As regular readers here know (and I mean you, Mary Ellen Gross), one of my cherished memories is Levon Helm’s Midnight Ramble in Woodstock, NY. It was the original event that took us to upstate NY for the first time.
Now in Minneapolis, we’re always on the lookout for live music. We’ve found an array of venues with a little something for everyone… if you look hard enough and are willing to skew the demographic at times.
Last fall, we learned Amy Helm was coming to town. She’s a favorite of ours from back in Woodstock. We were first introduced to her beautiful voice at a Midnight Ramble.
We were a bit puzzled by the venue. It was a library in St. Paul, and the show was described as a monthly event there. Hmm. Sounded interesting. After double-checking, we headed over to the James J. Hill Library for the Real-Phonic Radio Hour.
As soon as we walked into the building, it was clear this wasn’t your ordinary library. Nor your ordinary music venue. The elegant open space had a stage set up on a platform in front of the three stories of book stacks. The audience seating was made up of rows of comfortable leather library chairs, small tables and couches. We sat down, and began to take things in. It felt like being in someone’s living room. Someone with a huge ornate living room. In fact, it felt a little bit like being in Levon Helm’s living room, which we observed aloud.
The show started, with the house band, Erik Koskinen. Emcee/producer Thom Middlebrook did an intro, cracked jokes, cued our applause, told us we were being recorded and introduced Erik, Paul Bergen, JT Bates and Lizz Draper. This band is one of the real treasures of the local scene — if you haven’t seen them, you’re in for a treat. Erik and Paul also produce the show.
Next came Montana singer-songwriter Martha Scanlan, of Cold Mountain soundtrack fame. Her pure, sweet voice was a perfect match for the room. Her gift for storytelling via the stillness of her songs was a revelation.
Musician Molly Maher, who is one of the producers of each month’s show, gave a beautiful and heartfelt introduction for Amy Helm and Byron Isaacs.
It was a full circle moment seeing two of our favorite musicians from our beloved Woodstock, playing right here in St. Paul in this new-found magical setting. The show was fantastic, with lots of jamming (including Molly) and a full stage of incredible musicians. We could have listened for hours.
After the performance, I talked to Molly. It turns out she modeled this event after the Midnight Ramble in Woodstock, having been there herself twice. We were astounded. Kismet, karma, full circle.
We’ve been back several times, and each time has been another unique and wonderful experience. We’ve chatted with people, often the same people, about this best-kept secret in town for live music. We joke that we shouldn’t tell anyone else.
But for Molly’s sake, and yours too, if you’re a music fan, I’m telling you. You must go. It’s like nothing you’ve ever seen, I promise. The quality of the music is first rate, and it’s an intimate night you won’t soon forget.
The most recent show featured honeyhoney, a duo from Nashville, aka Suzanne Santo and Ben Jaffe. And wow, are they good. Full of energy and joy, and life. Funny, talented, original and super nice. Jim Turner, one of my college friends, plays the Angel of Death in one of their videos, so I mentioned that to them. It was old home week after that.
Also featured was Brandon Sampson, a singer-songwriter from Rochester, MN, who has his own show called Americana Showcase. The audience, us included, loved him.
I’m not aware of another place in the Twin Cities where you can find such great shows, walk right up and talk to the band, have a drink and a few hours of kick ass fun for $20. Go. Oh, and you get 25% off the ticket price for bringing a non-perishable food item for their monthly food drive.
The Real-Phonic radio hour is held on the 3rd Thursday of every month, spring, fall and winter.
Check out some photos from the honeyhoney show. Hope to see you at the library soon.