MN Music-on-a-Stick at the Minnesota State Fair, 8/31/12

Categories: Last Night
Photo by Steve Cohen
MN Music-on-a-Stick
With Semisonic, The Jayhawks, Dessa, Jeremy Messersmith, and Lucy Michelle and the Velvet Lapelles
MN State Fair Grandstand, St. Paul
Friday, August 31, 2012

After a summer of record temperature highs, August was the perfect month for outdoor shows, ending with MN Music-on-a-Stick at the State Fair. In true State Fair tradition, the event was a smorgasbord of gluttony set in music form -- a whole six hours of music, which is one of the best deals that you could get for the amount of money spent.

With the addition of Lucy Michelle and the Velvet Lapelles just a few short weeks ago, the lineup was balanced out amongst the male and female performers. The singer describes her music as mountain gypsy music, which may be the most accurate summary of her sound, with her artistically twangy voice that is reminiscent of June Carter Cash. As an opener, Lucy Michelle and the Velvet Lapelles' set was relatively short -- simply a taste to what their full show may be.
Photo by Steve Cohen
State Fair Grandstand shows are well known for their excellent sound -- a perfect setting for Jeremy Messersmith's set, whose pieces lean more towards the acoustic side. The singer opened with two new songs recorded for his new album, but was met with cheers when he pulled out pieces from The Reluctant Graveyard. The crowd was especially hushed in awe for "A Girl, a Boy, and a Graveyard," an eloquent love story that had The Laurels String Quartet, a mini orchestra that often supports Messersmith, onstage and adding a lushness to an otherwise simple song arrangement.

Photo by Steve Cohen
Jeremy does not shy away from posting his stance on politics on social media, and shared the meaning behind his song "Violet!" -- a piece on "the thing we're gonna vote 'no' on in a few weeks" -- referring to the marriage amendment. The tune itself, has many layers, adding a round in the bridge supported by guitarist Peter Sieve, drummer Andy Thompson, and keyboardist Joey Kantor. As a performer, Jeremy was enchanting and entertaining, with a touch of youthful humility -- no wonder he is a Current favorite.

Photo by Steve Cohen
As the lone female representative in Doomtree, Dessa holds her own, be it in a group or solo onstage. Wearing a simple button-down white shirt and earrings as big as bracelets, the performer was backed on vocals by Aby Wolf and Linnea Mohn -- to which Peter Sieve referred to as a force of female power. As a surprise guest, Dessa brought P.O.S. onstage for "Dots and Dashes," but the highlight of her set was the haunting "Sound the Bells," a piece that she was nervous about, since she had only played it once live before that night at the Grandstand.

Photo by Steve Cohen
The Jayhawks slowed down the pace of the evening a bit with their classic sound. The group integrated newer pieces, but made sure to add their definitive "Blue" in honor of the blue moon that was rising as the band's set was in full swing. On this night, the Jayhawks' close-fitting harmonies could be compared to that of the Eagles'.

At this point in the show -- if the show was a baseball game -- this would have been the seventh inning stretch. As Mark Wheat introduced, both Jacob Slichter and John Munson are busy doing their own thing, while Dan Wilson is busy writing Grammy hits. Thus, for those that stuck it out, were not disappointed when Semisonic, a band who rarely plays anymore, took the stage.

Photo by Steve Cohen
The band opened their set with "F.N.T." and "Across the Great Divide," two of their more rollicking hits. In true Minnesota form in talking about the weather, John Munson declared to the crowd, "You guys got the perfect day. I haven't been to the Fair where I haven't been miserable from the weather. This has been perfect." The trio was joined on tambourine/keys by Ken Chastain, a fourth that added dimension and layers to the overall sound. The Laurels String Quartet came back to the stage midway through the band's set as a welcome addition, especially on "DND."

The majority of Semisonic's music, and Dan Wilson's writing in general, are very linear, telling stories beginning from point a to point b, as evidenced in "Secret Smile." The opening riffs of "Closing Time" was a signal that the show was coming to an end, but the band fittingly ended their regular set with "Falling," a song written about the MN State Fair, being on one of the rides and feeling as if you were on the edge of something great. The band was not done, and those that stuck around for the encore were in for a treat. Accompanied with just the Laurels String Quartet, Dan Wilson allowed Minnesota a taste of Grammy greatness with his version of "Someone Like You." Thereafter, the band came back onstage joined by Dessa, Lucy Michelle, Aby Wolf, Andy Thompson, and Jeremy Messersmith for a cover of Prince's "Little Red Corvette" -- although there were nothing explicit about condoms [editor's note: "Trojans," though] as mentioned previously by Jeremy.

Reluctant to leave the stage, Dan Wilson sang into the mic as the band left the stage, "Blue Moon, You saw me standing alone, Without a dream in my heart, Without a love of my own.." seconds before the fireworks went off.

Critic's bias: All in all, a magical evening with Minnesota music. Perhaps Garrison Keillor should go on a cruise more often around State Fair time.

The crowd: Quite an eclectic mix of fans, ranging from the average Fair-goer to die-hard Semisonic fans.

Overheard in the crowd: "That is one awesome mustache." - Reed Fischer about John Munson's facial hair

Random notebook dump: I honestly thought "DND" with its lyrics:
"How like you to make my troubles slide away and / How like you to make me want to play forever / Here behind your door" was about Dungeons and Dragons until I was informed that it stood for "Do Not Disturb."

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