Ghost Wagon and Fathom Lane at the Icehouse

Last week I had an opportunity to see a band I knew I liked to see and a band I hadn’t seen before. Starting with the new band, I enjoyed seeing Ghost Wagon. In the spirit of full disclosure, a band member is a neighbor and so I had come specifically to see them.

Ghost Wagon released their first CD (Crooked & Dark) last year and it sounds like they are gearing up for another release in 2018. With eight band members, they easily filled the small stage of the Icehouse. There’s Chuck Nelson on vocals, guitars and harp, John Mack on guitar and vocals, AJ Swenson on vocals, Jimmy Olson on drums, Marc Dockter on keyboard, Chris Hagedorn on sax, Steve Burnett on bass, and Josh Braun on pedal steel. It’s fun to see so many different instruments on stage – especially something like a sax and pedal steel.

Ghost Wagon has a country rock feel – think Tom Petty or Traveling Wilburys. Also it’s fun to see a band that looks like they are having fun on stage and these folks look like they’re having fun. They have an energy that’s infectious. The guitar and keyboard seem to drive the action of a song like Hold My Heart. While the harmony of Swenson and Nelson rounded out the song. I am looking forward to their next CD, the new songs they played seemed even more introspective and just a little more mellow in a good way.

The night ended with Fathom Lane, the unveiled their newest video – The Queen of All Hearts. It’s strange and memorable. In fact, I think every band should open with a video to build a familiarity with at least one song before the set starts. I like their original music, although I especially appreciate how they tie in cover songs. There final song – a singalong of Knocking on Heavens Door was awesome. (Clearly this is something they do – singers joined them on stage!)

Dan Israel CD release – You’re Free – at the Cedar Cultural Center

The musical stars came out for Dan Israel’s CD release Tuesday night – and many of them joined him on stage to celebrate his fourteenth album. I enjoyed hearing some of his older work like Mama’s Kitchen, which I think is a great showcase for the strings on stage. But his newest work (You’re Free) was the shining star and it feels a little different than past work.

Apparently he left his “day job” to concentrate on his music and dedicate attention to his music. You’re Free (the song) gives voice to the freedom of leaving a job, doing what you want. The words are not veiled “no one body knows what you felt inside, you were along for the lonely ride, how you emerged with your pride is a mystery; All of the world is your oyster now…”  It’s pretty straightforward and it’s a feeling that I think is pretty universal for folks who are lucky enough to have a passion but wait for a while to dive in full force.

The sound is rock and country and makes you sway. It’s upbeat and moving forward. Israel has a warm baritone that feels like an old friend in the room.

I’m a fan especially of Make this Life Mine, the beginning feels like a story or maybe like a Disney start. It highlights the lower vibes of Israel’s voice, unique but comfortable. The drums have an exotic fee and the backup vocals add a ethereal sound. It’s a little melancholy, a little unapologetic in theme with an undercurrent of celebration.

Leading off the night was Rich Mattson & the Northstars. They are always fun too. Glad they played Youngest Old Friend of Mine. They remind me of X, in a really good way.

Happy May Day with the Annual Heart of the Beast Parade

Today was one of the best days for May Day I can remember – shocking given my lake expert informed me that ice out happened on Minnesota yesterday! There are three parts to our May Day event: the Parade, the Tree of Life Ceremony, and a Festival in Powderhorn Park. We caught the tail end of the parade, part of the ceremony and the festival.

The theme this year is – What You Feed Grows – it’s all about love. There were the usual actors for the ceremony – the red boats that cross the river, the gods and goddesses with some new ones including my new favorite pink birds. It’s amazing to see the work that folks do in creating their costumes.

May Day is an ancient holiday – going back to 29 BC and possibly before. It was originally a festival of flowers, which makes sense given the spring timing. In more modern time the May Day was associated with the May Pole or even with the religious ceremonies crowning Mary, the mother of Jesus. I can remember collecting lilacs and doing a march for Mary at some of my schools as a kid. In the last 19th century, the Socialists decided to make May Day International  Workers’ Day. So there’s also a historical tie to Socialism.

