July 8, 2015
BECCA MARX: July 9th Hoot Preview —
It’s really about the love of music; live music is the spark to my flame. Over the years I’ve experienced another emotion when it comes to music: frustration. It goes like this…”Have you seen (insert local artist name here)?” Eighty percent of the time I get a blank stare in reply, and someone starts talking about how Madonna kissed some guy onstage somewhere…Old news people! She’ll kiss a toad if it keeps her in front of your face. Take offense if you want, but you know that it’s true. I long for people to seek out music they’ve never heard before by local artists who’re sweating it out because they love it, not because they need to feed the fame machine. People who work day jobs, have families or don’t, and still pursue their passion. That’s what gets me out every week to support the artists, to write about them and to talk about them to anyone who may, or may not be listening.
One of the best parts about living in a town ripe with musical fruit is the community it creates. An artist who is a legend in helping it to prosper is Mother Banjo (Ellen Stanley), not only a talented singer songwriter and banjo player, but the executive director at the MMC (MN Music Coalition), a non-profit organization whose mission is to “connect and support Minnesota’s creative community of independent artists.” A roots gospel banjo phenom, Mother Banjo has been the host of KFAI’s “Womenfolk Radio Show” for several plus years. She was a Midwest finalist for the Mountain Stage New Song contest, and her music has been featured on Sirius XM radio, and CMT.com. In 2009, her record “The Sad and Found” placed #10 on the Star Tribune’s album of the year list. In 2013, she released her acclaimed album, “the Devil Hasn’t Won” on her own label So Low Recordings. The banjo having originated in Africa is a natural fit as African-American Studies at Oberlin University was her area of study. A fan of Bela Fleck, she has performed with the likes of Lucy Wainwright Roche, Tracy Grammer, Storyhill, and the poet Robert Bly at venues such as: the Cedar Cultural Center, the Aster Café, The Dakota Jazz Club, SXSW, The Ark, and the International Folk Conference. If she’s anyone’s mother, I like to think of her as the very young mother of the burgeoning Twin Cities music family, to whom Minnesota artists owe a great debt. Thank you, Mother Banjo!
Art Vandalay is an alias, but not the one that you’re thinking of. No, it has naught to do with Seinfeld’s George Constanza, instead it’s a band, or in the case of the Hoot, a solo performer. Art Vandalay is the alias of guitarist and vocalist Brandon Henry, of the band Art Vandalay (Calvin Plocher-Kiesling, Ben Cook-Feltz, Drew Stevenson, Colin Monette). Sorry if I’ve confused you, or myself. The band’s debut album “Dancin’ With Your Demons” was released in 2009, and followed up with 2012’s “Heaven’s Operahouse”. An Americana roots sound complete with an accordion, critics liken them to Neil Young and The Byrds. Henry is a prolific performer, and can be seen at Insight Brewing, Golden’s Deli, Hell’s Kitchen, The Tavern of Northfield (with Elizabeth Ghandour), the Aster Café, and as the co-host of “Songwriters & Storytellers” at Butter Bakery & Café. Henry is an employee at Red House Records, and has been a social media mentor for the MMC. A special nod of thanks to Henry, he’s a contributor/reviewer to my first love: Riftmagazine.com. He performed with Jon Rodine and Ellen Stanley (Mother Banjo) as Red House Sound at Storyhill Fest Midwest in 2009, and has recently participated in the Kingfield PorchFest.
I’ve been watching Mayda explode on the local scene for far too long now. Mayda has that “something”, a singer/songwriter who is funky, fierce and an absolute powerhouse. Her long time collaboration with Michael Bland (Prince, The Replacements, Soul Asylum) has yielded some of the consistently best music in Minneapolis. City Pages voted her the “Best R&B Artist” in 2010. 2008’s record “The Interrogation” was direct and put her on the map with songs like “Focus” that were strong vocally and lyrically catchy. Her recent album “Busy Signal” (2014) happened after a soul-searching trip to South Korea to find her birth parents, and explore her heritage. She has proven herself as a: talented musician, songwriter, jingle writer and compelling performer. She has played venues from 2015’s PRIDE celebration, Live Letters Loft, The Mad Ripple Hootenanny, to the MIA’s Third Thursday night. This weekend at the Guthrie Theater, she’ll put on her one-woman show: “DEMAYDA”D”. The amazing Aby Wolf and DJ will top off the final show on Saturday.
Part of the Twin City’s own British invasion is indie soul singer songwriter, Scott James Walker. A native Londoner with a music obsession never quenched, his first High School band: Hard Options signed with a London Indie label, but drifted apart. Walker jumped the pond, and formed The Camdens with London native turned Minneapolis songstress, Katy Vernon. The duo became a trio, and played venues such as First Avenue, The Fine Line, and the Taste of MN Main Stage. The Camdens broke up, and both Walker and Vernon went their own ways. Walker has performed solo recently at the Aster Café, and in Chicago. Locally, he has collaborated as a duo with Laura Ranck at JR Mac’s. Walker has also worked as a fine fashion photographer, and has put his mark on the Minneapolis music scene with the creation of British-inspired music events like the Paul Weller night at Brit’s Pub. Thursday’s Hoot will be his third, see him there as he’s planning a London homecoming trip, complete with gigs in the near future.
When Jon Bream of the Star Tribune calls you out as “Minnesota’s answer to Emmylou Harris,” color me impressed! That’s exactly what happened to local Americana singer songwriter, banjo, fiddle and viola player, Barbara Jean. Barbara jean grew up in a musically gifted family, and has been celebrated by the Telluride Bluegrass Festival Troubadour Contest and the Big Top Chautauqua, earning her a spot on the NPR show Mountain Stage. Jean has played nearly every venue around, so here is the short list: Patrick’s Cabaret, Bryant Lake Theater, the Turf Club and the Dakota Jazz Club. A participant in the Current’s Songwriter Showcase, she also played with Nicholas David (Minnesota contestant on The Voice) on PBS’s Lowertown Line series at the Parkview Theater in April. Her acclaimed album, “Darker Than Blue” was released in late 2014, and features an all-star cast including: Mason Jennings, Chastity Brown and Erik Koskinen. Its track “Wishing Well” was listed on the Current.org’s Top 89 of 2014. She has played with some of the best: Trampled by Turtles, The Pines, The Ericksons, Erik Koskinen, Kathy Mattea, Low, and Martha Scanlan. With numerous shows coming up, a hometown favorite will be Music in Mears on 8/20.
This Thursday’s Hoot is going to light it up, I can’t wait to see it, can’t wait to talk and write about it. You know that you don’t want to be in the dark about it, so show up and watch it all go down, sun setting behind the dumpster, and all.
Becca Marx is a St. Paul-based freelance writer and critic and staff reporter for Rift Magazine.