Traveling Americana Musician Michael Quinn

Paul Whyte

What do you when the American dream isn’t panning out quite as well as you’d hoped? If you’re Michael Quinn, you travel the world. Quinn is currently touring in the region and will be making a stop at StageNorth in Washburn, Wisc on Friday, June 28. Originally from the Twin Cities, Quinn has traveled extensively and has met a lot of musicians along the way. He’s over in the United States from Shanghai, China, where he is a music teacher and occasionally plays shows. He lives there with his wife JoAnn Peterson who plays cello with him and their cat. We had a chance to talk with Quinn as he was on the road to a gig in Madison.

Reader: Tell me a little bit about your background with this area.

Quinn: I was born in St. Paul and have been living in Minneapolis and St. Paul on and off since 87. He graduated from McNally Smith College of Music in 92’ with a degree in percussion and music theory. In 2001 I started doing my own singer-songwriter thing. “Sushi, Sex, Music,” I recorded that with Bernie Larson and released that in I think 2004, and I put a band together and started doing it full time. When I first started this band I knew it was a losing money proposition, so I figured as long as I’m losing money I might as well be someplace beautiful where I can fish and camp. That’s why I started going up to do the whole Duluth to Houghton circuit along the South Shore of Lake Superior. I met a lot of great people and made good friendships that I still maintain this day.

Reader: When did your wife start playing with you?

Quinn: She started playing with me as soon as we met. We got married in 2007.

Reader: What brought you out to China?

Quinn: I owned a contracting business in the States, and the whole mortgage, stock securities thing hit and the bottom fell out of the economy. Back in 2008 I was building a deck in 60 below windchill factor and I was like, “this s**t’s for the birds, I’m going to Florida next winter. I’m going to go down there and work for my brother, if I’m going to be poor at least I’m going to be warm.”

Quinn and his wife made the decision to leave the Twin Cities where his wife held a solid job at a private school. “At that time it was looking like we were going to take a 70 percent hit in living and we said ‘we’re not going to do that’ and  I said, ‘wait, why are we limiting ourselves to the United States?’ We went to a teachers’ hiring conference at the University of Northern Iowa and the best offer she got was in Egypt and the rest is history.”

Reader: Tell me about playing music in China.

Quinn: I don’t actually play play in China that much‚ I did have a house gig there once and JoAnn would play with me on the weekends. The people that I perform for are not the common everyday Chinese, they’re the wealthy Chinese. The working class Chinese, they can’t afford to go to a bar.
I’ve been teaching for the last three years, that’s mainly what I do when I’m in Shanghai. I’m not gigging, I’m teaching music or substitute teaching during the day at an International school. Aside from that, planning my next tour. We get a lot of vacation time in China. Well, every other country in the world gets a lot of vacation time besides the United States. Whenever the next two to three week vacations comes up, I’m out on tour somewhere.

Reader: So, leading to this tour, you’re back in the United States, what prompted that decision?

Quinn: My wife. *laughs* I start booking these shows for the summer in December or January because logistics are problematic coming all the way over from there. I can’t be like, “maybe I have a gig, maybe I don’t.” That’s not really feasible.

Reader: So when you play this show in Washburn, who’s going to be with you?

Quinn: My buddy Steve Martinetti, who is one of the founding members of the original band Michael Quinn and the Virgin Suicides, he’ll be playing some mando, guitar and a little bit of bass. The thing that’s really cool about that show is that it’s going to be a community ho’down. Bruce Bowers from the Big Top Chautauqua orchestra, the fiddle player for them, is coming down to sit in with me. Andrew Noyes is another local icon is going to sit it. John Hamilton from the White Winter Winery is playing some blues harp with me. Marty Dodge, another long time friend of mine from Port Wing is coming down to sit in. I think Cory Bachan is going to sit in and John Gray and buddy of mine’s son, Jordy Hamil. Michael “Scooter” Scherette, is Native American flute and story teller, he goes by the name of Laughing Fox is going to doing an opening set with us. I’m really looking forward to it, it’s a bunch of local people who are friends of mine, it’s bringing everybody in the community together, it should be fun.

Reader: Do you still have your cat?

Quinn: Yes, I still have my cat, of course. My cat has her own passport, she’s been all over the world. Actually the last time we were here in 2010, we had no place where we could leave her, so she toured with for two weeks in the van.

Michael Quinn is a talented musician and terrific songwriter with strong ties to the Northland. Join him and a wide variety of other talented musicians at StageNorth in Washburn, Wisc. Friday, June 28. The show begins at 9 pm and there is a $5 cover.


Paul Whyte

A South Shore native and University of Wisconsin-Superior journalism graduate. Lifelong musician, and former open mic host. Passionate about the music scene and politics.

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