If you were to write an intro for “Waiting Days” before it played on the radio, what would you want listeners to know about the song?
The “Waiting Days” song was left over from the last recording project, which means it has a self-prophesied title! It took on new meaning in the interim and was subsequently updated for the new era. It became the title track because it also clearly states a theme that threads through our whole new album. Another anecdote about the song: the piano is played by a good friend, Sean Roderick, who happens to have been Pert Near’s first bass player.
6 Things You Don’t Know About Us (Answered by Nate Sipe (mandolin, steel guitars, fiddle, vocals):
Former latchkey kids from Minneapolis, MN, together since 2007. A modern string band revival with a more contemporary perspective. Four songwriters/vocalists playing multiple instruments. Bassist Justin, Kevin on the banjo, guitarist J Lenz and Nate on the mandolin, steel guitars and fiddle. How was the band formed and how did you choose the band name?
I’m sure we’ve been together longer than that. It sure feels like it’s been twenty years anyway! A few of us nearly grew up together. Kevin, J and myself went to the same high school and had many common friends. I happened to come back to Minneapolis after a long summer of traveling and ran into those two at a free jazz show. Free as in Ornette Coleman, though I think it was also free of charge being that I was there and at the time I was a broke hippie train-hopper. However, I was also an aspiring folk musician who dreamt of the tens of dollars I could make busking in the park with others like me. These old friends I bumped into had already formed a little acoustic project. They also seemed interested enough when I told them I played a little mandolin that I invited myself over to their weekly band practive. They had already decided on a name when I arrived, some gibberish that I either didn’t mind or wasn’t comfortable enough to criticize. Fans have come to embrace it, as have I, but it’s still gibberish. One thing is certain: beer was involved.
Festival favorites in both the US and Europe. Helped launch the Blue Ox Music Festival in 2015. “People get really wrapped up in genre and labeling, but Blue Ox allows us to showcase all these different aspects of roots and American music that are really important to us and to the fabric of folk music today.” Bela Fleck, Tyler Childers, Jerry Douglas, Margo Price, The Preservation Hall Jazz Band, Billy Strings, The Infamous Stringdusters, and Greensky Bluegrass have graced the stage. Which artists are on your bucket list to bring to the 10th year of the festival in 2024?
Oh yeah, such a great list of artists that have played there, including several who soon after appearing at Blue Ox went onto huge crossover success. Not saying we’re responsible, but maybe they should play our 10th anniversary festival? Otherwise, we have an artist wishlist that’s about as long as a Mississippi mile. It includes many of our local friends that are active in our region and nationally, but also Del McCoury and Sam Bush, of course; and to personally manifest some hopeful magic– Watchhouse, Billy Strings, Valerie June, Sturgill Simpson, Gillian Welch and David Rawlings, and Rhiannon Giddens.
Live recording of The Wood Brothers’ “Mary Anna,” giving it the Pert Near treatment. The band is one of your favorite contemporary bands. What makes their song so special?
The Wood Bros are an amazing team of songwriting and instrumentation. The spirit of their music and clear lyrical voice captures us. Their contemporary blend of folk, blues and rock have made them overall one of our favorite groups as a band. We’ve seen them develop from sharing billings at their early festival appearances as a duo. They’ve never lost the vision of their sound and voice through their growth. I think Pert Near can relate to that in our own way over the course of our development. It made sense to do one of their songs in our own approach to modern string band music.
New music, “We know what our strengths are, and what kind of direction we can go in with the music.” What are some topics you want to address in your music?
The modern world is a mixed up place but a sense of togetherness has historically always been the appeal of music, as ceremony, as social connection, as a conduit for story, as a celebration of our shared existence. I think we are a band best experienced live and that is most comfortable with people dancing and celebrating, even being loud and enjoying each other during the show! We are not afraid to address socio-political subjects in our music but are not trying to pointedly alienate anyone either. We believe in inclusivity, diversity, racial equity and human rights as the only way to survive as a species. That is in our music, sometimes subtly, other times blatantly, but it’s always in the fabric of the community we want our music to reach. I’ve been struggling to address police violence and our country’s gun problem in my own songwriting.
New single: “I’ve Been Traveling” (Full album out Oct. 20.)
Playing The 2nd Annual CaveFest at The Caverns in Grundy County, TN, in October. The venue includes the world-famous cave concert hall. The Fest will have cave tours, cave yoga, open underground jam sessions, food trucks and hand-crafted goods from local vendors. Can you share a memory from the first festival you played as a band?
