Curtis and Loretta Simonet canceled more than a hundred shows during the pandemic. They saved 48,000 miles on their car, they estimate, between planned-and-canceled drives to Maine and Florida.

Nothing has hurt like seeing indie music venues close.

The Simonets, who perform as Curtis & Loretta, open up Oak Center General Store’s fall music series at 8 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 20.

The venue, inactive during much of the pandemic, is looking for volunteers to get the music hall above the farm store up and running again.

The couple hopes their upcoming concert will provide a strong start to the season. The summer’s folk music fests were busier than usual, Loretta Simonet said, but even so, folk music has never been the most popular genre.

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“All these places exist because they’re labors of love,” Curtis Simonet said. “I think some of them will probably be lost.”

Donations are taken for the store during weekly Saturday concerts at the Oak Center General Store on Saturday, Nov. 30, 2019 in Lake City. (Traci Westcott / twestcott@postbulletin.com)
Donations are taken for the store during weekly Saturday concerts at the Oak Center General Store on Saturday, Nov. 30, 2019 in Lake City. (Traci Westcott / twestcott@postbulletin.com)

The Simonets have had a decades-long relationship with the Oak Center General Store, 67011 U.S. 63, Lake City, ever since Jerry Rau, the man known as the “Minnesota Minstrel”, brought the couple to play a benefit concert and introduced them to owner Steven Schwen.

It's been a long, hard stretch of months for the general store, Schwen said, starting with the complete collapse of a 40-year volunteer system that kept the place humming.

Although some dedicated Oak Center volunteers continued to meet during the pandemic, he's still getting things going after nearly a two-year "hibernation." A group showed up last Sunday to clear junk out of the 100-year-old community hall, but Saturday's show is very much a test of how the season will go, Schwen said.

"We'll see whether people still want to get in their car and drive to see music," he said. "I think there's still an interest in it."

There’s a history to the Oak Center, from decades of town dances, vaudeville performances, and the odd chicken sale, Loretta Simonet said -- one that can’t be found anywhere else.

“It’s a wonderful, wonderful place,” Curtis Simonet said. “It’s an honor to play there, and we’re hoping we’ll help it open back up.”

Curtis and Loretta will play songs from 2015 record “When There’s Good To Be Done,” a series of stories about southeastern Minnesota people who performed acts of everyday heroism. They’ll sprinkle in new songs, inspired by the pandemic.

“You realized things that are important, and things you want to get rid of,” Loretta said.

The Simonets’ winter will be full of streamed live shows -- they think of them like radio shows, to get past the awkwardness of playing to an empty room -- and perform weekly for assisted living centers. The pair is already looking ahead to playing “100 Christmas shows,” then needing another month to get “Jingle Bells” out of their heads.

If You Go

What: Curtis & Loretta, Oak Center music reopening

When: 8 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 20

Where: Oak Center General Store

Cost: $15 in advance, $18 at the door. Call 507-753-2080 or see oakcentergeneralstore.com for more information.