Winona is just far enough from MSP (Minneapolis/St. Paul International Airport) that it occasionally leads to some interesting (i.e. challenging) travel situations. While I do my best to alert and remind managers/artists that Winona is 114 miles from MSP, sometimes this bit of knowledge slips by and departing flights for artists are inadvertently booked for 5:00 a.m. the day following an evening performance. The logistical ramifications are obvious and a variety of limited solutions have been put forth over the years to solve these kinds of problems, including leaving for an airport hotel right after a concert, or departing at 2:00 a.m. from Winona to catch an early flight (everyone’s least favorite option!).

Travel issues of another kind also occur when tickets for cellists are booked to the La Crosse airport with the best of intentions, and it is only later discerned that the aircraft flying into La Crosse are too small to accommodate cellos. All string players carry their instruments into aircraft cabins and stow them in the overhead bins. Cellos, of course, won’t fit and thus require that a separate seat be purchased (always a window seat). However, even with a dedicated seat, these aircraft are still too small to accommodate a cello (thus cellists must use MSP). The trade-off for all of this fussing is that string players always get to play their own instruments whereas pianists always have to adjust to whatever piano is made available to them (there are very rare exceptions to this where certain pianists are known to have their own pianos flown or trucked from venue to venue – very costly indeed!).

My favorite MBF travel story was when Branford Marsalis came to the Festival for the first time in 2008 and was traveling with an orchestra from Brazil. They were on a multi-week tour performing some 35 concerts, and thus travel was by motor coach. Branford was traveling separately in his own coach and was at least an hour ahead of the orchestra. Branford arrived at the hall as planned and was going through his pre-concert preparations, but the orchestra failed to appear. It turned out that they had put the wrong address into their GPS, and instead of arriving at the Winona Middle School, they in fact drove to my home. Now, I live in a semi-secluded neighborhood with no outlet, tucked in the bluffs of Winona. I was at the hall with Branford and my wife called me to say, that when she looked out the front window, it appeared that there was a Brazilian orchestra parked in front of our house! Needless to say, this was quickly rectified and they were soon on their way to the venue. Everyone, including the orchestra members, had a good laugh at that one.

On another occasion, when Yo-Yo Ma performed at MBF, due to the logistics of his five-week tour, it was decided that the easiest way for him to get to the Festival was to fly by private jet directly to Winona. He was traveling with his pianist, road manager, and two family members.  To accommodate everyone, two SUVs were needed, and as a matter of pure chance, both vehicles were black. So, with the visuals of a spy movie, there I was with my MBF colleague, parked on the tarmac of the Winona airport, with two large black SUVs, as we watched a small private jet circle the airport, land, and taxi right up to the vehicles. Out bounded Yo-Yo and the beginning of an extraordinary weekend in MBF history.

– Ned Kirk, Artistic & Managing Director