The old-timey pickers take their saw, their jug and their babies outside for another busy season of front-porch gigs.
Of all the stories out there about band members throwing tantrums and quitting, the Roe Family Singers might have the mother of them all.
"She left the stage and didn't look back," Quillan Roe recounted of the day Elspeth Roe stormed off mid-set at a Minnesota Bluegrass & Old-Time Music Association festival.
"Halfway through the set she started crying and throwing her toys," continued Kim Roe. "She was 13 months then, and she said she didn't want to be in the backpack anymore. And that was it."
If you plan on spending a lot of time outside in Minneapolis this summer, chances are pretty good you'll come across the Roe Family Singers at some point. They're the one band you're as likely to see at a farmer's market, city park or restaurant patio as you are a bar like the 331 Club in northeast Minneapolis, where they perform every Monday night
You can easily identify them by the jug, the musical saw and the baby in the band. Yes, Elspeth has been replaced. Her 4-month-old sister with the similarly Gaelic name Onnee joined in time for summer and fit right in. Most bands -- or parents -- should have it this easy.
"She just sits there and watches all of us intently," said Quillan, praising the new band member as she hung out in Kim's Baby Bjorn on stage last week at Peavey Plaza.
Talking between sets, the Roes seemed to be having more trouble with the older members of their musical Family. Jovial guitarist and co-vocalist Dan Gaarder, who also plays in Trailer Trash, broke the news he had another gig that night and would have to bow out early. Same with mandolinist Kurt Froelich.
So it goes in a loose, front-porch-style, nine-member acoustic ensemble that's loaded with reputable musicians-about-town, including dobro/dulcimer player Rich Rue, fiddler Ric Lee, bassist Jon Olson, jug blower Rob "Spitty" Davis and the music scene's MVP on saw, Adam Wirtzfeld.
The group has maintained the charming informality that defined it from the start, when Quillan's beloved y'all-country band Accident Clearinghouse (now defunct) was invited to play a Johnny Cash/June Carter tribute at Lee's Liquor Lounge in 2004.
"Accident Clearinghouse couldn't play the show," he recalled, "so I asked Kim right there when I was on the phone with Lee's, 'Hey, Kim, remember when you said you wanted to start a band? Do you still want to do it?'"
Since then, the Roe Family Singers have grown as serious as one of their old, death-filled bluegrass songs when it comes to performing and/or recording. They've won some pretty serious honors to prove it, too, including a 2011 fellowship from the McKnight Foundation and (just as cutthroat a competition) top honors at last year's Battle of the Jug Bands.
They also prove their musical chops on the second Roe Family CD, "The Owl and the Bat and the Bumble Bee," which they're promoting Friday and Saturday nights at the 331, plus a family-friendly party Saturday at 3 p.m. at the Electric Fetus (all free).
The disc's 13 tracks range from traditional song-picker fare such as "Cannonball Blues," "Reuben Train" and "O Susannah" to a bounty of originals. Among the new ones are Kim's sweet love song "Happy Girl" and "Little Billy Reuben," a swiftly paced ditty that's also surprisingly sweet -- despite the fact that Quillan wrote it about Elspeth's bout with jaundice after she was born.
It's no coincidence that the new album is arriving concurrently with summer. The Roe Family takes to outdoor gigs like GOP candidates to tax cuts. Among the upcoming run of shows are the Sea Salt restaurant patio (first Friday and Saturday of the month), Worthington International Fest (July 9) and St. Paul Farmer's Market (July 30), plus a lot more you may just have to stumble across.
"We still have fun shows in the winter, but it seems a lot easier to get people involved in our music in the summer," Quillan said. "The kind of music we play is all about community and togetherness. It truly is 'family' music. And here in Minnesota, there's definitely a greater sense of community when everybody's outside in the summer."
Having a cute baby on stage certainly doesn't hurt your band's draw, either.Brian Just in time
As new summer albums go, none may be sunnier than the full-length debut by eclectic six-piece ensemble the Brian Just Band. Like a smile-inducing cross between Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros and Belle & Sebastian, the lengthily titled "If You Like to Be Alone or If You Need to Be With Someone" offers up concise bits of trumpet, flute, piano and shimmery female backup vocals -- all cleanly laid over Just's daydreamy, lazy-afternoon folk-rock tunes. "Spring days are sinking into my shoes," he croons Marty Balin/Jefferson Airplane-style in one of the highlight tracks. He and the band will play the album in its entirety Sunday at the Stone Arch Festival (5:15 p.m.).Random mix
An album that feels like it has taken forever to get out (never mind that the group just formed last year), Pink Mink's debut disc comes out July 5 and the group plans to celebrate in grand fashion: The CD release party will take place July 8 on a paddleboat departing from Harriet Island. Go to www.PinkMinkBand.com for details. ... Another album fans have been waiting for, the Jayhawks' "Mockingbird Time," is now set for a Sept. 20 release on Rounder Records. ...
Saturday's inaugural "Taste of KFAI" party has a lineup as eclectic as the community radio station's playlist: Music by the International Reggae All-Stars, borderland groups Los Conocidos Band and La Familia Torres-Peña, African acts Shalita and Voice of Culture, the TC Balkan Band and Brazilian jazzists Xibaba, plus food by Khyber Pass, Taco Taxi and more (noon-6 p.m., Ukrainian Center, 301 NE. Main St., Mpls., free). ...
Ever-nomadic, finger-picking acoustic folkie Justin Roth is back in his hometown to tout his fourth album, "Now You Know," with a show Saturday at Ginkgo Coffeehouse (8 p.m., $10). He recorded the album entirely on his own during a lengthy retreat to the Colorado foothills. ... Roth's pals at Red House Records just signed another local star to their roster: Andra Suchy of Hookers & Blow and Dollys fame. She's finishing off her second album for the label, featuring members of Old Crow Medicine Show. Suchy will also now open Red House's annual Barnfest in Red Wing on Aug. 6, featuring the Pines, Pat Donohue, Romantica and (guess who!) the Roe Family.
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