Know your Driftless Neighbor: Nick Zielinski

By Samantha Ludeking, Driftless Journal Production Manager

Zielinski gave musical cues via playing cards during the participation portion of the session Sunday.

From your next-door neighbor to that one down on main street, a face you see around town or a name you hear over and over, these are your Driftless Neighbors.

I’ve known of Nick Zielinski for a while, living just out of earshot of the drummer, improvisor and instrument builder in the hills of Decorah. Of course I’ve heard his music on the local “Rhymes with Decorah” podcast and I was aware of the Improvisor’s Orchestra at ArtHaus in which Zielinski leads collaborations with guest artists the second Sunday of every month.

Meeting the man and experiencing the musical DIY’er in action was a treat. To be in any space where music is being made is special, even for one as un-musical as myself. Feeling the sounds coming at you in the intimate setting of the ArtHaus’ Doyle G Heyveld Gallery is a musical experience unlike any other in the Driftless. 

During April’s session of Improvisor’s Orchestra, Zielinski was joined by Jon Ailbouni on trumpet for an hour concert, followed by a workshop where audience members participated in creating spontaneous music. 

Participant Jack Kates described the performance as “a dream sequence or montage.”

The final two chances to hear for yourself, as Zielinski leads the Improvisor’s Orchestra, will be May 12, with guest artist Adam Patterson, and June 9, with guest artist Ryan Young, the fiddle player from Trampled by Turtles.  All ages, instruments and musical styles are welcome at ArtHaus in Decorah from 2-4 p.m. on those dates. Percussion instruments will be available for those without their own.

Zielinski also performs in the region as “Indicative of Drumming” and in several bands.

I am nowhere near good enough at this writing thing to describe Zielinski’s music, so I’ll let some of the cool people do that …

“…psychedelic circus music — one imagines clowns riding around on trikes and tents filled with high-wire acts and other feats of defiance,” said Andrea Cantor of Jazz Police.

“…it’s drummer Nick Zielinski who makes the thing groove. His small flourishes and uncluttered approach make the music here dance, hover, float and flit about,” added Thom Jurek of

Another opportunity to check out our Driftless neighbor in action will be at the Barefoot in the Park Earth Day event Saturday, April 20, at Dunnings’ Spring in Decorah. When asked what we should expect, Zielinski said, “Drumming, singing and general fun… I think we’ll start with a traditional Ghanaian song called ‘Kpatsa’. And from there we’ll try our hand at some improvisation.”

I highly suggesting visiting or Indicative of Drumming on Youtube. I can’t describe it, but you won’t regret it!


Zielinski has showcased his music at festivals and conferences including: The Heliotrope Festival, The Northern Spark Festival, The International Society for Improvised Music (ISIM), The Society for Electro-Acoustic Music in the United States (SEAMUS) and The Spark Festival of Electronic Music. He has completed commissions to create music for the Minneapolis Institute of Art and the Black House Collective in Kansas City, Mos.

Beyond the music

Blacksmithing and metal work are not surprisingly, skills this instrument builder has acquired. While the initial interest came out of necessity, Zielinski counts the skills as a hobby, “I’m still quite a novice but I like to experiment a lot with what materials, shapes, etc. sound cool. I do also make a lot of other kinds of stuff too; it comes in handy around Christmas time.”

What do you like most about living in the Driftless: The scenery, cool people, turkey vultures

Favorite Driftless location: Arthaus

Favorite Book: Among the Thugs by Bill Buford

Favorite scent: Palo Santo

Favorite ice cream flavor: Vegan Phish Food

Favorite human: a tie between Laura Zielinski and Frances Zielinski

What do you want to be when you grow up: An eccentric billionaire

Hidden talent: I can find things amidst clutter

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