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"Artist Profile"

Ian Hilmer

The first disc by Ian Hilmer opens with a guy strumming a single chord complaining about, among other things, sitting on the couch too much.

“Look out the window, I stare at the walls, I can’t seem to think of anything at all.”

Oh no, I thought. Shouldn’t he have waited until he had a thought before he began writing songs?

But my, how we elders pre-judge our couch dwellers, for Hilmer’s debut compact disc, “Kicking Time Cross Country” is perhaps the best release yet by the folks at Mankato’s Two-Fish Studios.

Fortunately for the next dozen songs, Hilmer gets off the couch and hits the road, raising dust, enjoying sunsets and escorting plenty of other images along the way.

The bulk of the album’s songs are prime examples of the less-is-more path to success, which in the case of local discs, can be defined as keeping impatient listeners listening.

Acoustic guitars, a touch of vocal harmony and a slide guitar make songs such as “Grey Line Sky” and others far more inviting than one would expect, and it bears comparison to Iowa songwriter Greg Brown’s recent arrangements.

The transition between putting emotion into the written word and translating those emotions via the vocal cords is a tricky one, and on the naked truth of a compact disc, the flaws are always magnified. Hilmer, amazingly, never wavers from an entirely convincing and competent delivery.

Perhaps that’s the secret ingredient here: Despite the fine musicianship he and others portray here (Paul Durenberger’s keyboards and B-3 organ are highlights), the bottom line is whether we’re buying any of this stuff or if another band pooled its money and made a CD because it’s cool to do so.

Hilmer delivers 100 percent, singing with a voice custom-made for the theme he’s chosen of solitary souls whose salvation is just a turn of the ignition away.

When he strays from the basics, he gets intelligently adventurous — “Let Me Down” has the audacity to include horns and results work well. Only when he gets into the upbeat stuff does the mood falter.

The fast-paced, full-band treatment of “Radio Song” sounds a bit too much like it’s trying to be one. The song — jumpy, funky, whatever you want to call it — does evolve into a small bit of admirable rhythm guitar jamming, but this is the type of thing that makes more sense on a stage at full height of a good evening. Here, the song’s effect is ultimately akin to watching a concert on TV rather than being there.

That mild disappointment quickly fades into the disc’s outstanding track “Hate City Rivals,” which could be one horrific parade march with its one-note metronome beat, ominous tone and repeated chant of “shoot, shoot that rebel king down.” Without war-is-hell sentimentality, it features Hilmer’s vocals decrying “A cause with no end to serve forever/temporary madness of a sacrificial lamb,” punctuated by a sing-along chant regarding the rebel king.

And the anti-drug tune “Wired” is just a cruise-control tune for this ride, fitting in with the upbeat, Bo Diddley-meets-calypso beat we’ve heard far too much of from local bands.

A few of Hilmer’s songs do plod along, but more often the mood he sets up through the instrumentation turn any plodding potential into a distinct, dusty mood, and the difference is significant — audible pleasure vs. indifference. Hilmer’s disc is a pleasure.

-Joe Tougas, The Free Press - Aquarium Records

"Planetarium show adds strings Ian Hilmer music enriches experience"

As Earth comes into focus, Ian Hilmer strikes his first chord.

An organic, perhaps folksy, sound emanates from his strings while a view from the farthest reaches of the universe contrasts the rich blues and greens of our home planet against a backdrop of star-speckled black.

On the overhead screen, the Milky Way is held at no more than an arm’s distance. Saturn comes into focus before returning, once again, to its place in deep space. The dark side of the moon is only a second away and there are too many stars to count as Hilmer sings the final notes of his melodic “Out Past the Moon.”

This is science and art in harmony. And this is Mankato East’s next planetarium show.

“With our new machine, we have some interesting possibilities with music,” said East teacher and planetarium director Dave Burgess. “Students had some ideas and we decided to try it.”

During the summer, Burgess used an Educare Foundation grant as well as some additional funding to procure a state-of-the-art planetarium projector. Capable of reproducing space images in real time and with astounding clarity, East’s new projector is one of only a handful in the country in a public planetarium.

Burgess first unveiled the projector during a public show in September. But for its second public appearance, Burgess wanted to try something a little different.

Enter Ian Hilmer, a well-known local singer-songwriter who also works as a paraprofessional at Mankato East. Hilmer has recorded several albums and has toured the United States in addition to being a regular on the local scene, from Songs on the Lawn and Solstice to a CD-release party planned at The Haze in early December.

“If he didn’t work in my room, I never would’ve found out about his music,” Burgess said. “When I heard it, I thought: ‘This is good stuff.’”

The show opens with a few recorded songs from Hilmer accompanied by a computer-generated graphic presentation — think laser show on an overhead dome. Hilmer will then play a few live songs as Burgess silently guides the audience through space. The show finishes with a tour of the night sky.

“This is my 14th year as a musician,” Hilmer said. “But this is my first planetarium show.” - Mankato Free Press

"Planetarium Show"

Ian Hilmer is a well-known local musician who will be providing music for Mankato East’s planetarium show Tuesday. Hilmer’s style has drawn comparisons to Cat Stevens and Jethro Tull: “People always tell me, ‘You should cover Jim Croce.’”
Pat Christman / The Free Press
- Mankato Free Press

"Ian Hilmer"

Ian Hilmer

Hilmer has over a decade of wandering the country and performing under his belt and this experience is reflected in his songwriting. Ian offers audiences quality original music similar to Greg Brown, Tom Waits, Wilco, and the Tragically Hip.

“Hilmer delivers 100 percent, singing with a voice custom-made for the theme he’s chosen of solitary souls whose salvation is just a turn of the ignition away.”

–Joe Tougas, The Free Press

"From his days on the carnival circuit to sweating for hours under factory conditions in 102-degree heat, his music is the journal of his life adventures, his advice for the world, and an account of his carpe diem customs."

-Cathy Tatge, STATIC Magazine

- "No Alternative"


Still working on that hot first release.



Built solidly around Hilmer's no-frills songwriting and seasoned vocals, StageFright infuses appealing hooks with pathos laden lyrics. Fans of jam bands and indie rock will not be disappointed. Bands in a similar stylistic vein include: Wilco, the Tragically Hip, My Morning Jacket, Tom Waits and Greg Brown. The band released their first studio album titled "from ourselves" under the StageFright moniker on Aquarium Records late in 2006. Following 2004's "Live at the Paramount" (Moving Records) and Hilmer's first release "Kickin' Time Cross Country" (Aquarium). "from ourselves" showcase's Hilmer's songwriting abilities as well as the musical interplay amongst his new line-up—Hilmer's best to date. In his 10+ years of playing hallway bars, festivals and theatres across the Midwest, Hilmer has garnered a reputation as one of Minnesota's finest entertainers and songsmiths. "He gives the thinkers something to think about, the dancers something to dance about and the drinkers something to drink about." says one fan. Highlights of his career include a 2006 performance at the South by Southwest Festival in Austin TX, and past performances at the 10,000 Lakes Festival and Harvest Fest (some of the Midwest's premier music festivals).