“Hey man! You came!” Bradley Kallhoff, the mandolin player of St. George’s Folly says as he embraces me.
“Yeah, of course,” I reply. “Looking forward to it. Let me get my lady a drink. You want anything?”
“I’m good,” he says with a wry smile, holding up an empty Burger King cup.
And that’s the feeling of the evening. Humorous, informal, generous. We know that we are together, that the world is right, even if the joy is only found in these careful corners of our day.
Outside, it is 10 below. The world is harsh and threatening. The physical and political landscape of our country and culture are angry and brooding, a violence bred of dissatisfaction underscores every interaction across landscapes both digital and psychological.
But here, on the outer rim of downtown Minneapolis, through a discreet entrance and down a wide stair leading to a basement bar, below the easy privilege of the street level restaurant, surrounded by the embrace of the brick walls — the foundation of the building — a gathering is happening. It is a ritual as old as humanity, and it is the reason we endure. People come together, slap each other on the back, look at one another with fondness, pull chairs around and claim a spot as the boys get ready to play.
When St. George’s Folly takes the stage, we are home with family.
The audience is dominated by friends and relations of the six-piece group. The rest are honorary members. Everyone shuffles in from the bar area, fresh pints in hand. The children take off their jackets. The old folks find a comfortable place to lean back. The girls flip their hair and the boys exude a longing for acceptance that seeps into the oxygen of any social gathering. We are in every Irish pub in the world, every backyard barbecue, every sweet 16 party. We are in church, in a way. We are surrounded by people who care, and people who matter.
The band doesn’t have a formal soundcheck. Instead, as each member is ready, they join an impromptu rendition of “Semi-Charmed Life,” easily falling apart and recovering several times, establishing the tangible rhythm that does not rely on execution or control, but rather on inclusion and awareness.
Sam Foster, “Arphu” to his friends, slithers back to the drum set, sheds his Rocko’s Modern Life hoodie to reveal a sleeveless Ramones tee. Adam Azra’el, the primary vocalist and masthead of the group, makes sure his boys are ready to fire, but he does so amidst banter and jibes and puns that bind the room together like the carefree comfort of the last act at a family reunion.
There is no pressure here, and St. George’s Folly likes it that way. The raw material of the cold world and toil of the day are manufactured into fond memory, and the future seems shiny with optimism, leaving the moment to be enjoyed over a laugh and a pint.
When I arrived at the venue, the other band on the bill for the evening, Hallucitania, were mid-set and in a world of their own. I say ‘other band’ rather than ‘openers’ because they were not openers. They were not warming up the crowd for St. George’s Folly, they were playing their own show by their own standards.
The crowd hadn’t quite assembled yet, giving the trio the freedom to stretch their legs. They played with a raucous enthusiasm of a band who has yet to pay any mind to agenda or firm goals— just three dudes in button-up shirts with ties and blue jeans playing music because they want to.
Their set was built for maximizing their noisy talent, trying to find their voices in front of a crowd, experimenting. They introduce a song by saying, “This next song…” and then they just start playing.
At one point, during a breakdown, lead singer Griffin Thiel casually floated amongst the crowd, shaking hands and introducing himself, then grabbing a broom and sweeping the floor next to the stage. It was a pitch-perfect parody of their own intentions. Hallucitania was neither giving out names nor apologetically cleaning up after themselves.
Their performance was like a personification of a good-intentioned yet irresponsible one-night stand. They were the wild bastard children of 70s punk and 90s pop, and we were the prissy prom date who hopes to see them again.
The dork punk trio finished their set, which was full of these theatrics and technical flourishes, with “Desperate Housewives,” a tune that featured an inserted chorus of the Proclaimers hit “I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)” complete with call and echo “Da-Dat-Da”s. The song also featured a plastic horn-shaped kazoo.
“We’ve got merch!” They exclaimed before leaving the stage. “Shirts and stickers and temporary tattoos. And buttons. Get those quick, they’ll be in high demand.” As St. Geroge’s Folly began to set up, we are able to pay two dollars for some quality swag.
During the break, St. George’s Folly emerge from a green-room area in the back and ride the wave of momentum until their set is in full swing.
Their sound is a mixture of traditional Irish drinking songs skewered by modern pop culture references and arrangements. It’s like the Dropkick Murphys filtered through an episode of South Park. The content is mostly storytelling, sing-song, but many of the songs are originals. The members trade off writing credits and vocal duties. Everyone participates, everyone is the star.
The passionate and charming Kallhoff rocks a mandolin as he sings and bobs his head while relating a randy tale of an unfaithful wife. The Bass player Nate Beck, the balladeer of the bunch, croons his own tunes and keeps the audience engaged with his humorous destruction of any fourth wall. Fiddle player Dempsy Schroeder carries most of the lead melodies and familiar riffs. I say ‘fiddle player’ because, while it is obvious he is a skilled violinist, here, in this bar, he is playing a mean fiddle.
All the while, Azra’el binds the unit together with his presence and encouraging hand. He is less a bandleader and more a patriarch basking in the success of the ensemble he has assembled. The band is only a year old, but their music comes from another time and is made newly relevant by the group’s enthusiasm.
At one point it is announced that this show is guitarist Owen Bacskai’s final performance with the group. He leads the band in a rendition of J. Geils Band’s “Centerfold” before retiring the song from the setlist as he heads off to make higher education his priority. The band gently chides Bacskai for his decision, their teasing filled with melancholy understanding.
The entire night has a vibe of inclusion often lost in the ‘industry.’ On a night when Frist Avenue’s ‘Best New Bands’ and Lana Del Rey are both hosting more formal shows at larger venues, this is proof that the Twin City’s talent pool runs deep. There’s no place I’d rather be than with St. George’s Folly.
It is the kind of show we’ve all seen, and it never loses its charm. A band finding its footing, polishing its sound, making merry for the reasons music was invented. They play to honor the past, celebrate the present, kill any elephants in the room. There is no worry about money or ‘likes’ or viral videos.
As the momentum begins to wain and thoughts of the drive home and some impending return to work began to drizzle back into our heads, St. George’s Folly finishes strong, ending with an announcement of the upcoming release of their first album and a not-to-be-missed St. Patrick’s Day gig.
If I’d had my way, they would have played until everyone in the place was drunk and Ol’ Uncle Jim demanded they repeat that one sweet, sad song – the one that reminded him of his lost love. We could have stayed in a moment suggested by the lyrics to their song “The Whiskey Ode“:
“Now it’s three in the morning/ We’ve emptied six bottles/ the crowd is much smaller/ and the fire is low/ and I’m not sure if I should go home or just stay here/ Oh Well/ Two or three more and I’m certain I’ll know!”