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Rocking out, and leaning in: Eden Prairie's Women Who Rock make time to jam in a busy world

Seven women stood on a spotlit stage in a windowless room in Eden Prairie. As they launched into a rendition of “I Hate Myself For Loving You” by Joan Jett and the Blackhearts, their steady rhythm masked the fact that until six weeks ago, none of them had played together before − and some of them had just picked up their instruments for the very first time.

Sarah Hardy, 46, of Edina, started playing the electric guitar six weeks ago. Drummer Jenny Estes, 28, of Eden Prairie, picked up a drumstick for the first time in November. And Kristy Epp, 51, of Eden Prairie, has only played the keyboard for three weeks, but you wouldn’t know it by watching her jam along next to the band’s vocalist, Jamie Appert, 39, of Shakopee.

The group is called Women Who Rock, and they play together as part of Eden Prairie’s School of Rock’s two-month adult music lessons. Monica Wiant, 41, of Chanhassen, with an electric guitar; Amelia Nowak, 33, of Richfield, playing the bass; and Stefanie Repice, 48, of Eden Prairie, on another electric guitar, round out the group. After two months of solo and group practices, they’ll play at Can Can Wonderland for an audience of fellow students, friends and family on March 1.

For many of the players, joining the group was a way to break out of their comfort zone. All of them love music but few considered themselves musical, and the everyday demands of life made it hard to follow through on a a distant goal.

“I’ve never sung by myself before,” Appert said. “Those dreams disappear when you get married and have kids.”

Hardy has played guitar before and taught music for eight years, but picking up an electric guitar was like learning a different language, she said.

“The brain work you do of this is so different than anything else you do all week,” she marveled. “I always drive home with a smile on my face.”

“Creating something together is very empowering. We don’t really get to do that as grown-ups,” Wiant added. “It’s low stakes, but it’s not zero stakes.”

Nowak, who’s also the school’s director of administration, asked her band mates at the beginning of their session if they’d like to open it up to male musicians. The answer was a resounding “No.”

It’s nothing against men − the group sang endless praises of Parker Grones, their instructor − but they treasure having a group comprised solely of women, the players said.

“It’s a different dynamic,” Appert said. “It’s fun to have something that’s just us. We relate to each other.”

Hardy tested the waters at a rock camp targeted at “dads” and found that it “was not a fit for me,” she said. “It’s very masculine.” In contrast, Women Who Rock “feels like a safe space,” she added. The rest of the group nodded in agreement.

Four of the Women who Rock found the group through their kids, who also take lessons at School of Rock. Learning a new instrument has changed how they see their children’s efforts, the parents said.

“Wow, I was really on him before and now I’m going to back off,” Appert laughed.

Repice used to give her daughter grief about stage presence, she said, but now that she’s been onstage herself, she understands the difficulty of cultivating a presence and is feeling the nerves ahead of the March 1 show.

“I don’t want to let anybody down,” she said.

With the show at Can Can Wonderland two and a half weeks away, the musicians were already considering who to invite and how they’d react to playing before an audience. Most said they’d only told a few family members or friends.

“I think it would be much easier for me if it was strangers,” Nowak mused.

“I invited everyone I know. I’m not shy at all,” Wiant told the group.

After the March 1 performance, the future’s uncertain for this iteration of Women Who Rock. Although Hardy joked about taking the group “on the road,” Wiant admitted her work schedule would interfere with another two-month session, and Appert said she would have to miss at least two weeks of practice. When there are only eight group rehearsals, that’s a lot to miss.

While March 1 may be the end of the band for these seven musicians, the weekly rock ‘n’ roll respite from the rest of their lives left an impression on the members of Women Who Rock.

“You get so caught up in the kid stuff,” Repice said. “It’s a good thing to do for yourself.”


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The ins and outs of voting this year in Hennepin County (copy)

Candidate campaigning is already underway for the presidential election in November. But there’s a lot that happens between then and now.

When it comes to casting ballots, the process can seem confusing. Here’s what to know this election season.

PRIMARY VOTING

Super Tuesday is the presidential nominating primary vote, which helps determine which candidates will appear on the final ballot in November. It’s not an official election for a candidate, but the process is similar. This year, Super Tuesday is on March 3.

Voters don’t have to wait until then to cast a ballot — or even to decide who will be on the ballot.

