60 miles North of the Twin Cities sits the small town of Braham. A city of roughly 1,800 residents, it’s easy to miss if you’re not paying attention. One block off Main Street, across from the Fire Station, sits Happy Productions, an online radio station with an intimate little gem. The Listening Room sits around 50 people and Shawn Sullivan, the radio station’s owner, is capitalizing on a well worn formula. On Friday’s the room welcomes in Minnesota singer-songwriters and bands for cozy shows designed to engage and encourage listening. Based on last nights show of bluegrass band Barbaro and Americana singer MoeDeLL, it’s easy to see why less space equals more sound.
Walking inside the nondescript building, you’re quickly greeted into a little lobby area. Photos of artists, merch tables, and a large board of drink selections happily await. Emma, Shawn’s wife runs the bar, while their two kids roam the venue helping out. The overall vibe is very welcoming as you step down into the music venue. Instruments and sound absorbing panels dangle from the ceiling as you take a seat. The ability to order a drink from your seat with a UR code is brilliantly available to keep you engaged and seated during shows.
The fourpiece newgrass band Barbaro came out and gathered around one microphone to kick off the evening. Immediately the room fell silent as Barbaro dove into their music. The bluegrass tradition of performing around one microphone is intended to strip away electronics and allow the band to blend their sound based on distance from the microphone. Bass player Jason Wells typically sat further away as the upright bass has a larger sound, while Kyle Shelstad and Rachel Calvert leaned in and out to interject their quieter instruments.
Just two songs in, “Aunt Betty” tested the first moment of what the room sounds like when they quietly whispered into the microphone. Sitting in the back corner, every wisp of their voices cut through. That level of quietness and ability to soak in the dynamics of the song continued to impress throughout the evening. A few motorcycles roaring by and an occasional bottle clank from the bar seemed to be the only distractions preventing you from falling even deeper into a focused listen.
Blending in some new songs and a few covers, Barbaro effortlessly chugged through “Pancake and a Bad Idea” and mythical cat song “Kawliga”. It was their new working title song “Noodletune” that combined all the things they do well. Dynamics, timely solos, and a concentrated energy energized the enchanted audience. Then expertly shifting into “Montana, Oh”, the band softly serenaded everyone with beautiful oh’s.
Announcing an online EP of cover songs being released this summer, they invited Kathy from Gully Boys up to perform a cover of Sheryl Crow’s “If It Makes You Happy”. It was a small taste of what’s to come on the upcoming release and the importance in music for collaboration. Coming out of a pandemic, it ‘s also heartwarming seeing musicians come together once more.
The trio of MoeDeLL was next and once again, the room was ready to listen. His freshly released album Ain’t That Something is the fourth release in his career. MoeDeLL’s unique gritty voice, chugging along guitar picking, and foot-stomping tales about life offered a different liveliness into the room. The trio quickly blazed through the first 3 songs. “The Double Crosser” pulled the reins back slightly as the dobro guitar and up-right bass complimented MoeDell’s softer side.
MoeDell has a knack of telling stories in his songs, rambles of the past and thoughts about the future. “Sunday Dinner” shares the story about being raised by his Grandma and having a family member that she didn’t get along with. “Logan Drive” is about memories of growing up on that road and all the crazy things that happened. These relatable life experiences take you back to small towns and finding your path in a complex world.
One such song “Hummin’ Along” snuck it’s way onto the new album. A song specifically about the pandemic, its puts perspective in the importance of life and all the unfinished dreams we had when things shut down. Tim Sunde (bass) and Chris O’Brien (dobro) had stepped away as MoeDeLL started the song solo, but with a pause before the last chorus, the trio stepped back up and filled the sails for the final moments of the song.
Nomintated for Songwriter of the Year and Americana Artist of the Year for the 2020 Midwest Country Music Association Awards, MoeDeLL is a voice and endearing writer that isn’t afraid to tell tales of dark times and the sometimes awkwardness of being in love. The Listening Room gives musicians like this a way to be heard, where every word can be absorbed. It’s a chance to see artists up close and engage with questions stories, and even some spontaneous dancing.
Finishing out the evening was a reunited Barbaro and MoeDeLL superband. Taking turns with solos, jamming together as a group, it felt like a jubilee in the trust form. These moments are why we miss live music. Watching artists interact closely, play off of each other, and witness their joy in performing is a strong reminder that we all need to take time to listen more.
To experience your own listening experience, check out The Listening Room’s upcoming schedule here.