The Powderhorn Park version of the holiday is heavy on celebrating spring, socialism and opportunities for inclusive approaches to life and politics. The parade includes floats and puppets that carry the theme – as well as a host of supportive/supported groups. The Women’s March marched. And many candidates march. The festival includes music, food, and booths from various organizations. The ceremony happens on the shore of the lake, featuring characters from the parade, and culminates with the giant sun coming by boat to the shore.

Art in Bloom – family tradition with an added dip into China’s Last Dynasty

Art in Bloom is my very favorite annual event at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts. They partner with local florists and artists to create bouquets that complement or contrast or make you think deeper about a piece from the regular collection. This year I went twice once my with my mom and once with Aine.

Because it was a gorgeous weekend following a cruel and late winter snowstorm, the place was packed. But it was fun both times. A bonus from the MiA – on special days, such as Art in Bloom, you can get into the special shows, such as China’s Last Dynasty, for free. So some of the pictures actually come from that exhibit. (That exhibit is awesome, if you haven’t seen it yet!)

Quickest way to 17 bands in one night? Midwest Music Fest

It feels like I wasn’t there because I forgot my darned phone at home! But thanks to a friend I have some proof. And living without my phone for 28 hours makes me feel like a better person – although I will *never* do that again.

I left it at home for the Midwest Music Fest Saturday morning. We hit just about everything we could before the bars closed fewer than 12 hours later.

We saw:

  1. Humbird at the Masonic Temple. She was good but the frustration was that Thomas Abban was scheduled to be there and it was one of the few shows I had earmarked as not to be missed.
  2. Karate Chop, Silence in the Tent. Young kids – one noted two years ago he’d been standing in the audience wishing and now, from the stage, his dreams come true. Fun music.
  3. The Nunnery at Blooming Grounds. Looping done well. Looping is the latest, greatest and one of my favorite techniques that seems to have splashed on from Noise/Experimental scene.
  4. Joe Hunt at Acoustic Café. Got a quick look – liked him. Room was too full to hang out a long time. That seems like a good sign.
  5. PaviElle at the Masonic Temple. This was another show I wanted to make sure to see and I wasn’t disappointed. She can bring it and everyone on stage is so energetic.
  6. Alastair at Tredome. Hip hop. Our visit was short; felt like maybe a practice competition.
  7. Lady Lark in the Tent. OK, how can you not like a singer who wears sunglasses anytime, anywhere. TO be fair they seemed more natural at MMF than last time I saw her at First Ave.
  8. Almighty American at Blooming Grounds. Really nice voice. Looked the part. Crowd was pretty intimate, not as in small, but you could feel the lights-on in a smallish space.
  9. Superior Siren at Island City Brewing. I’ve seen and liked them before. It’s all women. There’s something other-worldly about them.
  10. Neil Young Tribune in the Tent. I’m not the biggest Neil Young fan but it’s music you know and they did it well. Lots of people dancing and weaving. And it was near the fabulous food trucks!
  11. Jaybone Bell & Restless Light at the Eagles.
  12. Maple & Beech at Ed’s No Name. This was a repeat; I had seen them before. It’s always fun to see a tambourine.
  13. Frogleg in the Tent. A fun band we’ve seen several times before. Fun to see them in the tent; I think they played a smaller venue last time.
  14. Dirt Train at the Eagles. Really liked them. I’d make an effort to see them again.
  15. Blackfoot Gypsies in the Tent. A hybrid 60s-70s hippie scene. Right up my alley and very fun.
  16. Dosh at the Masonic. Dosh is always going to be a favorite for me. He had The Nunnery as a special guest star. That was nice to see. I always like to see how more experimental musicians collaborate, especially when part of the sound relies on technology. They were the event highlight for me!
  17. A Little Too Short to be Stormtroopers at Ed’s No Name. It’s part jam and part karaoke with known musicians. I wasn’t sure what to expect but it’s not a bad way to end a music fest – a little something for everyone.

