Meet the MusicWorks Panelists: David Safar, Jade, Jesse Stensby, Jesse Wiza, Jim McGuinn, and Tom Loftus

Posted on

Clockwise from top left: David Safar, Jade, Jesse Stensby, Jesse Wiza, Tom Loftus. Jim McGuinn

The American Midwest is one of the largest and closest markets for Manitoban artists and offers the potential to book enough regular performances to keep a P2 Visa active for a full year. The Twin Cities area is only a seven-hour drive away while the region’s overall population is roughly twice the size of Canada and encompasses 10 metropolitan areas, each with well over a million people. Jesse Stensby of Vitriol Independent Promotion, Tom Loftus of Modern Radio Record Label, and the team from Minnesota Public Radio's The Current 89.3 are making the trip north to to explore strategies for using the Midwest as a gateway to the rest of the American market at a special roundtable lunch on September 30. Preregistration for this session is required (deadline: 4PM on Sep 28) and space is very limited, so be sure to check out the info page at

David Safar is music director and overnight on-air host for 89.3 The Current. He also hosts weekly music spot "The New Hot" and produces the Sunday night program, "The Local Show". While with The Current, Safar has launched features such as the Local Music Exchange, the Song of the Day podcast, and the CD compilation, Local Current Volume 1. Prior to joining The Current, Safar was music director and program director for Radio K (the University of Minnesota's college radio station). Safar is a music omnivore, with a soft spot for post punk and hardcore music.

A Minnesota native, Jade, dove into the local music scene early on. While studying journalism at the University of Kansas, she kept her Minnesota ties close as an intern for 2024 Records, while booking bands like Spoon and Sharon Jones to play at her university. Minnesota pulled her back after graduation and she worked promoting independent musicians to radio stations across the nation with Tinderbox Music. Starting at The Current as an overnight host in 2008, Jade continued her work to promote Minnesota artists by curating musical events around the cities, most notably the Summit Backyard Bash and Wing Young Huie’s University Avenue Project (where she dug into the Frogtown music scene and created a soundtrack to the art show and live event series). She organized and booked The Current’s Road Trip, a Legacy-funded project that showcased Minnesota artists around the state. That led her to work as the principal at Minnesota Music Coalition, taking it from an idea to a stable and functioning non-profit. She recently won a Knight Foundation grant to put together art-filled pop-up events in St. Paul.

Jesse Stensby is director of U.S. College Radio operations of Vitriol Radio Promotion and Strange Loop Promo. His love for music began young, soaking up as much of the Omaha scene as he could and taking that enthusiasm to Iowa State University, where college radio discovered him. Together with his co-worker Jerry Steller, they've been running Vitriol Radio Promotion since its inception in Minneapolis in 2003, bringing the Minnesota scene to national exposure alongside bands from all over the globe.

Jesse Wiza is the music assistant at The Current. A Detroit native, she came to Minnesota by way of Los Angeles, where she worked as a radio promoter for Planetary Group and hosted a music show on a local station. Previously, she was a DJ and later became music director at WDBM 88.9, a student-run college radio station at Michigan State University, her alma mater. She also worked as a board operator and news stringer at a local AM station during her time in Lansing. A journalism grad, she also dabbles in improv, studying with Upright Citizens Brigade during her time in Los Angeles. Her hobbies include architectural photography, biking the many trails around her new home in the Twin Cities and getting white cat hair on her black t-shirts. 

Jim McGuinn joined 89.3 The Current in January 2009 as program director and on-air host, moving to the Twin Cities from Philadelphia and WXPN. Ever since seeing the Clash during his first concert, McGuinn has been hooked on rock 'n' roll—whether he was working on radio programming, playing guitar, bass, and lapsteel in a long list of bands, or teaching university level courses such as "Rock and Roll Cinema┬ö at Drexel University. McGuinn has received numerous accolades for his innovative programming, including the 2008 Best AAA Air Personality, and being named the 2009-2013 Program Director of Year for Non-Commercial AAA at the FMQB Triple A Conference while leading The Current to win Station of the Year 2009-2014. He loves the smell of vinyl in the morning, and lives in Saint Paul with his wife Christine, son Jameson, and Woody and Webster, two gray cats.

For the past 20 years, Tom Loftus has been offering support to and advocating for Minnesota musicians through a variety of endeavors. In 1999, he founded the Minneapolis artist-centered and currently active Modern Radio Record Label. The eclectic label has released music by numerous Twin Cities artists including STNNNG, Sims, The Plastic Constellations, Vampire Hands, Motion City Soundtrack, and Fury Things. Additionally, Modern Radio has released music by other U.S. artists including Deerhoof, Mirah, Yellow Swans, and William Elliott Whitmore. The many additional hats Loftus has worn in the music world include booking shows/tours, distributing records, creative consultant, educator, and more. He previously worked at McNally Smith College of Music for five years where he supported and advised musicians, composers, producers, and music business minded students in the department of Career & Alumni Services. He currently coordinates activities for the MN Music Coalition, statewide network for independent musicians who care about creating and sustaining a vibrant music community. Tom is a mini golf fanatic and along with his partner, Robin Schwartzman, they run a mini golf design, consultation, and review concern called A Couple of Putts.

Check out this little Q+A with all our visiting panelists...

Q: What are your top three bands to watch out for at the moment?