I believe the first festival we played was the Yggdrasil Festival at the beloved Harmony Park Music Garden in Geneva, MN. Based on some Nordic May Day ritual, it was basically a jam band festival, if memory serves me, where Pert Near was the outlier acoustic band. We played the Sunday morning brunch set after a night of hard partying, fueled by scrambled eggs from a bag and styrofoam cups of coffee. Our set was attended by the hearty but enthusiastic, some who definitely hadn’t slept yet from the night before. It was at this event we realized our audience was not the traditional bluegrass attendee but a younger or more modern hippie, “festivarian” listener. I don’t believe Pert Near altered our musical approach at all in response but we definitely altered our target market for bookings. A photo of our performance on the Yggdrasil main stage graced the album cover for our first salable album, Live Just Outside Sandstone, of which CD copies now are extremely valuable and collectable. Don’t even try to find it, it’s impossible. It also has the first original song in the Pert Near Sandstone catalog that I wrote called “Rounder’s Blues” which we recorded on our first studio album, Up and Down the River. First find a vintage CD player, then I triple dog dare you to find that!
Upcoming tour, including performances in South Dakota, Montana, Minnesota, Missouri, Tennessee, Oregon, Washington, Wisconsin, Nebraska, Colorado, and Illinois. What’s new for fans attending the fall concerts?
Pert Near will be working up our new songs to play on these shows, a sneak peek before the hometown album release. We are also so much more handsome now. Recently we bought a new van which will make the venue look a little more classy too! There will be smoke and lights and night not to forget. But seriously, we look forward to welcoming all of your readers to see a Pert Near Sandstone show. As the bodhisattva Wayne Shorter says, “Have fun with life, instead of life having fun with you!”
Can you share 12 songs that have influenced your lives and careers?
Up On Cripple Creek – The Band
This was a mantra of mine when traveling prior to joining Pert Near. The Band has been a perennial favorite of ours as millions of windshield miles concludes..
Red and White – Leo Kottke
A Minnesota local that I discovered through a mixtape that my uncle made for my dad. It captivated me from a young age and was a force that inspired me to learn acoustic music, specifically finger style guitar. I’m still amazed by his compositions and turn to his catalog as a travel companion.
Cumbia and Jazz Fusion – Charles Mingus
This piece heavily changed the way I heard music and considered compositional arrangements. Epic in every way.
Cedar Hill – David Grisman Quintet
The influence of progressive string band music started here for me.
More Big Bull Fiddle Fun – John Hartford
Playful and truly unique. Abstract in a way that Dylan could be jealous but still rooted in the traditional. Everything that Hartford did has influenced our band.
Meet Me in The Morning – Bob Dylan
This album was my gateway to folk music. I took guitar lessons when I was 15 to learn heavy metal but my instructor told me, “If you want to learn hard rock, you have to first learn the blues.” I then spent years exploring blues music and simultaneously discovered all the albums in my parents’ collection. There was blues nestled in everything oriented in the roots of American music- CCR, Paul Simon, The Doors, James Taylor, but also Rusted Root, Alice In Chains, etc. This song captured me so much that I listened closely to the rest of the album; Still one of my favs, except for “Idiot Wind,” which is just too cruel for my general disposition.
Rocky Road To Dublin- The Dubliners
Irish music is a large reason I play mandolin and followed by the fiddle. Before I knew about bluegrass and old-time music jams, the idea of gathering for a session of tunes with other players was motivation to learn. My fondness for all world folk music might stem from this source.
Leaving Home – New Lost City Ramblers
One of the biggest influences on me as a folk musician is this band. I first discovered their music in the public library, which is fitting. Their field research into regional styles, instrumental expertise, and promotional exposure for early recording artists or those unknown and under-appreciated altered the field of American popular music forever. Bill Monroe, Elizabeth Cotten, and many other musical legends benefited from them.
Lake of Fire – Nirvana Unplugged
This live concert brought my whole generation into acceptance of acoustic music. The Meat Puppets wrote a good folk rock story-song that also mentions Duluth!
Sail Away Ladies – Spider John Koerner
Living legend who is emblematic of the Minneapolis folk revival but also has such a singular style and voice.
Stealin’ – Jerry Garcia and David Grisman
This album introduced me to many artists and also The Anthology of American Folk Music Collection which was reissued on CD the following year, a meteoric occasion and resulting in another folk music boom.
Time (The Revelator) – Gillian Welch
Gillian developed a new standard in songwriting. There are few who can carry me away on the sound of their voice like she can. All of her recordings are a treasure and eternally on my desert island playlist.