Pope County Blues

One of our customers wrote me to say he had included a record from our shop on his blog Some Local Loser, and that it recounted the same events as portrayed in the movie Fargo. Garsh! Local history is always interesting to me, and only more so when there are records involved.

After a while I remembered that I had a record about a little local history I wanted to share on our blog. I have always thought the events that inspired this song would make a good movie – Probably something along the lines of Cheri Register’s memoir Packinghouse Daughter (A great book!). Anyway, the record is by Larry Long, and its called “Pope County Blues”. If you’re interested, you can read a lot more about Larry Long on his own website here.

pope county blues

This great song is about the ten year battle over what was called in Minnesota the CU Project. It began with a proposal to built high-voltage direct current power lines across several counties (Not just Pope County) in central Minnesota. From the beginning farmers whose land would be used objected, citing concerns for the future use of their land and its value, as well as concerns about the safety of electrical current. Most of all, middle-Minnesota residents felt their lives and land were being disrupted to serve urban populations.

Opposition to the CU Project led farmers to use ingenious guerrilla tactics – Construction sites were vandalized with tractors and farm tools. Trucks were used to block construction and their ignitions damaged. By 1978 incidents were increasingly serious – A crowd of a hundred or more farmers chased powerline crews from a worksite. Soon after, in the famous “Battle of Stearns County” farmers sprayed state troopers with anhydrous ammonia. I am not making this up.

There were also nonviolent protests. Just a month later eight thousand people marched from Lowry to Glenwood in protest. Temperatures were below freezing.

The CU Project was ultimately completed nonetheless, using land owned by nearly 500 farmers, and the Coal Creek Station, which creates the power transmitted through the lines, is today the third largest producer of coal ash in the country. It is supplied by the Falkirk Mine in Underwood, North Dakota, one of the largest such operations in the country. It may be powering the computer on which you have listened to Larry Long’s song.

When people around here talk about an underrated local folk singer you probably assume they mean “Spider” John Koerner, who is rightfully regarded as such. We love having anything by him – or Dave Ray and Tony Glover – in the shop, if only to listen to them. Sometimes it might be our own Papa John. His albums have become so hard to find you’re more likely to come across him sitting still than one of them.  Larry Long belongs on any list of great Minnesota singers and songwriters – Some of Larry Long’s albums are just about impossible to find, but we have a copy of Livin’ in the Rich Man’s World in the shop right now that I am surprised hasn’t sold.

Larry Long is not the only person to write a song about the CU Project and the years of conflict surrounding it – Nancy Abrams, Dana Lyons and Charlie Broten all also wrote songs. I can find…none of them, sorry.

Larry himself came by the new shop last summer to visit Papa John and I was too darn dumbfounded to tell him how much I have always enjoyed his records. I stupidly pointed to our local section and said we had some of his albums, instead of telling him that I myself have them at home. You can buy a variety of his albums on his website too, linked above, and I hope that some of you will.


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