Weekend of Prince – second anniversary of his death a view from a super fan seat

Prince is undeniably a genius. His legacy to music and Minneapolis left much richer than he found them. I have been lucky enough to see him and get to attend some special events and have been privy to inside information. But I’m not a super fan – so it was fun to hang out with some super fans.

Also listening to various stories I learned that the right person can push you to quality that you could never have imagined – and maybe you could be that person for yourself. Clearly many of the people who had worked for Prince have been able to do this. And whatever you do, do with confidence.

On Wednesday, I attended a panel of Paisley Park Alumni at the University of Minnesota. It was fun to hear various stories. I happened to go with someone who was also an alum, so it was fun to hear a quiet interpretation too. The story that struck me was from hairdresser Kim Berry. It sounds like she started very young and stayed with him until the end. It was touching to hear how she worked with him. He was known to fall asleep in her chair – one of the few places/times where he would sleep. As she said – he’d say how long so I have to be under the dryer. She’d say 10 minutes. He’d fall asleep for an hour, wake up and ask how long he’d been there. Ten minutes, she’d say. Fun to hear the trust and how people work together.

Then there were just a few comments/lesson that people noted they have learned from Prince –
• If I don’t love it, I don’t do it – from Mayte Garcia
• Never show up empty handed, always do the best you can. Sometimes creativity is s blessing and sometimes it’s a curse – can’t remember who said it
• Like all geniuses, #Prince would make you do what you think you could not do – from Scottie Baldwin

On Thursday I attended Paisley Park 2018 Prince Celebration. Through some awesome connections, I was able to get a ticket to the event. A ticket with parking, which started my day off well. I drove in, gave my name, smiled very nicely and eventually they just let me in!

I got in just in time to see the last portion of the Sheila E talk and in for the tour. One very frustrating thing is that they make you lock up your phone. So I wasn’t able to take pictures or notes. So I just have to go by memory.

It is fun to see the phases of Prince – some of which has been added to the Paisley Park since his death, but going on a limb, I think most of it was there before. There’s a wall of inspiration, a mural that features Prince in the middle with the artists that have influenced Prince flanking one side and artists that Price has influence on the other. There’s a hall with pictures (paintings really) from 1978 to 1996 featuring the many looks of Prince on one side of the hall and various awards on the other.

We got to tour Studios A and B. That was fun. Fun to think of the various artists that have recorded work there. And there’s an Oscar you can hold.

The furniture throughout is pretty awesome. There’s a Schimmel Pegasus Grand Piano – which is a black, fiberglass piano that looks like it’s floating in air. The seating and artifacts are fun. They still look fairly modern, although I’m sure many are decades old. There’s a feel like eventually it may feel like Graceland, which is very much a testament to a time and place.

But Paisley Park is different in that there are the studios and huge performance spaces. It’s fun to hear the stories of the spaces. And there are more museum-like rooms dedicated to his three movies (Purple Rain, Cherry Moon and Graffiti Bridge) and various albums with motorcycles, video clips and costumes. The tour guides were very good but if I ruled the world, I might get former staff and friends to give the tours for things like the annual celebrations. I’ve heard some of those stories and they are kind of amazing.

The final session of the day was a performance by Sheila E. She is an extraordinary drummer! It was fun to see her and the rest of the musicians. She played all of the songs you’d expect (Glamorous Life, Erotic City, Holly Rock) and several I didn’t know. She took time out to ask attendees to remember the most important word – love. She said noted that love could change the world. Then she asked everyone to turn to a stranger and talk about love. It was could have felt hokey but absolutely perfect for the crowd.