David: Sheer Mag, Moses Sumney, The Belligerents.

Jade: Alice Merton, SZA, Zola Jones

Jesse S: Kelela, Shey Baba, The Arkells (yes, I know they're huge in the Canada, but they deserve so much more love Stateside)

Jesse W: Bedouine - Azniv Korkejian's velvety smooth delivery will wash away any stresses you might have. Listening to her record is like getting your head massaged with lavender oil. Sure Sure - A ragtag crew of Los Angeles based electropoppers. They're a radiant gift from the music gods in the otherwise dreary landscape of 2017, and they're hitting the road for the first time with Minnesota's Hippo Campus this fall. That's a must-see show for me. Valley Queen - I'm always on the prowl for projects influenced by the Laurel Canyon sound; it's a delicate balance to synthesize that era without overreaching into cover band territory. I can feel the canyon's 80 year old eucalyptus trees hanging thick over the guitar lines on their debut Destroyer, but not so much that it weighs them down. It's perfectly heartbreaking.

Jim: The Belligerents, Alex Lahey, Confidence Man – all Aussies (this week)!

Tom: Another Heaven (formerly Hollow Boys), Snail Mail, Kælan Mikla (Iceland)

Q: What is your favourite restaurant in your home city and the best thing to order there?

David: The Bahn Mi at iPho by Saigon

Jade: I’m a huge ramen fan and while we have a few shops in town, my favorite is Tori Ramen. It’s super casual and small (about 12 people can be in at once). It’s the perfect place to chill by yourself with a steaming bowl and equally great for a date night.

Jesse S: This depends on so many things! If it's summer and I want to take advantage of the short, but amazing ones we get in this part of the world, I'm going to Sea Salt and getting the Crawfish Po Boy and a hoppy beer. If I'm trying to have a nice time out, I'm usually frequenting the 112 Eatery or Tilia. Neither place has let me down with any menu item thus far. Minneapolis is at no shortage of great places to scratch a number of culinary itches. St. Paul is no slouch either.

Jesse W: In terms of culinary debates, I thrive on arguing with pals about pizza. I'm a diehard neapolitan stan and Minneapolis' Young Joni is doing the Lord's work. It's a must-eat when out-of-towners are hungry. The space is also beautiful, floor to ceiling windows and plenty of greenery to make you feel like it's a healthy decision to scarf down all those carbs. GQ named it as one of their Best New Restaurants in America this year, with good reason.

Jim: Ngon – their Pho is awesome.

Tom: Chimborazo. Yuca Frita or plantains. Always get extra “green sauce"

Q: When you were six, what did you say you wanted to be when you grow up?

David: I don't recall wanting to grow up, but it probably had something to do with being in a band.

Jade: Music was always in my life, but probably at six I thought I was going to be a dancer.

Jesse S: At this point in my life, the music bug hadn't yet bit me and I'm sure I was deep into the idea of being a marine biologist.

Jesse W: My mother loves telling the story of how a young Jesse once proclaimed, "I want to talk when I grow up". Happy to report that I have generally followed through on that dream.

Jim: Professional basketball player. P.S. Still have hoop dreams to this day even though my body can’t hack it

Tom: I just turned 40 and not sure what I want to be when I grow up to this day. It’s a work in progress. At six, I probably wanted to be a member of the A-Team or hang out on Sesame Street. 

Q: What is the best part about your job?

David: Sharing all the new music with our listeners and watching artists develop careers.

Jade: The best part of the job is getting to share amazing music with people and talk about how great it is every day. Plus, free concert tickets.

Jesse S: The best part of my job is when a new act or song comes our way completely unexpected and bowls me over. The discovery aspect of the job is always what got me into music. As a promoter, I get to make and share those pretty often and I love that.

Jesse W: A lot of my job deals with the local music scene and I love playing tour guide. Whether it's getting the word out about a free show in the park, a new side-project from a hometown hero, or a recent transplant trying to get their footing - I find it hugely satisfying to help folks find ways to deeply connect with where they live. If you aren't passionate about where you live, I am going to work to change that.

Jim: We are able to spend our days being both serious and flippant about music, connecting artists to audiences and discovering ways to share music and communicate with each other.

Tom: Exposure and access to new music constantly. I’ve had opportunities to see and hear so much life changing and awe inspiring music. The music community has been a gateway to meeting wonderful people that I’m proud to call friends and feel like an extended family. I can’t imagine a life without all of the people I have met through music.

Q: What is the most challenging?

David: When we don't have enough room for all the great music we want to get on the air and cover on our website.

Jade: The things that aren’t the music. Building your “brand”, balancing your social life with your work life.

Jesse S: As a small company, we all have a lot of hats to wear and just being sure that nothing gets overlooked can be a trial at times. But having the freedom to say exactly which clients we work with is something I'd never trade away.

Jesse W: You can't make everyone happy, no matter how hard you try.

Jim: Every day I feel like I could keep working all day and night and still find more cool things I want to do. And the occasional meetings with people that don’t get what we’re doing.

Tom: $$$$. Revenue streams have shifted dramatically and breaking even on small run independent releases for labels has gotten more challenging in the last six years than the previous 12 years. 

Don't miss your change to connect with these panelists at the Roundtable Lunch: The Midwest as a Gateway to the American Music Market on September 30

Read more news