Minneapolis singer/violinist Jessy Greene went from waiting tables to touring arenas with Dave Grohl's band.
DALLAS -- 'Play that violin, Jessy Greene!"
The Foo Fighters were midway through a two-hour show last month, and Dave Grohl had already called out Minneapolis' best-known rock violinist twice. He never just called her "Jessy," either. It was always the full name, always with a tinge of affectionate snarkiness that a guy might render on his kid sister.
Later, during the encore at Dallas' American Airlines Arena, Greene got her third and biggest call: She and Grohl sang the band's first megahit, "Big Me," as a boy/girl duet.
"Me and Jessy Greene sing this one together real nice," Grohl told the 15,000 fans, who seemed to agree. They cheered the broad-smiling Greene -- Jessy Greene! -- when she exited after the song.
Not bad for a working Twin Cities musician who, a year earlier, made a deflated return to Minneapolis from Los Angeles.
Greene had moved out west to be on a radio show with R.E.M.'s Peter Buck and Minus 5's Scott McCaughey, but the show got canceled three days shy of making it on the air.
"I decided to move to L.A. anyway and give it a try, which wound up being a disaster," she remembered, talking backstage a couple hours before the Foo's Dallas gig. "I couldn't wait to get back. I love Minneapolis, even if I'm behind on the bills a little and working at the Gasthof," the northeast Minneapolis German restaurant where she worked as recently as last spring.
"Minneapolis is very artist-friendly. I can work on my music, play with so many other great musicians, wait a little tables on weekends and make a pretty good living."
Just as she was settling into a life-is-good mentality last summer, life got so much better. That's when she got the call.
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Even amid the mass of other musical gear, Greene's cello stood out backstage at the Dallas gig.
"I just got it painted," she bragged of the instrument, which is now a dark, dark shade of black.
There's symbolism in the color. She uses the cello during two especially hard-rocking numbers at the start of the Foos' regular set, including "The Pretender," the song the band played on the Grammy Awards two weekends ago and again on "The Late Show With David Letterman" last week.
Even before her prime-time TV appearance -- she also stood behind Grohl at the Grammys podium -- Greene would repeatedly gush, "I'm having so much fun," or, "I'm so honored."
The invite came last June from Rami Jaffee, who joined the Foo Fighters on tour as a keyboardist in 2006.
"Rami called and was like, 'Is there any possible chance you'd be interested in touring with the Foo Fighters?'" she recalled, her mouth agape to mimic her reaction.
Jaffee and Greene have been friends since the early '90s, when they played on Soul Asylum sessions that got shelved. Jaffee's old band, the Wallflowers, also toured with Golden Smog, one of the many Minneapolis groups to enlist Greene's UCLA-trained talent over the years. (Some others: the Jayhawks, Iffy and, most recently, P.O.S. and Romantica; Smog member Jeff Tweedy has also recruited her for Wilco's albums.)
Through Jaffe she met Grohl and the other Foos in 2006, when they opened for Bob Dylan at St. Paul's Xcel Energy Center -- part of their "Skin and Bones" acoustic tour, which resulted in a live album and DVD and brought strings into the band's fold. She had no idea she would wind up working with them.
She wasn't even so sure she'd get the gig when she flew back out to Los Angeles on three days' notice last June to start rehearsing with the band.
"I looked at it as an audition, but it kind of seemed like I just practiced the songs with them. It was more like we started jamming on their new stuff."
According to Foo bassist Nate Mendel, "Jessy proved to be really a bad-ass. She's an excellent musician, she knows how to tour, how to be around seven guys who treat her like another guy. We should maybe be better gentlemen and acknowledge that there's a woman around, but she just rolls with it. She's probably used to self-centered male musicians."
Greene's first few gigs with the band last August in England amounted to a crash course.
"My first show was performing on the BBC to millions of viewers -- live, at 8 in the morning," she recalled. "The next was the V Festival playing onstage to 50,000 people, and a couple more festivals like that. It was unbelievable and intense."
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Originally from western Massachusetts, Greene, 38, played in the great L.A. band the Geraldine Fibbers after college before moving to Minneapolis in 1997, when she started touring with the Jayhawks.
"Jessy was always very easy to work with," said Jayhawks singer Gary Louris. "She just fits in with a lot of different types, so I'm not surprised she's a good fit with [the Foo]."
Greene has bounced through a succession of her own music projects locally, including the short-lived trio O'Jeez (featuring Dave Pirner and then-boyfriend Kraig Johnson) and the rock band VioVoom. She has recorded two solo CDs, 2002's "Blue Sky" and 2006's "A Demon & Her Lover," each heavily reliant on electronic beats and ambient sonic loops.
Over the past couple years, she has also dabbled in hip-hop, enlisting members of Heiruspecs as a backing band and collaborating with Doomtree rapper Dessa.
"It took me a long time to get to where I am, to feel comfortable in my own skin, which is important when you're touring with a band like this," she said. "I really credit Minneapolis for a lot of that, getting to work with so many different people and types of music."
Just as she quickly acclimated to performing with the Foo, Greene also got used to being the lone woman out amid a crew of men on tour.
"I've always been in this position and never really had any problems with it," she said. "It's never been an issue with the band, either. They treat me like one of the guys. I treat them like they're my girlfriends."
But there is one thing that's been hard to get used to.
"It's the most money I've ever made in my life," she said, hardly sounding like she was bragging. "And we stay in the fanciest hotels.
"I sort of have a hard time with the hotels, they're that nice. I don't want to pay what it costs for room service or the Internet in them. I'm still in the mind-set of having to catch up on my bills."
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True story: Five days after the Dallas concert, at a neighborhood Kowalski's market in south Minneapolis, whose smiling face should poke through the glass door to the Gardenburgers but Jessy Greene?
"Dave's sick, so they had to cancel two shows," she explained. "They said they would put me up for four days in Reno, or else fly me home."
Granted, Reno ain't exactly Paris. But considering that the temperature outside in Minneapolis hovered well below zero over those four days, and flying home (to a grocery-less house) was a bit of a hassle, Greene proved her point that she still loves her life here. Even if it's not the life of a rock star.
Chris Riemenschneider • 612-673-4658