The crowd was my favorite part. These people know more things about Prince than I remember about my own life! I have never seen more Prince t-shirts, shoes, jackets, tattoos – you name it! People cried at various rooms. Everyone had a story and looked for an opportunity to share it – much like upper division college literature classes. (“As I recall when I attended the very exclusive event on March 3, 2014 – that drawer was blue. Do you know when they painted it?) It was great – so great to see the enthusiasm and to know that these people are having one of the best days of their lives!

Of the various video clips we say – I was struck my one thing Prince said (and I paraphrase) – I’m not intimidated by anything, let myself be inspired. Great advice – I mean think of the things we did and wore and it’s just amazing to see what inspiration can do!

Thursday night we went out to the hotel closest to Paisley Park. Total bonus? It was karaoke night! Turns out lots of people playing at Paisley Park hang out there. We met four nice kids who told us they were the horn section for Prince – Prince liked to hire horn players that could dance and these guys could dance. We learned that just because you can play a horn really, does’t mean you can sing. One got up to sing. And he was better than I might be – but he really shone once his buddies got up and they all started the boys band dance. Impressive!

Friday was a shorter day at Paisley Park. We saw some photographers who had worked with Prince. One had a storehouse with hundreds of thousands of actual film she had shot. One had followed a Jessie Jackson campaign before Prince called her. The other was a dancer who took up photography. She was the most frank in her answers. Like how did you get that shadow in picture X? Oh, it was the just. But it was fun to hear about how Prince really pursued these women to work with him. He saw what he wanted and went for it.

One of them noted that Prince worked with and mentored a lot of women. She asked why he surrounded himself with women. Because women get me – he answered.

Next was a panel of dancers. It was fun to hear about their work as well. One noted that what she learned from Prince was to go into any project with full confidence. You might be learning, you might more onto any project but go into it with confidence.

Prince Celebration at Target Center

Thanks to Rick and Omarr we were in the second row for the Prince video/live tour. They show videos of Prince and live musicians play along. Our karaoke friends in the horn section featured highly. It’s very high energy show. They play at least parts of most of the hits. I guess we’d be there a full day if they played them all. There were a few songs that were new to me. The interaction or video and live worked really well. A feat of amazing technology and direction I can imagine.

My favorite part was when a team of super fans – many of whom I recognized from the events at Paisley Park – were brought up on stage to dance. Nothing better than knowing you are watching someone’s best day unfold in front of them.

The Thursday surprise was seeing our friends form the horn section again playing the big room And I was sitting by Jerome Benton, of fDeluxe (and The Family); the band that originally recorder Nothing Compares 2 U. They played on Friday.

I can’t tell you how many times I wished for my camera this weekend – but here are the various pictures I did get:

Record Store Day 2018 – 11.5 record stores in 6 hours across the Twin Cities

It’s one of our favorite traditions – chasing down record store day and trying to beat our best score of record shop sin a day. We failed miserably this year but we have some good excuses. Aine had a class until 10:30 and I have a party at Paisley Park at 6:00. But between those hours we hit 11 record stores that were open and did a drive-by of one that shut in the last year. Super bonus – it was gorgeous today – unlike one week ago when it snowed almost a foot.

So here was our agenda –

Stop One

Agharta Records – St. Paul
2512 University Ave W, St Paul, MN 55114
Free chocolate cake! And it was tasty. Aine pointed out that she knew she was growing up because the cake tasted better to her than the frosting. Luckily, I’m not that grown up; I ate the frosting. They have a good mix of new and used albums.

Stop Two

11:00 Hymie’s Vintage Records – Minneapolis
3820 E Lake St, Minneapolis, MN 55406
We timed this especially to see Charlie Parr perform on the outdoor stage. It felt like summer for the first time in long time. Hymies has music indoor and out all day long. They actually manage a whole block party. All they need is about 3 more doors in and out to handle the crowd. Bonus – they have free records for the taking.

Stop Three

Solid State Vinyl – Minneapolis
4022 E 46th St, Minneapolis, MN 55406
I don’t think we had been here before. The folks at Solid State were very friendly and the place is bright and feels new. Bonus you don’t find in all records store – no special smell.

