The Twin Cities music scene, like any great music scene, is a vast and diverse web of interconnected smaller scenes and sub-scenes. Some of these are well-known and often discussed by fans and publications like this one, while others remain relatively obscure.
One of the genres I’ve gotten into over the past few years is bluegrass. This is largely due to the thriving Twin Cities scene, which is home to many popular and under the radar acts playing the genre in a variety of different ways. On Sunday night, two of the most popular Twin Cities-based bluegrass groups brought their A-games to the intimate Fine Line with ticket proceeds benefitting an important organization, Second Harvest Heartland.
Second Harvest Heartland is an organization that aims to end hunger in the Twin Cities and beyond using a variety of methods. As great as the music turned out to be, our world was made better by money and awareness were going towards an important cause. For more information on Second Harvest Heartland, including how to donate, visit www.2harvest.org.
The music started with Pert Near Sandstone. Playing their own distinct brand of American roots music, the band had good energy throughout their set. They were more traditional-minded than the band that followed, but that proved to be no issue, as their up-tempo numbers kept the audience engaged and dancing. The set was lively, tight, and fun, all of which worked in the band’s favor. From the moment they started, it was clear that this wasn’t an average opening band.
Trampled by Turtles fiddler Ryan Young added a lot to the set. The occasional Pert collaborator helped fill out their sound without stepping on their toes musically or stealing the spotlight.
Also interesting and critical to Pert’s set was their choice of percussion. Rather than using drums (a semi-popular move among some like-minded groups), the group opted for using a clogger. I had never seen this before, and, to their credit, it added an interesting dynamic visually and musically without feeling gimmicky. In his article about Pert’s last show at First Ave., fellow Music in Minnesota writer Erik Ritland had similar feelings.
The set was strong, and it was fun to see the band’s talented members share the spotlight. I’m sure their brief set inspired deeper exploration by those who hadn’t heard them.
Local favorites Trampled by Turtles headlined. Originating in Duluth over a decade ago, the group has grown into an internationally touring juggernaut, and are one of the most popular Minnesota-based roots and bluegrass groups of all time. Their rise is well-chronicled and their musicianship is regarded as stellar.
Their set drew heavily from their latest album, last year’s strong Life is Good on the Open Road. Selections ranged from mid-tempo (opener “The Middle”) to barn burner (“Kelly’s Bar”), and many other highlights
Two very different new tracks stood out. “Annihilate,” one of the fast songs, has a touch of angst and feels like it could become a setlist staple. “Good Land,” an instrumental, had more of an Americana feel and provided a welcome respite from some of the more intense numbers.
Of course, the older songs and fan favorites had their moments as well. The back-to-back punch of “Alone” and “Wait so Long,” two of the band’s bigger songs from earlier in the decade, came late in the set but were a highpoint in the show. Also intriguing to longtime fans was the inclusion of songs that go back even further, like “Burn for Free” and a beautiful rendition of the folk song “Shenandoah.”
The presence and strength of the older songs served as a reminder of how formidable the band’s catalog is, while the energy of the new songs showcased the group’s considerable talent and capabilities. This is a band operating at a high level and not one that appears to be slowing down any time soon.