with The Chalice before her breakout solo record, “Lizzobangers,” released in 2013. With empowering and urgent lyrics, Lizzo delivers a blunt take on social issues in a progressive mixture of hard-hitting beats and powerfully humanizing imagery. It’s conscious hip-hip, but playful and fun instead of dogmatic.

Mark Mallman

Calling the Twin Cities home since 1991, Mallman blends dramatic piano rock with a 1970s rock edge under a sparkling layer of glitter and flair. Mallman merges showmanship atop heavy-handed and romantic emotional tunes that drown out surroundings amongst an aura of fog machines and laser beams. His music marathons are a thing of legend—leading an eight-day, 150-hour performance in 2012—and he plays regularly, spreading his unique arena-sized mystique among smaller clubs statewide.

Jeremy Messersmith

Mixing pop and singer-songwriter sensibility into a single package, Messersmith understands that simplicity and complexity are intertwined, eternally bound in the craft of songwriting. It’s direct pop on the surface, approachable but true to life, while counterbalancing the playful and the tear-filled depth, coalescing agony and anger, the fun and the fantastic.

Charlie Parr

Charlie Parr_Photo courtesy Red House Records
Charlie Parr / Photo courtesy Red House Records

Charlie Parr is a timeless musician. His art is steeped in the country, blues and bluegrass of an earlier era, when amplification wasn’t part of the scoresheet and the rivers and prairies defined Minnesota. Parr’s fingerpicking jams are in tune with those natural surroundings today, serene and meandering like the Mighty Mississippi. Born in Duluth and playing roughly 250 shows each year, Parr can be found strumming his guitar or banjo somewhere close by, conjuring memories of the lakes and forests, whether he’s surrounded by a starry sky or neon-lit barroom.

Caroline Smith

Born in Detroit Lakes, Caroline Smith this year will sing the national anthem at the Twins’ home opener on April 11. Besides her new position atop the pitcher’s mound, and her early solo output as a folk singer, she’s also leader of R&B-tinged Caroline Smith and the Good Night Sleeps, where she belts velvety smooth positive vibes. Known to collaborate with Lizzo, Smith’s evocative delivery blends soft and sultry in a traditional R&B formula.

Find upcoming performances by these and many other artists in our live music calendar, and search for music clubs throughout the state.