The Minnesota bluegrass scene is alive and well, and at least for the next couple of weekends, it will be alive at the Parkway Theater.
Two entrenched string groups that were gaining momentum before the pandemic, the Barley Jacks and Barbaro host album release nights at the eclectic neighborhood theater in southern Minneapolis for back-to-back weekends. Sounds like a good excuse to get to know these rising stars better.
Pass: Conductor Brian Wicklund (violin / mandolin) started playing bluegrass with his father who picked banjos while growing up in St. Peter, Minn. and I fell in love with it, ”he recalls.
After serving as a sideman of Stoney Lonesome and Kathy Kallick for many years, Wicklund formed the Barley Jacks in 2009 to present his own songs and perform closer to his home north of Stillwater. “We played up and down in the Sainte-Croix valley, and now we’re starting to come out a bit more.”
Members: All of the middle-aged fathers – Wicklund had 10 children among them – other Barley Jacks include versatile guitarist Mike Cramer, percussionist Joel Arpin and bassist Kevin Rowe. “The verb ‘to play music’ really applies here, because we have a lot of fun and we really listen to each other and we play each other,” said the conductor.
New album: The Kickstarter-funded quartet’s third album, “Coming Down the Mountain”, shows off their impressive harmonies and spirited but not flashy string selection through 10 original tunes plus a very fun cover, a tangy version of “I’ve Just” Beatles Saw a Face. “Wicklund said,” It lends itself very well to bluegrass, and yet it’s not the kind of song I would ever write as a bluegrass songwriter. ”
He laughed when asked about the title song by a Minnesota-based band: “Mountains are a great metaphor for a songwriter, even if we don’t have one near us.”
Night out: Saturday at 8 p.m., Parkway Theater, 4812 Chicago Av. S., with Honeybutter Openers (directed by Wicklund’s daughter, Clara), $ 25 to $ 50, theparkwaytheater.com.
Pass: Following his love for the bluegrassy Minnesota bands Trampled by Turtles and Pert Near Sandstone, singer / guitarist Kyle Shelstad moved here from Montana to form Barbaro in 2017 with Winona-based banjo player Isaac Sammis. “I used to listen to a lot of folk and jam-band music, and the crossing with bluegrass is pretty natural,” Shelstad recalls.
Named after the 2006 Kentucky Derby winner, the group has gone from 331 Club and brewery concerts to regional festival slots and (over the past month) trips to the Americana Fest in Nashville and the World of Bluegrass convention in Raleigh, North Carolina.
Members: The quartet is completed by bassist Jason Wells and fiddler Rachel Calvert, who said she was “a Suzuki child” trained in jazz and classical from an early age. She fell in love with bluegrass after falling in love with a guy who loved music. “I really immersed myself in it and learned all the rich traditions of bluegrass, as I think we all have,” Calvert said. “You have to be able to walk, even if you’re like us and don’t play strictly traditional bluegrass.”
New album: After releasing his debut album, “Dressed in Roses”, just before the pandemic hit in early 2020 – “We were at least able to tour with him for three months, so we feel lucky,” Shelstad said – the band has filled her time while recording the pandemic “Under the Covers”, a playful but heartfelt EP of covers with a rotating cast of guest singers. Songs include Humbird’s Siri Undlin taking on Gillian Welch’s “Dark Turn of Mind,” Gully Boys singer Kathy Callahan doing Sheryl Crow’s “If It Makes You Happy” and recently deceased Kind Country singer Max Graham (a former Barbaro) covering “Jesus, Etc.”
Not just a fun excursion, the group designed the EP specifically as a charity project to help Minneapolis recover from the chaos of 2020. All proceeds will go to Our Savior’s Community Services of Minneapolis. Shelstad said, “It was important to us that it was a charity doing very concrete and practical work in the community. “
Release party: 8 p.m. Oct. 15, $ 17 to $ 40, with Good Morning Bedlam.