The absentee/early voting period started mid-January this year and extends until Super Tuesday. Absentee voters can fill out their ballots via mail, online or in person.

Minnesotans living abroad or serving in the military can have an absentee ballot sent to them anywhere in the world.

The two major Minnesota parties, the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party and the Republican Party, will participate in the primaries. Other offices will be on the primary ballot in August.

The right for time off from work to vote in a presidential nominating primary is protected by law.

The primary election for other electoral races, like U.S. Congress or the Minnesota Legislature, will be on Aug. 11. Early voting begins in June.

PRECINCT CAUCUSES

During absentee voting, and before the primary vote on Super Tuesday, precinct caucuses will take place. These caucuses let Minnesotans show support for their preferred candidates. They can endorse a candidate in the caucuses, which lead to the state party conventions.

“We are working diligently to clarify for people that there is still a caucus and to encourage participation in this important grassroots start to the campaign season. I think there is still quite a bit of confusion about the change [to a presidential primary],” said Cathy Olson, chair of the DFL Senate District 33.

During a precinct caucus, people can raise issues important to them, influence who the party will endorse, and show general support for a candidate. “We have a very competitive senate race between two Republicans in Carver County for the spot on the November ballot, and that will be decided obviously during the caucus,” said Vince Beaudette, vice chair of the Carver County Republicans.

Only those who sign up as a delegate at their caucus can vote that day.

That’s why Beaudette said it’s essential for people to become delegates.

“It’s very important that voters go out and become delegates at the caucuses if they wish to have a voice with regard to who should be the next senator,” he said.

Mary Leizinger, chair for the Carver County Democrats of Senate District 47, explains more.

“This is kind of the starting of the grassroots process,” Leizinger said. “I would encourage everybody to go to their caucus.”

So what exactly happens at a caucus? Leizinger laid it out.

You check in at your assigned location and group, comprised of immediate neighbors. A moderator will start the process and walk through the agenda. Then, discussion starts.

Election and allocation of delegates happens next. Delegates are then whittled down at the district, state and national convention. That’s when the presidential candidate is endorsed.

“Caucuses start the process of selecting those delegates. Not 100% of everybody goes to the national convention. Maybe 70 to go from Minnesota,” Leizinger said.

During discussions, people can bring issues to the table, setting forward resolutions or statements in favor of, say, an environmental issue.

“The key thing with caucuses is it’s the grassroots formation, a start our process that moves toward the nomination of our candidates as we go up the chain,” Leizinger said. “This is this bottom of the link where we start moving on forward.”

Caucus officials aren’t sure how participation will be in this year’s caucuses because they don’t have experience with a presidential primary cycle and don’t know how that might impact how many people come out to caucus.

“We do not have a way to accurately gauge what attendance will be on Feb. 25,” said Andy Moller, chair of the Senate District 48 Republicans. “In 2016, there were extremely long lines waiting to attend the caucus since there was a presidential straw poll. We are hopeful that our dedicated volunteers will attend this year as the caucus is the first step in becoming a delegate to the Republican 3rd Congressional District and state conventions.”

Moller also said “several” candidates plan to attend the caucus, giving attendees a chance to hear them speak.

“As you know, historically, we have had much higher turnout in presidential years, but don’t know how the change to a primary will impact,” Olson said. “There is tremendous enthusiasm among voters, so I am hopeful this will translate to attendance.”

She expects turnout for Senate District 33 Democrats to be between what it is for a midterm year and a historical presidential year, which ranges from 600 in a midterm year to 2,500 in a presidential year.

“So, quite a wide range,” Olson said.

In Carver County, around 2,000 people out of the 100,000 in the county are expected to show up for caucus night.

“The turnout may be low statewide, but we expect more people showing up for these caucuses because of our senate race right here in District 47,” Beaudette said, nodding to Julia Coleman and Tom Funk who are running this year.

Though just 2% of all Carver County residents will likely show up to caucus night, Leizinger agreed: That’s a good number. “We’re expecting a large turnout as we typically do in a presidential year. The election can’t get here quick enough.”

Area precinct caucuses will be held on Feb. 25. Caucuses will begin at 7 p.m., with registration beforehand, typically starting at 6 p.m. or 6:30 p.m. A caucus finder is available at www.mnvotes.org. Voting locations for the general election in November will be available at the same website.

Information used in this article was gathered in part by the League of Women Voters of Minnesota.