Sour Apples In Minnesota

A three-month concert series that was set to kick off July 15th in Jordan, Minn., has turned into a battle between the owners of Minnesota Harvest Apple Orchard and Scott County.

A judge issued a temporary restraining order July 6th to stop Minnesota Harvest’s “Pickin’ in the Dark” series scheduled through September 18th. But two days later, the orchard’s owners, brothers Skip and Topper Sponsel, were granted a stay providing for the July 15th Kenny Wayne Shepherd and July 16th Patty Loveless shows to go forward.

A judge was scheduled to hear both parties’ arguments at a July 20th hearing.

The Sponsels said the orchard has been hosting live music for more than 30 years, so they’re scratching their heads over the county’s new interpretation of their conditional-use permit issued in 1990. Officials now say “rock concerts” aren’t listed in the permit’s language as live entertainment but words like “concertina” and “player piano” are.

“The issue really comes down to what the conditional-use permit says and how it should be interpreted,” Skip Sponsel told Pollstar. “The CUP says we are allowed to do live music and several other kinds of entertainment including theatrical and exhibitions.

“The county — 15 years after the CUP was issued — is today saying, ‘Well, we never meant that would be concerts.’ The [term] ‘live music’ is not just a colloquialism; it is a term of art, legally and otherwise. And live music absolutely means concerts.”

He added the problem can’t be that the 2,500-capacity tent structure would strain local resources since during apple harvest season, there can be up to 5,000 visitors at the orchard during peak hours.

“It strikes us as disingenuous for the county to say an operation that can handle 5,000 people at random can somehow not handle 2,500 people in reserved seats,” Sponsel said, “particularly when the 2,500 people are likely to be above the 18-to-29 age group and would probably like to remain in their seats and enjoy the concert. It’s relatively easier to run a concert than it is to run a harvest day.

“We’ve written up a large comprehensive operations plan that covers security and medical emergencies, weather emergencies and all other contingencies you can think of.”

Topper Sponsel added that the orchard’s neighbors haven’t complained.

“We have been on this music track for a long time because it’s permitted. That’s not accidental on our part. We did read our own CUP and know the things that we can do,” he told Pollstar.

“The neighbors say, ‘Can you get Dierks Bentley? Can you get Chris Cagle?’ No kidding! We don’t chase around looking to try to pull the neighbors into a political arena. We really do care.”

Other artists scheduled to perform at “Pickin’ in the Dark” include Little Feat, Tower Of Power, Marty Stuart, Kansas, Little River Band, Collin Raye, and Boney James, to name a few.

Tina Amendola