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Charlie Maguire in Morris to perform free concerts

By Elaine Simonds-Jaradat

As living legends go, Charlie Maguire holds his own. Charlie's song "Itasca: A Place of Beginnings" has been quoted in its entirety in a new book published by the Minnesota Historical Society. The only other song mentioned in the book is by Bob Dylan.

Acting as a voice for Minnesota State Parks, Charlie has become known as their "Centennial Troubadour," and the National Park Service named him their first official "Singing Ranger."

His songs have been heard on "Good Morning America," the "CBS Evening News," "A Prairie Home Companion," "Car Talk," and other nationally broadcast programs.

And he returns to Morris for Heritage Days on Friday, April 25. Heritage Days is an annual intergenerational tradition that complements the 6th grade Minnesota history unit. Charlie will perform at the Senior Center at 10 a.m., visit classrooms throughout the day, and give another performance at 1:30 p.m. in the Morris Area Elementary School concert hall. Both shows are free and the public is welcome.

Doug Grow of the Minneapolis Star Tribune notes how Charlie "has been turning Minnesota life into art for more than [two] decade[s]." When he comes to town on Friday - just in time for the start of Minnesota's Sesquicentennial - he won't just be bringing material from his 800 or so songs and seven albums. Our area's history has captured Charlie's imagination enough to include it in his art. It's easy to overlook the sesquicentennial here because we may think that Morris' history began only after the railroad came through in 1871, but by then the area was very busy.

When Minnesota became a state, the Morris area was still largely Indian territory, but the Wadsworth Trail that ran from St. Cloud to Fort Wadsworth (now Fort Sisseton) had made it, by way of Gager's Station, an important crossroads for soldiers, traders, and homesteaders, as well as Chippewa and Sioux tribes.

Some Morris residents may remember the trail marker erected in East Side Park by the DAR in 1929.

Charlie was so taken with the stories about the Wadsworth Trail in Grace Cynthia Hall's 1938 book of the same name (recently republished by the Stevens County Historical Museum) that he couldn't help but capture them in his music.

Friday's concerts will mark the world premiere of his new song about life along the trail. This is not the first time the area has been immortalized in song. "Sam Smith," composed in 2003, is on Charlie's latest album. Smith, buried in the Morris cemetery, fought for the Union at Gettysburg with the honored First Minnesota and posed for the statue that stands on the battlefield. Charlie now considers it a tradition to compose something new whenever he comes to Morris. Look at Charlie's songbook on his Web site for the words to "Sam Smith" and then come and hear his latest locally inspired work of art.

Morris Elementary, St. Mary's, and other area sixth grade students have been formally invited to the afternoon concert as part of the Heritage Days activities, but this event will appeal to all ages.

The sixth graders will have visited the Senior Center on Thursday to learn firsthand about life before electricity. Preceding the 1:30 p.m. concert, awards for the four best student essays on "My Favorite Older Person" will be given.

Charlie's songs in the American Folk Tradition will recall the quirky characters and remarkable events that shaped this nation while reminding us of who we are now.

The Heritage Days program is sponsored by Learning Unlimited (in part, through a grant from the Minnesota Humanities Center), the Morris Area Senior Center, and Morris Area Community Education. Charlie Maguire's appearance is made possible through the generosity of Dr. Laird Barber, Dr. Fred Farrell, Bremer Bank, and Morris Kiwanis.