Glenn Swanson was trying to come up with a ‘short little something’ that would signal to a bed and breakfast guest that the Oldenburg House is very much connected to the natural world. The B&B is next to Jay Cooke State Park, the Willard Munger State Trail, the National Kayak and Canoe Center, and the Thompson Reservoir, but within the 7 acres of his land, you see the cusp of something much bigger. Pointing to the backyard he states,
“This is 2 billion years old and one of the few places on Earth where you have this age of rock exposed to the surface. It connects to the basin of Lake Superior. It’s got this vibration and energy that’s unbelievable.”
The slogan, “Find Your Nature” was born, and it took hold. These three little words helped define what makes the Oldenburg House such a unique music venue. It alludes to making a journey to connect to something bigger than one’s self. It speaks to the heritage and core values that are continually championed in this small B&B in Carlton, Minnesota. Before we peel into the music venue, we need to understand what makes this convergence of nature and music work.
Glenn’s parents bought the house in 1968 and, at the time, he was 15, going to high school. He ended up spending two years there, long enough to become endeared to the geography in the land and the St. Louis River, which is the headwaters of the Great Lakes. The house was built in 1894 by Henry Oldenburg, a legal advisor for the Weyerhaeuser lumber interests. He was a conservationist, while his wife was a biologist. Emily Swanson, Glenn’s wife, likes to say that because he worked for Weyerhaeuser, every tree he cut down, she planted one back.
The house was one of the very few left standing in the whole Northland after the fire of 1919. After the fires, the house put up the firefighters and refugees and continued to become a community space for events and debates. Emily and Glenn have newspaper clippings about the community hosting a debate on whether Alaska should be a part of the union. This spirit of community and gathering are burned into the structure of the house.
When Emily and Glenn purchased the house from Glenn’s mom, they invited the community back into the house. There was interest to see inside the historic house. They hosted events and decided to do a week-long Christmas party and invite the entire town. This led to connecting with a friend from WE Fest, and hosting a music festival in their backyard in 2013. It was a catalyst for brainstorming and became a launching pad for them to see what they could do at the house to support music.
They continued to host events and have musicians over to entertain. It was years later, when Glenn and Billy Peterson were playing with Pippi Ardennia, that they solidified the concept. Her program, called PipJazz, was designed to nurture young jazz musicians by having them perform with world-class musicians in a family-friendly environment. After Glenn and Billy performed with Pippi, they knew they had to have her come up to the house to try a show.
“It was growing very organically. It was nothing planned. It just kind of happened,” Glenn discloses.
The Oldenburg House hosts one weekend of jazz music each month called Cookin’ At The O. The shows include dinner and an intimate experience seeing world-class jazz musicians in a living room. They built a stage that goes around the fireplace, placed the drums in the corner, bass against the fireplace, and the piano on the side. Ten little tables get moved into the room and a cash bar is set up in the study. With a capacity of 36 people, every show has been filled since the beginning. They affectionately joke, and call the room The Sardine Club.
Glenn and Emily have also started a nonprofit called Oldenburg Arts and Cultural Community. Their focus has placed the Oldenburg House as a pillar of the community for events and activities throughout the year. Their mission;
“Encourages our region’s vitality through artistic expression, cultural exchanges and community development inspired by the geography, ecology, cultural wisdom and talent that is abundantly and irreplaceable around us.”
Between the music venue and nonprofit, Glenn and Emily are community leaders who bring together musicians and a message. They strive to better the world we live in and use the house as a conduit for change.
Cookin’ At The O embodies their conservationist values. The dinner is provided by their community. They are surrounded by sustainable farmers, and the caterers who cook the food use all local ingredients.
“We have kids come in and help us do the serving and we say, ‘as long as you don’t make any noise and in clearing the table; looks like a dance move, you’re good to go,'” smiles Emily.
They say to attendees that the experience is going to be a little like church. It’s going to get really quiet. The musicians play acoustically in the room, except for a little amplification on the voice. Glenn will play drums with brushes and the musicians balance themselves out in volume. In such a small space, you can hear every key of the piano, every strum of the bass.
