Mark Ostrowski knew his love for music would take him places, he just never counted on it being Brainerd.
Ostrowski a native of Bowling Brook, Ill., a suburb of Chicago, has taken on the task of revitalizing the alternative music scene in downtown Brainerd as the unofficial booking agent for Crossroads Music cafe. “There’s a stigma about (Crossroads) — it’s only for bikers, it’s a Christian club and it’s run by hippies. Ostrowski said: “My mission is to shatter that.”
Ostrowski has always surrounded himself creativity starting his musical career as a elementary school saxophone player.
“I kind of wasn’t digging that so I went to guitar,” he said. “I’ve really stuck with that.”
Ostrowski said his guitar playing led to a youth spent playing in bands ranging from rock to punk to hard-core music. “We just went crazy and broke stuff,” he said. “But I got to see what it was like getting booked as a band.”
After high school Ostrowski bid farewell to the Chicago band scene and enrolled in a ministry training program in Rockford, Ill. “I really felt like that was a turning point in my life,” he said. “I felt challenged to give up the band thing and focus on my relationship with God.”
Ostrowski said his time in Rockford helped evolve his appreciation for music and the role it would play in his life. “I realized the power of music — it’s not just for entertainment,” he said. “It has the power to move people — the power to heal.”
It was also in Rockford that Ostrowski met his wife, Missy, a native of Brainerd.
In April 2011, the Ostrowskis found themselves at a crossroad of their own. With changes in employment and housing and family situations, Ostrowski and his wife made the decision to leave Illinois for Brainerd.
“We were kind of thinking about coming here but it wasn’t something we were decided on,” he said. “At the time we were thinking like four months. We were looking at it like a get-away time.”
Nearly a year later, the couple is still calling Brainerd home and looking at the long-term plan of investing in the Brainerd music community.
Ostrowski spent the summer of 2011 working for the start-up Chariots of Nisswa company and through that heard about Crossroads Music Cafe in downtown Brainerd. Ostrowski eventually contacted Crossroads founder and director, Bob Evans, about booking bands at the Laurel Street venue.
“I’ve always wanted to book shows — that’s always been a dream of mine,” Ostrowski said. “(Evans) basically told me, ‘We’ve been praying for someone to do bookings and actually do it.’
“It’s funny because we barely knew each other, but he trusted me.”
Since November, Ostrowski has been busy booking monthly, and sometimes weekly, shows creating a buzz for the venue.
“There are people here who really want to see music and creativity in this area,” he said. “I want to help build that.”
The current lineup often includes area bands and biweekly open mic nights that attract area musicians, spoken word artists and poets. “Everybody’s got to start somewhere,” Ostrowski said. It’s not about being the best or being perfect.”
He hopes to see some bigger name bands grace the stage in the months ahead and has plans for a Teen Challenge benefit during the summer months.
At this stage, Ostrowski’s role at Crossroads is strictly volunteer, but he hopes to see it continue to grow into a full-time creative venue.
“We have big plans and big dreams,” he said. “Why not dream big?”
Ostrowski currently works at Heartland Tire on Washington Street and he and his wife, Missy, are expecting their first child, a baby girl, due this April.