The Rutabaga Brothers, with vocalist Mariah Ciangiola (second from left), performed at a spring 2023 concert at the Sons of Norway hall in Lanesboro. (Submitted photo)
Mariah’s Magical Musical Tour
RUSHFORD — Mariah Ciangiola grew up on a farm near Rushford, Minnesota, but at a very early age discovered a love that would take her far from home. Around the world, in fact. And then back again.
“When I was six I entered a talent contest being held at the old Rushford High School,” Mariah remembers. “I was the only child in the show. I was wearing my mom’s blush and red lipstick for the first time and I wanted to sing ‘Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend.’ My parents let me sing ‘How Much is That Doggie in the Window?’ I fell in love with performing!”
That love blossomed, leading Mariah to take piano and clarinet lessons, play in the Rushford High School band and sing in its choir, act in local community theater, even compete in (and win) vocal competitions at the Minnesota State Fair. At 13 she started working with her first vocal coach—Professor Judy Myers at St. Mary’s University—and later got a degree in musical theater from Ithaca College in New York. She was on her way.
Mariah’s dreams, talent and hard work led to appearances on New York stages in shows like “Little Shop of Horrors” and “The Marvelous Wonderettes.” She traveled across the U.S. for national tours of shows like “Babes in Toyland” and “Beauty and the Beast.” International doors opened when she became lead vocalist for AIDA cruise lines based out of Germany.
“I was traveling the world and having a wonderful time,” Mariah says. “Then Covid hit and basically shut down the travel industry. When I found myself stuck in Dubai I decided to return to Rushford to be with my family and figure out what might come next.”
Music is always part of “what comes next” for Mariah. She made her debut this spring in her new, post-pandemic role as vocalist (and the first female member) of The Rutabaga Brothers, a popular local rhythm & blues band, whose members hail from towns like Rushford, Peterson, Whalan, Grand Meadow, Winona and Lanesboro. “My parents had heard The Rutabaga Brothers and really enjoyed their music,” Mariah says. “My mom introduced me to Nathan Davidson, one of the Brothers, who leads and plays in a number of southeast Minnesota bands. Nathan asked if I’d be interested in singing here; we’ve been working together ever since!”
Davidson is thrilled that Mariah is back “home,” adding her talents to the local music scene. “She’s a natural talent and a true professional with great style,” he says. “She can sing it all—jazz, the blues, rock—and it’s all good!”
What musical flavor does Mariah hope to bring to the group? “I love all kinds of music,” she says. “Rhythm and blues, jazz, rock, pop. I grew up hearing and appreciating the old standards, too, and singers like Judy Garland, Etta James, Aretha Franklin. I guess I’m not a Rutabaga ‘Brother,’ but I do feel like a ‘soul sister!’ We’re having fun collaborating, playing together, and just getting out there to do music again.”
Her talents were on display a number of times during the summer of 2023 as The Rutabaga Brothers returned to live performances after a Covid hiatus. In addition to a “soft opening” April kick-off performance in Lanesboro, the band’s 2023 performances included Lanesboro’s 2023 Art in the Park festival, Whalan’s Music in the Bluffs concert series, the Peterson Summer Music Series, Zumbrota’s Music in the Park series, and Owatonna’s 11 at 7 summer concert series.
Music has taken Mariah Ciangiola on a full-circle journey from Rushford, around-the-world, and back again. “I’m really anxious to sing, make music, and get back in the groove,” she says. “We hope everyone who comes out to hear us will relax, have fun, and enjoy music they know and love. It will be a great time for everyone!”
There’s one last chance to hear Mariah with the Rutabaga’s this year–the band closes out its 2023 season on September 16th with a concert at Lanesboro’s Sons of Norway lodge.
Check out excerpts from the band’s 2023 Owatonna concert in this video.
Steve Harris, with his wife, Sue, is a former Lanesboro innkeeper, and a freelance writer and the author of the book Lanesboro, Minnesota.