Jazz music invigorates smaller spaces. There’s an instant engagement with the music and watching artists play their instruments. Jazz music is rooted in the ability to be spontaneous and read the direction of a piece. You get to see musicians creating something that has never been performed in that exact way before, all on the fly. Glenn shares that when you’re in the presence of someone who’s really a master at playing, it’s a captivating thing to watch. Music is a powerful thing that any dinner guest can appreciate.
The Oldenburg House isn’t breaking ground on a new concept. The idea behind getting together as a community, having parties, dinners, and live musicians play has been around for a long time. Our ancestors hosted events that involved food and music. Billy Peterson, a member of The Peterson Family, shares that his family was notorious for hosting parties because they were all musicians or farmers.
“They’d throw these hellacious parties where there would be bodies strewn all over the next day. Then someone would wake up and cook on Sunday morning.”
Glenn Swanson, Musician and Owner
Glenn Hanson has had an abundantly full life as a musician. He was fortunate enough to be the studio drummer with Creation Audio back when it was in Bloomington. The studio became a huge hang for creative music and Glenn accepted a position on salary. Back then, you were either a rock drummer or a jazz drummer. Glenn excelled by being able to play any genre of music, which led to him playing on a long variety of projects and jazz records. He became one of the Twin Cities’ leading drummers in both live venues and recording studios.
From working with local icons Herb Pilhoffer and Chris Moon to co-authoring Sheila Raye Charles’ (daughter of Ray Charles) book, to being nominated for a 2008 Gospel Video of the Year, Glenn has continued to devote his passion to music. That passion followed him when he returned home to help with the house after his father passed away.
Glenn and his mother, Helen “Mama” Swanson, continued to manage the house when two events modified their plans. Helen had a heart attack and the house suspended all commercial operations.
The second event was Emily and Glenn meeting. This led to marriage, and in January of 2017 they purchased the house from Helen. When Emily and Glenn took over the house and began to renovate, they tore the living room down to the studs. Emily received a call one morning announcing,
“Honey, I think there’s a jazz club in here,” Glenn claimed.
The rest is history. The venue opened up in 2017 and hosts back-to-back shows once a month. The switch from Friday to Saturday is incredible. Their little dishwasher tackles 40 dishes and close to a hundred glasses.
Helen passed away this past August, but her house is still carrying on the traditions of the community. There’s a warmth and loving embrace when you walk through the door. One that the Swanson’s share with every guest.
The Guest Room
Billy Peterson – Bassist, Composer, Arranger, and Producer
Billy Peterson has always been family orientated. The Peterson Family is filled with professional musicians and it was when Patty and Ricky were working with Glenn that they finally met in the 70s. Now, friends of over 45 years, they have worked on a lot of projects together. When you create art together, there’s a bond that forms deep, just like family.
Billy is one of the most celebrated bass players in the world. He’s traveled around the world with the Steve Miller Band, helped Bob Dylan win a Grammy by playing bass on “Blood On The Tracks,” and has been inducted into the Mid-American Music Hall of Fame. If you click on his projects, you’re sure to see why his talent has kept him busy. So when he travels down to play bass at the Oldenburg House, there’s a magic trait that always shines through.
“The audience is in your living room and you’re working things out on stage. They are apart of this great workshop going on and they see that stuff unfolding. From an audience standpoint, it’s real relaxed. They see us up there and we’re all laughing and having fun. It’s this great camaraderie that they see and becomes a part of it,” Billy shares.
Through their nonprofit, Glenn and Emily have been working on making all of Carlton County a pollinator-friendly area. Their city of Carlton and the reservation are pesticide-free and the hope is to make the county the first one in the US to go all-pollinator-friendly. One of these bee-friendly events is the Honey Bee Music Festival. The festival takes over the city with films, music, art installations, poetry, and crafts; all to support this important endeavor.
Mark down August 6th and 7th on your calendar for the 3rd Annual festival and stay tuned for more details in the coming months!
The full schedule can be found here.
Music venues are the lifeblood of our community. By providing musicians the opportunity to showcase, collaborate, and experiment with their craft, venues are essential in their development. This series will continue to promote and support our local venues across Minnesota. Please see the previous articles below and go support local music. Our hope is these articles show the importance of supporting venues and places where creativity can thrive.