David Hanners, Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter, brings folk music to Ginkgo Coffeehouse Saturday

Categories: Interview

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David Hanners
David Hanners sings for the doomed and the thoughtful
"It's kind of a joke amongst my songwriter friends that I kill off a lot of characters in my songs," says David Hanners, Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter and folk singer.

He produces his latest CD, "The Traveler's Burden," to prove it. The first offering is about a serial killer who murdered six people. His grandfather dies in the second track. Hanners sings about a hospital fire, a powder mill explosion, a suicidal veteran and a slain cab driver.

"It's a huge death count," Hanners says.

By day, David Hanners is the Pioneer Press' only reporter in its Minneapolis news room, so he uses his lunch hour to play guitar in the empty office. Hanners, 56, has been playing music since he was 15 years old, and has a gig lined up at the Ginkgo Coffeehouse in St. Paul Saturday.

Hanners moved to Minnesota in the mid-1990s after being awarded a Pulitzer for a story about a plane crash in the Dallas Morning News. He started writing music "seriously" in the Lone Star State.

"Living in Texas, I was exposed to a lot of great folk music and Americana before it was called Americana," Hanners remembers, listing Steve Earle, Lyle Lovett, Nancy Griffith, Guy Clark, and Townes Van Zandt as early influences. Hanners points to Bill Morrissey as someone who could tell a good story, beautifully.

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David Hanners
"Guy Clark tells a great story in his songs. Towns Van Zant can tell a good story, and sometimes it's going to be kind of obtuse but it's beautiful poetry," Hanners says. "To me Bill Morrissey really kind of combined those two in a really kind of gritty, small-town way."

All the years he's spent as a journalist have taught Hanners to use his observational skills and experience synergizing "disparate bits of information" to turn events into a narrative, lessons he carries over into his songwriting.

"You meet a lot of people, and usually you meet them after they've done something very, very spectacular, or something very, very bad," Hanners says. "In the characters of my songs I'm drawn to the latter bit."

Despite the tragedy that animates his music, Hanners says he's a happy person, and resembles one, too.

"I'm not a sullen morose fellow," Hanners says with evident joy. "I have a good time in life. I see a lot of beauty out there. When I start writing songs I'm drawn to those darker characters because I think they have more interesting stories to tell."

Hanners wants to produce another album, an EP, and title it "Depressing Songs for Doomed People."

Saturday night, Hanners will be singing for the doomed at the Ginkgo Coffeehouse with his friend Russ Brown, another local singer-songwriter. And even though Hanners claims his singing "sucks" ("fortunately I work in folk music, which is a genre which will put up with a bad voice as long as it's sincere") he says that he puts on a "good show."

"Two good songwriters telling really interesting stories," Hanners says.

DAVID HANNERS plays with Russ Brown on SATURDAY, DECEMBER 10, at the GINKGO COFEEHOUSE. All ages. Free. 9 p.m.



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