The origins of Pert’ Near Sandstone were in true Midwestern fashion. Like many groups in the Midwest, it involved a group of friends and a few cans of beer. At Midwestern Gentleman we were fortunate enough to have the boys from Pert’ Near take some time from their busy schedule to sit down and answer a few questions to learn more about where they’ve been and where they are going.
Before we could start a proper interview, we had to learn the origin of the band name. “The story is less mysterious than it would seem” explains lead singer/banjo extraordinaire Kevin Kniebel, “The core group of us are reunited high school friends. A couple of us lived together and hosted weekly picking sessions on the couch or porch, weather permitting. After deciding to play our first gig at a local coffee shop we needed to come up with a name. “Pert’ Near” represents some of the old-timey-ness of what we do. The Sandstone part is a reference to the Mississippi River caves and bluffs in this region, though more often folks get us confused with people that dated their cousin from Sandstone, MN or swear they met one of us at the penitentiary there. Sadly, we have no family in Sandstone, MN and if my mother asks, none of us has ever been arrested.”
The Midwest offers such a variety of music and people that often grow up to be innovators. For Pert’ Near, their time in the Midwest had a direct influence on the men they became, Kniebel went on, “the seasons drive us to hibernate and work on things in the winter, most years. It can’t be just the seasons, but it feels like life is a bit different up here even when winter is short-changed.” For many we take pride in our hometowns, whether you are from Detroit to Chicago or St. Louis, you know the roads that drive memories. It can be argued that pride in the Twin Cities is at an all time high.
“The Twin Cities themselves are the hidden gems of the Midwest, in our minds. Minneapolis and St. Paul are a bit isolated as far as big city living is concerned, which seems to make our cultural scene more vibrant and probably more cohesive. Growing up in a community with strong support for the arts certainly had an impact, and living in a place where you can go out and see top notch music in almost any genre any night of the week is pretty special.” This of course is coming from a group that has traveled the corners of the country and knows a thing or two about cities you’ve never heard of.
“However far we’ve traveled, I don’t think we’ve found other towns and parts of the country that can compare with what we have going on in the Twin Cities, which leads us to have a great deal of pride about where we’re from and where we’re living.”
One major source of pride in Minnesota is the music they produce. From the days of Dylan to the rise of the Jayhawks, good music is a part of life in Minnesota. In recent years, there has been a rise in folk/bluegrass musicians, ones that the boys from Pert’ Near gravitated towards. Kniebel’s thoughts are shared throughout the group when he says “for us, given that we started playing without much of a plan in the living room, I think the draw has always been the accessibility of the music and the instruments. This is folk music we’re playing, and regular folks used to pull out the fiddle and banjo to unwind after a long day at work. We listen to all kinds of music, but there is something vastly more organic about the instrumentation and approach.”
The tradition of string music runs deep in Minnesota and the boys are simply carrying that tradition on, Kniebel points out, “the tradition in Minneapolis dates back to the 60s folk revival and many of the greats from that era are still around inspiring the younger generations.”
If you are going to catch a show, you may find the liveliest at outdoor festivals, as they are the favorite amongst group members. Venues like “Harmony Park, The Minnesota State Fair and Canal Park in Duluth” give the audience all the bluegrass and elephant ears they can handle… “makes me want to stretch out on the lawn with a cold one just thinking about it” says Kevin.
There are many ways to describe a Pert Near Sandstone show but no one knows better than the guys who perform. “Energy. It applies to a variety of things going on at our shows, whether talking about what we’re putting out on stage or what you’ll feel from the crowd that’s dancing along.” One aspect of the groups performance that may inspire that energy is making group “clogger” Andy Lambert shed some sweat as he provides the rhythm with his feet.
By far a unique trait of any band, Lambert’s toes were meant for the stage. “… clogging or flat-footing, or the like are pretty much part and parcel with this music if you look back to the origins of it" says Kevin, “Andy himself learned how to clog with a troupe out of Minneapolis called the Wild Goose Chase Cloggers.” Andy and Kevin met through a mutual friend and his skill brought an authenticity to the music. “When he is on the road with us, it takes what is already a high energy show and turns it up to 11. Andy is really quite a remarkable clogger, making complex rhythms with his feet sound simple and look easy.” Kevin went on to say that “it is pretty easy to imagine him sleeping well at night with as hard as he dances.”
Last week we brought you a review of their new album “Paradise Hop.” This firestorm album to them is their “strongest album to date” where traditional sound meets stellar songwriting, noting they are "most pleased [with] the selection of songs [they] wrote for the project.”
As for the future of Pert Near Sandstone, Kevin notes “I think we just keep doing what we do. We’re hoping to have our next album out in early 2013 and between now and then hit as many festivals and clubs as we can.” This should give you ample time to catch a powerfully unique show. Be sure to stay tuned to their tour dates to catch a show near you.
For those of you who need to catch up with Pert Near Sandstone, we have the opportunity for you. Leave a comment for the boys below, comment on our Facebook page or follow us on Twitter and you are automatically entered to win not only a copy of their most recent adventure “Paradise Hop” but past project, “Out On a Spree” from 2009. To give even more insight into the band, we wanted to learn just which songs need to be on when you find yourself in these common situations:
For watching sunset on Lake Superior with a delicious IPA in hand, the boys recommend you reach for the track “Summer Skies” off of the album Up and Down The River. Had a late night? At 2:30am, you might be winding down, which means “The Long Decline” off Paradise Hop is the song for you. If you realize your wallet is gone and cell phone is busted… “Goodbye Booze” from Out On A Spree will help you “turn over a new leaf.” Taking a shot of whiskey with an old friend? “20 Cups of Coffee” from Paradise Hop. Fishing the Mississippi? “Fishing Reel” from Up and Down the River. Finally, while on that scenic drive through northern Minnesota turn up Paradise Hop.
City of Music: Pert Near Sandstone perform "Snake Charmer” from MPLS.TV on Vimeo.
“Nate Sipe used to wear a bowler and sport a handlebar moustache that curled up at the end—waxed and everything. When we’d show up for a gig in our jeans and a t-shirt, he’d say that we were making it too easy to look good. You wouldn’t expect to hear a guy with nicknames like “Truckstop” and “Nasty Nate” be referred to as a Gentleman, but he’s as gentle as they come and Midwestern to the core.”
- Kevin Kniebel