Quilt shop makes a cozy concert venue

Sound check
Pete Heitzman stands on a cutting table-turned-stage during a sound check at Aunt Annie's Quilts & Silks shop in Avon, Minn., on Sunday, Oct. 17, 2010. The legs of the table have hinges so that the table easily folds into a stage.
MPR Photo/Ambar Espinoza

A quilt shop in the small central Minnesota town of Avon boasts fabric from around the world. About once a month, the shop also puts music on display, in intimate concerts that have become popular with area folk and blues fans.

Drive along the main street in Avon, and you may just miss Aunt Annie's Quilts & Silks. A colorful mural is in progress on what would otherwise be a plain white storefront. Nothing suggests the shop's other life as a venue for musicians like Karen Savoca and Pete Heitzman.

About 50 people listen intently on a recent Sunday afternoon, as the duo performs in a corner of the quilt shop.

Aunt Annie's owners, Lucy and Don Senstad, started hosting these concerts about four years ago. While considering a potential overnight trip to Winona to see one of their favorites, poet and blues musician Ray Bonneville, Lucy wondered, "Why not bring Bonneville to Avon, where more friends could enjoy him?"

Her husband supported the idea, so they e-mailed Bonneville to ask him if he'd perform at the quilt shop. He did, and the Senstads quickly discovered there was a market for such entertainment in Avon.

"That was our first concert, July 2006," said Lucy Senstad. "We had such a good response that we turned the house. We had two concerts that day."

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Aunt Annie's most recent concert, on Sunday, Oct. 17, 2010, featured folk musicians Karen Savoca and Pete Heitzman from upstate New York. It's the second time they've performed at the quilt store.
MPR Photo/Ambar Espinoza

About 80 people attended those first shows. The Senstads borrowed a sound system and simple spotlights from a friend. They took the legs off the cutting table where Lucy cuts her fabric, so that Bonneville could perform on it.

"It's a wonderful cutting table, and now it's a great stage, too," she said.

It has also given the Senstads a name for their concert series -- "Music from the Cutting Table." The legs now have hinges so that the table easily folds into a stage.

Don Sendstad said this music project continues to surprise, each time musicians agree to give a show.

"They'll write back and say, 'That sounds good. I've heard about you.' And that's cool!" he said with a laugh.

Shop owner
Lucy Senstad owns the quilt store with her husband Don. The concerts they hold at the shop are popular among area folk and blues fans.
MPR Photo/Ambar Esipnoza

Now, many of the musicians that play at the quilt shop design their tours specifically with a stop in Avon. Take Pete Heitzman and Karen Savoca. It's the second time these upstate New Yorkers have played here. They approached Lucy Senstad because they heard about the quilt shop through Ray Bonneville.

"We know that if he says a place is great, we trust him -- because I think he's a little picky," said Savoca. "We were like, 'This is so cool. A quilt shop?' So our agent contacted Lucy and the next thing we knew, we were here playing, not knowing what to expect."

Savoca said the store is warm and inviting with all the colorful fabric and quilts. Pete Heitzman added they also make for good acoustics.

"If the quilts were just laid out on the walls, it would sound good. But that they're rolled, the way that fabric is ... probably 10 inches deep, wrapped around those boards. Even the cardboard is absorbing the sounds. It's fantastic!" he said.

Bolts of fabric
Pete Heitzman said the hanging quilts on the walls, and the bolts of fabric that sit on shelves throughout the quilt shop, add to the acoustics.
MPR Photo/Ambar Espinoza

Most of the people who attend the concerts would probably agree. Most are local, or from towns 50-75 miles away. Tickets are $15, and the Senstads encourage people to bring food to share.

Aunt Annie's isn't in a musical desert. Avon is a few miles away from the College of Saint Benedict and St. John's University, and the city of St. Cloud, where a few bars and restaurants also put together concerts. But the environment in the quilt shop is different, according to those who attend concerts there.

"It's just a gem," said Rose Voigt from Elk River. "It's wonderful music. We've had just the most marvelous times here. The greatest musicians."

Her friend, Diane Wojtanowicz, from Rice, agreed.

"And the wonderful atmosphere -- the small hometown atmosphere, with a little food on the back table."