Stop Four

Dead Media Records – Minneapolis
1828 E 35th St, Minneapolis, MN 55407
Music out in the back, a ping pong table, a spin wheel of prizes from Radio K and two floors of music. We bought 5 cassettes because Aine was so enthralled with them. Luckily my car plays tapes. SO now we have a homemade Led Zeppelin, Patty Smyth, David Bowie and some other hot 80s options. It was a good opportunity to learn about how tapes work and how they were a game changer for musicians in that it made it possible for a band to produce a piece of music to sell. That idea was pretty foreign to Aine.

Stop Five

Roadrunner Records – Minneapolis
4304 Nicollet Ave, Minneapolis, MN 55409
It’s a pretty serious record store. You can get some rare treats and it’s not too expense. The big treat for us? Running into Dale T Nelson. OK< a bigger treat for one of us than the other.

Stop Six

Extreme Noise – Minneapolis
407 W Lake St, Minneapolis, MN 55408
Extreme Noise actually sells a lot of obscure bands and fringe genres that I really like. But to be fair, as soon as we pulled up Aine said – oh I remember that smell. They had bands play in the back.

Stop Six and a half

Treehouse Records – sadly they closed but we were in the neighborhood so I thought we’d at least drive by.

Stop Seven

Fifth Element – Minneapolis
2411 Hennepin Ave S. Minneapolis, MN 55405
They feature a lot of rap, hip hop and some of the nicest staff around. There’s some great art and they sell a lot more than music, including art, clothing and books. We just missed the music.

Stop Eight

HiFi Records
1637 Hennepin Ave, Minneapolis, MN 55403
You can get a rock and roll haircut or by an album HiFi has everything. And they even had a very delicious lemony donut. HiFi is always a fun visit, they have a lot of great regalia around the shop.

Stop Nine

Electric Fetus – Minneapolis
2000 4th Ave S, Minneapolis, MN 55404
Electric Fetus is always one of my favorite stops with bands all day and special Record Store Day sale and specials. But it was packed, so packed despite the construction all around. This was a good year for me since I did not drop $70 on a dress this year there – but I’m not saying that I won’t go back later this week.

Stop Ten

Barely Brothers Records – St. Paul
783 Raymond Ave, St Paul, MN 55114
This is another stop that we actually timed to see Erik Koskinen and Becky Kapell play. We used to see Erik Koskinen play once a month at the Real Phonic Radio show at JJ Hill Library. Aine pointed out to me that she has not seen him play  in years. He started playing “Six Pack of Beer” and her response was – oh fifth grade. I think she meant the song.

Stop Eleven

Caydence Records and Coffee – St. Paul
900 Payne Ave, St Paul, MN 55130
This was a first time for us to visit this record store and coffee shop. We liked it. I was a little bummed out that we really missed the music – especially the Bad Man who started after we left

So that’s us. Only 364 days until the next Record Store Day.

Songs for Juliet, a celebration of unicorn moms for Katy Vernon’s CD early preview at the Hook and Ladder

Katy Vernon celebrated her birthday with a fundraiser for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society called Songs for Juliet, a tribute to her mother. She was kind enough to invite everyone. It was also a sneak preview of her upcoming CD, which was a treat.

Vernon’s catch phrase is “sad songs on a happy instrument”; the show last night was a demonstration of that marriage of opposites. She has a very upbeat persona, slightly self-deprecating, wears light-up shoes and plays the ukulele, while her songs pull hard at the heart strings. I heard this especially in Heart is in Your Hands, a song for her daughters Lily and Daisy; it’s a sweet slower song with an added emotional aspiration in her voice last night. Very touching.

Somebody’s Daughter is apparently a song in progress, written for the powerful women in her family. It showcases her clear voice highlighted with slight modulation. Vernon has a strong, very pretty voice. The deceptively upbeat nature complements the dark humor of a song like Five O’clock – a song about her own battle with alcohol, which she is wining. Taking the old phrase – it’s 5:00 somewhere – a phrase that usually conjures a gregarious image of folks on vacation or in the pub together and putting it on the face of a young mother at home is realistic look at what motherhood and life with alcohol can look like. There’s an important backdoor to feminism in the song; an example of women in art owning the things that are hard for women today.

