Sunday, November 24, 2013

The Pines, the Cedar, Molten Lava, and a Forest of Sound

I continue to be astounded by the depth and breadth of music flowing out of the Minnesota music scene, and I’m speaking as someone who has only ever dipped their toes into it.

Consequently, I’m “discovering” bands that frankly many hard core Minnesota music fans have been following for years. I hang my head before your collective “ah DUH” but will soldier on in talking about them, anyway.

The Pines (l-r: Benson Ramsey and David Huckfelt, with bassist James Buckley.
Not pictured: Michael Rossetto, J.T. Bates, Jacob Hanson, Alex Ramsey)
Cases in point: : Dave Simonett, frontman for Trampled by Turtles (, and the band he opened for The Pines ( The Pines did a two-night stand at the Cedar Cultural Center  ( November 22 and 23; Simonett opening on the 22nd. I’ll set him aside for now and concentrate on The Pines.
Benson Ramsey
Benson Ramsey
While it’s easy to shorthand Indie-roots band Trampled by Turtles for those who haven’t heard them, at least when referencing their song “Wait So Long” (“Think Hüsker Dü, but with a fiddle and a mandolin.”), I’m finding The Pines harder. What first drew me to pay attention was this Steve Earle song I kept hearing on the radio, “Heart and Bones.” Except, it’s not Steve Earle, it’s Benson Ramsey, taking a turn on vocals for the band. He also is the voice on the beautiful Cry, Cry, Crow from their 2012 Dark So Gold.

David Huckfelt
David Huckfelt

 And then I heard this song “Rise Up and Be Lonely”, which vaguely reminded me of Dylan’s “Not Dark Yet”—if Jakob rather than his dad was singing it (so the voice does  NAUGGGTT sound like THISSSS, but still sounds vaguely Dylanese). Well, that’s David Huckfelt.

Both these guys actually hail from Iowa, which is good for Iowa, since after Michele Bachman I was pretty much inclined to write off Iowa and lock our borders down there from any Iowan immigration. So apologies, Iowa—you’re probably as embarrassed to be associated with her as we are. And thanks for loaning us these guys.

So, anyway, after that bit of research (thanks, google), I realized “oh, The Pines—turns out I like The Pines; I should go hear The Pines”, and so I got tickets for the Friday night show at the Cedar.

When I got to the Cedar, a venue I love for many reasons, not least of which is the introductions given by—well, we’ll call him The Master of Ceremonies—I feared the worst when I saw chairs not just on the floor but on the stage. Generally, I hate a sit down show. I think of them as “sit down and fall asleep” shows. But that’s how I saw Peter Himmelman at the Cedar, and there’s no way you fall asleep during a Peter Himmelman show. Turns out, it’s the same for The Pines. The chairs are there to keep you from falling down as you are transfixed by the swirl of sound.

It’s strange to describe folk music as “lush,” but I think that fits The Pines very well. It’s a surround-sound kind of feeling, but much more of a welcome-home-arms-around-you-hug surround than an Enya-woo-woo-mystic kind of surround. It feels intimate and home-y and beautiful and joyful. I am very glad I did a little homework and then got myself tickets and down to the show.

Before setting aside The Pines and moving backwards to Dave Simonett, I’ll mention a little story from the end of the show: Benson mentioned having suddenly contemplating on the ground beneath him while standing in line at a local coffee shop. The story begins, for him, with reflecting on a comet (ISON) that is approaching earth, then moves on to the molten lava beneath his feet and the distance to the center of the earth. It’s at this point that I realized “I should be recording this,” so watch the video for the remainder of his story. I think what I love about it best is not even just Benson’s wonderment at the world but the loving, amused indulgence in the faces of his band members, as they let him go off on this storytelling tangent.

Dave Simonett
Now, Dave Simonett. I’d say this was—going back to my Hüsker Dü analogy—a bit like hearing Bob Mould’s Workbook Songs and Stories when having been (honestly) only a passing Hüsker Dü fan and realizing “holy shit, the guy writes great lyrics and man, can he play the guitar/create a melody!!!”. Once again, I hang my head in shame at the collective groan of all the Hüsker Dü fans saying “Jesus, how many years did it take you to figure THAT out, lady???!!” Better late than never? Mea culpa. 

Dave gave a stripped down presentation of his Trampled by Turtles songs (basically). Alone with a guitar, he sang mainly with his eyes closed—something I assume he can’t normally do in a more energetic and staged-crowded Trampled performance, or he’d probably get knock down or off the stage. It was wistful and also lovely—and with amusing moments, such as him mentioning, clearly with a joke and a smile, that the audience might be more familiar with a song “how those other guys (Trampled by Turtles) ruined it.”
Bottom line: Nashville ain’t got nothin’ on Minnesota (or Iowa). If you see a Pines or Simonett or Trampled by Turtles bill in your town, just get yourself a ticket. You’ll be glad you did—“All the While” (

Yeah, well I was shooting blind, with the camera sitting on my lap and the viewfinder not visible. All things considered it is better than it could have been.

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