Of all the stories out there about band members throwing tantrums, 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 last year when Elspeth Roe quit the band mid-set at a bluegrass 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. They're the one band you're as likely to see at a farmers market, city park or restaurant patio as you are at a bar like the 331 Club.
You can easily identify them by the jug, musical saw and baby. Yes, Elspeth has been replaced. Her 4-month-old sister Onmee joined in time for the summer gigs and fit right in. "She just sits there and watches all of us intently," Quillan said of the new band member, who was hanging in Kim's Baby Björn carrier onstage last week during an early-evening gig at Peavey Plaza.
The loose, front-porch-style acoustic ensemble 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. They've won some pretty serious honors to prove it, too, including a 2011 fellowship from the McKnight Foundation and top honors at last year's cutthroat Battle of the Jug Bands Contest.
Their musical chops are also proven on the second Roe Family CD, "The Owl and the Bat and the Bumble Bee." The 13 tracks range from traditional song-picker fare to a bounty of originals. Among the new ones is Kim's "Little Billy Reuben," a rapid-tongued ditty that's also quite sweet -- despite the fact that Quillan wrote it about a weeklong bout of jaundice Elspeth had after she was born.
It's no coincidence that the new Roe Family album is arriving concurrently with summer. The group takes to outdoor gigs like GOP candidates to tax cuts.
"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 onstage doesn't hurt, either.