In the 10 years I’ve lived in Fargo-Moorhead, I’ve heard some variation of this statement more times than I can count (terrible math skills notwithstanding). No matter the year, this is a conversation I eventually end up in sooner or later. Somehow, the golden era for [insert genre] passed years ago (despite no one remembering that people made the same complaints back then, too).
The math behind that sentiment, however, obviously doesn’t add up. While your opinion on the quality of our city’s musical offerings will depend on your taste (and I should mention mine lean toward punk and indie rock), on a long enough timeline, it’s impossible for any particular niche to have perpetually been better in the past. Things do come and go in waves, and personal taste being what it is, I don’t want to outright dismiss anyone’s opinion that things were better in [insert year].
However, I will counter argue that FargoMoorhead is overall in a stronger position to succeed as a city for music now than it ever has been.
For evidence, look at how much is going on in terms of the number of active local bands, venues in operation and touring acts coming through our city. We can start with what’s happening downtown. The New Direction, an all-ages punk venue once in danger of closing its doors, now consistently brings in a solid stream of young bands. The Aquarium hosts everything from indie rock to bluegrass to EDM each week, often packing diverse crowds to see bands that would play much larger venues (and higher ticket prices) in any larger city.
Live jazz is a regular event at Studio 222. The Red Raven frequently hosts singersongwriters and quieter acts of all sorts. The Fargo Theatre also hosts some cool shows from time to time too (I’ll see you at the Spoon show in May).
Elsewhere around town, Jade Presents continues to bring major metal, rock, hip hop and other genres to town (although the closing of the The Venue/ House Of Rock may be a strike against my case). Jazz, classical and other styles have an established presence on all three major college campuses in the area. And of course, if you want to see cover bands, there are plenty of hard-working musicians playing bars all over the city
You can fill in your own blanks for what I’ve forgotten here.
On the largest end of the scale, 2014 saw the FargoDome play host to everyone from Justin Timberlake, Taylor Swift and Katy Perry – arguably three of the most mega of mega stars – while they’re still culturally relevant and before they’re washed up on the state fair circuit. Even if you don’t care for mainstream radio pop (and I’d rather eat glass than put that in my ears), this is an indicator that our city may finally be shedding its national perception as a money-losing hole-in-the-ground and gaining an identity as a vibrant, growing city worth playing.
And that applies whether you’re talking about basement hardcore shows or arena pop spectacles.
This is a much different scenario than when I first came here for college in 2004, where my personal favorite bands almost never came through town, large concerts were fewer and farther between and the general sentiment was that supporting a meaningful music culture of almost any kind here was damned to be an uphill battle.
It still is to an extent, but we’ve come a long way since The Forum ran an article in 2006 or 2007 (I can’t track down the story, so I’m operating from memory here) questioning Fargo-Moorhead’s ability to support touring acts following a woefully under-attended Wilco show. My recollection isn’t super sharp, but I remember national promoters cited as calling our town something to the effect of a C-list touring destination.
Now, though? We’re at least a solid B+ with room for improvement. Fargo-Moorhead is growing and rewards those who work hard. If you can’t find the music you want here, keep in mind that anything of musical significance that’s taken root in this area – from DIY punk to WE Fest – has been the product of a small group of people getting the ball rolling and creating what they wanted to see.
Whether you want to help build the future, or live in a past that never really was, is up to you.