It was great to see her with the full band. The band gives a range of genres that one instrument just can’t do. Look to the Sea has a bold festive feel, Undertow has a twang and some songs have a feel of old radio shows. The horn especially is a great counter to her voice – both loud and strong but different. I loved the keyboard in Lily, it sounded like a xylophone. Lily, about Vernon’s daughter, was a song that caught my ear because my oldest daughter is named Lily, after Pictures of Lily. But I think I’m going to tell my Lily that I named her after this song, it’s much more mom-approved.

The night began with Home Fires, a duet of Vicky Emerson and Sarah Morris. I think it was Morris who used a phrase that captured a theme for the night. She mentioned how glad she was to meet other moms who were musicians – a creature to her that seemed as rare as unicorns. So they sang for the unicorn moms. That feeling isn’t restricted to musician moms.

The Home Fires sounded great. Their voices blend well together. If theirs voices were a painting Emerson would be the green of the grass with Morris the blue of the sky and together the picture is richer. It’s tough not to like a songs like Front Porch about kindness and wine. Ad added bonus was ABBA-solutely, Vernon’s ABBA cover band. Nothing will take you back to be 10 years old faster than an ABBA song.

The Long Odds play to a full house at Mortimer’s

I got a sneak preview of The Long Odds a couple weeks ago at the Rock Your Rights NARAL concert at the Icehouse. So I was excited to get a chance to see them play their CD release (Level Ground) party at Mortimer’s. I have to say, I liked them even more there. It was a full room, cozy feel and a Americana-loving crowd.

The band filled the stage: Tim Heinlein on guitar, Missy Heinlein on keyboard and vocals, Jonas Lader on drums and vocals, Jason Streitz on guitar and vocals, Mike Fruncillo on bass and vocals and a special appearance from Jimmy Rogers on bass.

The music is easy to listen too, a nice twang with beat that keeps in interesting. I love the keyboard, which seemed to Hammond organ sound at times. I’m sure I heard a mandolin pop out and pretty sure I heard a cowbell too. The variety of instruments add an interest to the music.

One of my favorite songs was Paper Made. It’s slower, moodier than some of their other toe-tapping tunes. But it particularly showcases the combined vocals and I’m a sucker for a song that tells a good story. Throughout the show, each musician gets a chance to be the star, to highlight their talent, but with Paper Made I feel like everyone really comes together in a cohesive way.

River High at O’Gara’s – dark, pop, 80s appeal

The last band in the back room at O’Gara’s had a 1980s sound – no wait – it was the 1980s. So I’m not sure how much that memory infused my take on River High but I was definitely getting some 80s sensibilities out of the band.

There’s a dark undercurrent to the music – the last album is entitled Blood and Darkness and they sing about blood quite a bit so there’s truth in the advertising. But there’s an underpinning to the sound as well – a drudging beat that moves the songs forward and a drone that gives it a pleasant finish. The dark gives the music a depth.

They play rock with a catchy chorus. There are four in the band – Joe Masanz (bass), Jason Anderson (drums), Justin Law (guitar and vocals) and Rena Rasmussen (vocals). I think they’re at their best when Law and Rasmussen harmonize. Their voices blend really well together. Rasmussen has an I-won’t-take-crap attitude on the stage that makes her fun to watch and a powerful voice. Masanz looks the part, he’s fun to watch as a performer and Anderson keeps the songs going with a strong beat.

It is hard to pin down the genre. It’s  high energy with catchy chorus. Some songs (like Red Canary) are very danceable, while some are more like ballads. Then there’s that 80s feel, which I think is a quirkiness that gives over to rock. It’s hard not to like a band with a song called K.I.S.S.