And We’re Live: It’s The Midtown Coffee Radio Hour

by Grant Wentzel

The pandemic brought out a bit of the crazy in all of us. For Nick and Tina Jackson, the couple behind the Midtown Coffee Radio Hour, a manic moment turned into a new staple of the local performance scene, a live radio show direct from Sioux Falls. 

During lockdown, “we were just really needing and wanting to do some art, but what can we do and what can we do safely?” Nick said. “We grew up listening to A Prairie Home Companion on NPR, and were huge fans of what Chris Thile did right after with Live From Here. When production stopped on Live From Here, Tina said, ‘Let’s just do it! You and bunch of your talented friends, we could do this!’”  

They hit up some pals and put The House Blend band together. Nick takes on the role of musical director rotating between guitar, ukelele and keys. The grooves are provided by the mustachioed Matt Morrison on bass and Tyson Conn on drums. Krystal Pederson covers everything from horn lines to guitar solos on fiddle. Topping it off are the slinky vocals and tight harmonies of Maren Engel and Wade Gemar.

The broadcast legend Dave Holly ties it up as the Master of Ceremonies. “When we came up with this idea, he’s the first one we called. He’s been in radio for years, he’s just got the perfect voice for it,” Nick said.

Photo courtesy of Midtown Coffee Radio Hour.

“I always look around and think, ‘Man, everyone up here is really talented.’ It’s such a cool group of people and a great excuse to hang out. I can look around the stage and think ‘I’m the worst musician up here.’ That’s a great place to be.” 

Now, over two years and 18 shows later, they’ve got the brew just right. The shows are top-to-bottom good times, but when the “On Air” light goes on, the pressure mounts and the magic happens. “It’s always like, oh my god, we’re recording this? If you can do it again, you can always do it better, but we don’t get a second chance,” says Nick.

From the start, they wanted to do things correctly, getting the shows ready for international internet distribution. 

“We want to make sure that it’s fully legal, that we feel good about everything,” Nick said. We know we are small enough that it doesn’t really matter, but we’re doing covers and want to make sure that we give props to the original artists.” 

They have to upload the songs individually to Spotify and get approved, and then go back and plug them in with the rest of the content. “It’s been a journey, but I think we’ve figured it out,” he said.

“We’ve even discussed dropping the whole recording thing, it would be so much easier, but that’s part of what makes us different and special. There’s just a different feeling from the audience knowing you’re part of a live recording. You can go back and listen and hear your ‘whoop!’”

Prep for the show starts with a song-picking night. The singers get together, have some beers, and brainstorm a playlist that fits the theme. They whittle that down to the seven tunes they want for the show. “It’s always a fun night, just getting together with friends and listening to music,” Nick said. 

“At first we tried to find songs that fit our vibe, but now can do most any song. We just make it our vibe, we Midtown-ify it. I write the skits and Tina writes the monologue, so she writes everything that Dave says, all the snippets and in-between stuff. She weaves it all together. If we come up with something and we laugh, we figure that someone else out there will find it funny too.”

With a new home at the Icon, their reputation is growing. “We love the venue, it’s great for us. We’re friends with the owners and it sounds great,” he says.

But the ultimate goal is to start a coffee shop and have their own dedicated space, also to be called Midtown Coffee.

“Midtown Coffee Radio Hour stems from our desire, since we moved back to Sioux Falls, to start a coffee shop in our neighborhood which we deemed ‘Midtown,’” Nick said.

At Park Ridge Galleria there’s a spot that’s been open for five years. Their dream has been to put a coffee shop in there, because there’s no walkable coffee shop around. 

“We could fit about the same sized crowd as the Icon, so coffee shop by day, performance space by night,” Nick said.

“Right now, it’s a real radio show based out of a hypothetical coffee shop. Hopefully, one day we’re a real radio show based out of a real coffee shop,” Nick said. “And if we do start the coffee shop, we’ve been promoting it now for two years, so maybe for once we did it the right way!”

If you’re in town, be sure to catch the Midtown crew at their next show May 18 at Icon Lounge. But for everyone else out there, pour yourself a cup of joe and tune in on Spotify to hear what you’ve missed.

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