Making their pitch for a portion of $25,000 in downtown event funding

A panel of judges decided who received portions of $25,000 in Rochester Downtown Alliance grant funding for events.

Pitch Night Battle of Bands.JPG
Maggie Panetta, right, and Nathaniel Nelson, co-owners of Treedome studio and record store, pitch their plan for a Rochester Battle of the Bands to a panel of judges Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2023 at One Discovery Square. The plan won grant funding for start-up events from the Rochester Downtown Alliance.
John Molseed / Post Bulletin
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ROCHESTER — A pair of proposals to bring more bands to downtown Rochester were music to someone’s ears.

Ten contenders competed for a portion of $25,000 in Rochester Downtown Alliance grant money for start-up events.

A panel of judges heard four-minute pitches from 10 event planners Wednesday night at One Discover Square and voted which to fund and how much.

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A returning downtown music festival derailed in 2020 due to COVID-19 and a proposed Rochester Battle of the Bands were two big winners from a panel of judges and public voting by the dozens who attended the event Wednesday night.

The Rochester Thaw music festival received $5,000 in funding and the battle of the bands received $3,000 in addition to a $500 bonus people’s choice grant.


Nick Novotny, founder of the Thaw which is being put on through My Town My Music, said the funding will help make the return of the festival start off strong. The runner-up people’s choice vote bolstered his already high hopes for the festival.

“What the event has always strived to be is a community event,” Novotny said. “The (people’s choice) vote gives us a lot of confidence the community is behind the event and wants to see it continue.”

Pitch Night Thaw.JPG
Nick Novotny, founder of the Rochester Thaw music festival, talks about the event to a panel of judges at a Rochester Downtown Alliance startup event grant pitch night at One Discovery Square Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2023. Thaw was awarded $5,000 in RDA startup event grant funding and was one of two project chosen by people attending the event.

Thaw was established in 2019 and was canceled in 2020 as a result of COVID-19. This year, festival planners have scheduled 30 bands in six downtown venues.

Treedome, LC’s Venue, Cafe Steam, Artheads Emporium, Bleu Duck and the Chateau Theater will all host live music Saturday, March 25, 2023.

The owners of Treedome studio and store pitched for their own event at Chateau. They proposed holding a battle of the bands in which eight groups face off in competition.

“There’s something alluring about a battle of the bands,” said Nathaniel Nelson, Treedome co-owner and co-founder. “It’s been so mythologized in TV and movies.”

Maggie Panetta, Treedome co-owner and co-founder, said the top people’s choice vote for the battle and the Thaw shows people are interested in local music and having more of it downtown.

“It puts a lot of value in the local music ecosystem,” she said.


Nelson said that ecosystem has been growing enough to warrant holding the battle annually.

“New bands pop up in Rochester a dozen a year,” he said. “There’s always a ripe source of talent.”

Other top grant winners include a sensory sensitive Saturday Family Fun Day. Organizer Michelle Ensign, mother of a nonverbal autistic son, said the event will give families of children a safe, nurturing space to explore and have fun.

Ensign said the event, which will be held at Mayo Park, will be welcoming to all families. Not all public events accommodate children who are sensitive to sudden or loud noises or are in a busy, crowded environment near car traffic.

Danielle Teal, of KSMQ public television, said she was moved by Ensign’s struggle to find events she felt comfortable taking her son.

“You touched my heart,” Teal told her.

The Indian Culture Association of Minnesota received $4,000 for its Utsav Festival of Colors downtown. ICAM held the event in July 2022 and planners told judges they plan to expand the 5k run and cultural celebration in 2023.

Pitch Night Utsav 04.JPG
Nisha Kurup, right, and Shyamala Bhat, talk about their plans for a downtown 5k run and Indian festival of colors, Utsav, to a panel of judges Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2023 at One Discovery Square. Their event was awarded $4,000 in Rochester Downtown Alliance startup event grant funding.
John Molseed / Post Bulletin

An event celebrating East African culture received $3,500 in funding. Fatuma Ahmed, co-founder of Pamoja Women, pitched a cultural celebration of fashion, food, music and things East African. Ahmed said Rochester has a large population of people from East Africa and the event is a way to express cultural pride and promote understanding. The Swahili word “Pamoja” roughly translates to “understanding,” she said.


Pitch Night Pamoja 03.JPG
Katija Ali, right, and Fatuma Ahmed, of Pamoja Women, an organization promoting East African Culture, explain their plan for an East African cultural festival to a panel of judges Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2023 at One Discovery Square. Their event was awarded $3,500 in Rochester Downtown Alliance funding.
John Molseed / Post Bulletin

Judges Will Forsman, owner of Cafe Steam; Teal; Tiffany Alexandria, artist, chef and owner of Choo-Choo-Ca-Chew who established the Night Market event in 2021; Amber Bojji, co-owner of Chez Bojji restaurant; and D'Angelo Tines, owner of Popus Gourmet popcorn in Rochester, deliberated grant funding after the pitches.

Each had criteria set by RDA and their measurements. Forsman said he was looking for events that had the most potential to continue on beyond their first year. Alexandria said she was interested in events that reflect the city's diversity.

Other RDA start-up grants awarded during the pitch night included:

  • $2,750 to Rochester YMCA sound bowl meditation sessions at Chateau Theater.
  • $1,000 to Pat Egan for his Songwriters in the Round at Treedome.
  • $1,500 to Sam Buchl and Michelle Partogi for a reading performance of Buchl’s original musical  “Broadway Nurse.”
  • $1,500 to the Rochester Art Center for a Families in Motion movement and art event by artist Stuart Pimsler.
  • $1,500 to Art Battle Minnesota for an art battle event in Rochester.
Pitch Night judges.JPG
D'Angelo Tines, owner of Popus Gourmet popcorn in Rochester, right, one of four judges who decided how more than $25,000 in Rochester Downtown Alliance startup event funding was divied, asks a question at a pitch night Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2023 at One Discovery Square. He and other judges, from left, Will Forsman, owner of Cafe Steam, Danielle Teal, of KSMQ pulblic television in Austin, Minn., Tiffany Alexandria, founder of the Night Market event in 2021 and Amber Bojji, co-owner of Che Bojji restaurant, voted on how to award the grant funding.
John Molseed / Post bulletin

John Molseed joined the Post Bulletin in 2018. He covers arts, culture, entertainment, nature and other fun stories he's surprised he gets paid to cover. When he's not writing articles about Southeast Minnesota artists and musicians, he's either picking banjo, brewing beer, biking or looking for other hobbies that begin with the letter "b." Readers can reach John at 507-285-7713 or
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