MINERAL POINT has a population which seems to be over-represented in the creative artists category. The large number of visual artists is relatively well known, as so many of the painters, sculptors, and craftspeople have gallery or working studio storefronts that give them an obvious presence in the community.
However, there is also a rich vein of musical talent buried a layer or two below the surface. On parade days, the middle and high school marching bands reveal the sheer number (as well as the capabilities) of student-aged musicians. In summer, the city band shows off diverse talents of the entire community. Special events like last summer’s fundraiser for Fair Wisconsin bring together family acts like Mike Mitchell and daughters with rock acts like Dave Hopper’s trio. And on any given weekend, local live music in an assortment of “flavors” might be happening in a number of area establishments.
Like the city itself, the local music group known as Point Five is an interesting example of the meshing of various backgrounds. Based in Mineral Point, and with five members (get it? Point Five?), their individual histories are diverse, yet a common interest in playing ensemble acoustic music drew them together.
Rhythm guitarist Aaron Dunn has been a musician since he was really small. Early on his parents enrolled him in Suzuki method piano lessons. In middle school he acquired an acoustic guitar and joined his parents singing liturgical music. During college Aaron began writing songs and recorded ten of them with his brother, which he notes gave them “semi-celebrity” status on campus.
When he met Monica Thorson at college, she was a voice major but not into the kind of folk music that he was playing — she was doing the “vocal operatic elitist genre” Aaron says jokingly. She originally began studying voice in high school and says she “has never looked back.” After completing her degree in vocal performance Monica worked editing music and singing with various ensembles in Chicago and Madison.
Aaron and Monica married and came to Mineral Point in 2005. Two weeks after they moved in to town they played at the very first open mic session at Shake Rag Alley, where host Willie Sterba immediately solicited them to form a folk-oriented group called Cattail Creek with himself and novice bass player Carole Spelic’.
Carole had grown up in a musical family and in addition to singing she played a lot of different instruments — from oboe to banjo — in various organized and ad hoc groups through the years. In an off-the-cuff discussion with Will she expressed that she was actively missing music-making, and would like to take up the double-bass. With Will’s inspired intervention she borrowed an unused instrument from Mineral Point High School, and thanks to the band’s supportive approach to learning, she got jump-started as an ensemble bass player.
Cattail Creek had one rehearsal (on the grassy slope of the Farmers’ Market) and played their first gig a week later on the Fourth of July to an attentive audience of folks waiting in line for their chicken dinners.
Some time later when Sterba left the band to pursue his ascendant solo career, the Dunns suggested working with an amazing guitarist they’d met in Madison — Dave Irwin. Dave had a long career as a professional musician, having played in a funk band for many years, but more recently he’d come to finger-style guitar picking. Aaron, although wowed with his sheer talent, boldly asked him to sit in with the band — and thankfully everyone enjoyed the session. Dave was in the band.
Shortly thereafter, the group realized that their collective musical direction was trending toward alternative country and contemporary American songs. A need for fiddle, mandolin, and banjo licks was identified. Fortunately, the multi-instrumentalist Paul Biere was aware of the band and expressed an interest in contributing. Paul, bearing a reputation for being a remarkable campfire musician, was also well known for his many years of playing with well-regarded local acoustic groups. And fortunately, communication was not a terribly difficult task as Aaron and Paul work together in the same medical practice, and Carole and Paul were already playing together in another band. They all got together and jammed — and loved it.
In 2009 with the addition of the Dunns’ second child, and Dave’s busy schedule the band took a short break and returned in 2010 with the addition of Andy Hatch, local cheesemaker and mandolin player. Paul took on the dobro and banjo and there you have it — the current Point Five. And thanks to the smoking ban in Wisconsin Monica agreed to start playing in bars which has given the band a whole new outlet.