$20 in advance/$20 at the door
$75 FOR Dinner & Phil Cook Show.
(DINNER MUSIC FROM 6-10PM FEATURING DAVID HUCKFELT & JT BATES, followed by Phil Cook)
COMPLIMENTARY TOAST AT MIDNIGHT
*Gratuity not Included in dinner & show package price.
10PM DOORS FOR MUSIC ONLY TICKETS
It’s autumn in North Carolina, and the southern sun is casting a golden filter onto the fiery-red dogwood leaves that scatter the roadside landscape. Phil is behind the wheel, one hand driving and the other gently holding mine as we turn onto an unmarked country byway. We’ve dropped our son off at school and are filled with a coveted sense of freedom for the day ahead. We start by setting our course to meander the open road.
This morning’s drive is not unlike ones we’ve taken in the past. For every project, album or other piece of music that Phil has created, we find a stretch of open highway, dial the volume knob to max, and drive the listening length of road. This particular trip holds more weight than those that have come before. Despite the autumnal perfection surrounding us, I can feel anticipation in my stomach and in Phil’s twitching fingers. Today he is sharing his newly completed solo record with me for the first time.
I’ve heard most of these songs before, or at least fragments of them. I had heard early versions when they came back from the mountains after being conceived. I hear them when Phil sings in the car between our otherwise monotonous errand runs, and I hear them as he sings our son to sleep at night. The majority of the creative process that went into this album, however, has happened within the walls of my husband’s prodigious mind and in a studio in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Today’s listen to the full production signifies that he’s finally achieved the sync of what he’s been hearing in his head for the past few years and what listeners will come to know as his solo debut. He is thus filled with a duality of pride and requisite anxiety.
* * *
When we moved to North Carolina from Wisconsin in 2005, a specific era of our adult lives melted in the rearview as we crossed over the Mason Dixon. I remember clearly that the majority of arguments Phil had laid out for me when pitching this cross-country move were focused on the artists and music that came from this swath of land. He had just picked up the banjo for the first time and was diving deep into the used gospel bin at the record store. Appalachia, The Delta, and the Bayou were all calling to him.
As we settled into the state, Phil slowly began to unravel and wrestle with the region’s own complex dualities. He, along with an incredible collection of creatives in the area, have been finding their sounds and voices within a regional paradigm that shifts and shuffles, ever so slowly, with the passing of each sweltering summer. Now, over a decade into our stay, Phil has become a staple in the area’s studios. He has produced, composed, written for, and recorded on dozens of regional and national releases. He is enthusiastic, steady and humble in his work. He is a partner and an ally for other musicians, drawing people together through subtle alchemy. Phil Cook has become a conduit of American music.
“[Phil Cook] has influenced a lot of musicians that have played with him, and he's influenced a lot of musicians that are pretty successful. He's a populist, like Woody Guthrie. He's never moved into the limelight, but all of these other amazing people learn from him. It helps them become successful.”— Amy Ray
It is only recently that Phil Cook’s story has turned from one of a departure, to that of an arrival. Southland Mission is a soundtrack of shared experiences and Phil’s purity in leadership is self-evident from the moment the needle hits the record. The songs have no prerequisite, no pretension. Instead, as a collection, they call on listeners to witness and immerse themselves in their own journey. Placing focus on the way the tracks make them feel in lieu of searching for superfluous descriptors and categories. With this album, Phil is offering up his claim that the industry labels and genre constraints are rendering themselves irrelevant. Each track is a palpable glance back at the heritage of a our shared musical culture, subtly encouraging what will be a vital shift in keeping true artistry alive. Things tend to come into focus after a long journey, and this record is no exception.
I have cursed this record throughout it’s making, raising hell about it’s interruptions and inconveniences, but above all else, I’ve missed my husband. I’ve spent many nights rolling over in bed only to find his side cold and empty with the faint sound of strumming coming from some corner of the house. On walks, as he holds my hand, I can feel his fingers fretting along to the song he’s humming. Being present means something different when you have music coursing through your veins, this is something I’m learning and growing to love. Because despite my intermittent feelings of bitterness or abandonment, I know that what is coming is worth it and quite frankly, there’s no stopping it. The gravitational pull that brought us here has resulted in a collection of life and career-affirming moments that, when looking back, makes the decision to move here seem laughably inevitable. He was always preparing the path, whether he knew it or not.
So, throw open your folded arms and embrace the anthemic reveal of “Great Tide”, a sound big enough to fill a stadium. Absorb the percussive heartbeat under Phil and Frazey's poignantly resonant verses on ”Anybody Else”. Hop in the truck and blare “1922” out of some blown-out speakers, then find a quiet place to plug in your headphones to hear every peak and valley of the guitar solo on “Ain’t It Sweet”. The lyrics tell stories of loss, layered with sentiments of self-doubt and intermittent promises of change. The compositions are Phil’s testament to truth in music, integrity in creativity and reverence for those who paved the way for these sounds to fall on our ears. Southland Mission is certain to compel you to stomp your feet, pump your fist, and sway and spin with reckless abandon.
Phil’s mission is far from complete, but for the first time in his life, it seems to be clear where he’s headed. Undoubtedly, with this record as our induction, we are all in for an epic ride.
* * *
Back in the car, Phil’s smile strains with anticipation. His eyes are tired and his hair has grown unruly. He’s poured himself out into this music, and while his reserves may be empty, his heart is brimming.
“You ready?” he asks, trigger finger on the play button.
I smile and nod. After all, it’s what we came here for.
DAVID HUCKFELT & JT BATES:
David Huckfelt is one of the founding members of The Pines.
The Midwest is to The Pines what Monument Valley was to filmmaker John Ford. The flat, endless expanses of the band's native Iowa are at once the settings of, characters in, and muse behind the songs on their new album, Above The Prairie. Songwriters David Huckfelt and Benson Ramsey-who along with Benson's brother Alex form the band's touring trio format-craft their music with a filmmaker's keen eye for detail and framing, blending celestial, ethereal atmospherics with rich, warm vocals and earthy acoustic instruments. It's a gripping brew that demands your total presence, transporting you into vividly painted musical and lyrical snapshots.
'Almost all of the songs on the album are somewhere between the first and third take,' says Huckfelt. 'It was a matter of capturing raw performances and preserving that spirit, of not losing the energy of the songs in the recording of them.'
'It's kind of a risky way to work,' adds Ramsey, 'but we went back to Iowa and just did it in three days and that was pretty much it. It's almost like a photograph.'
Much like the photograph on the album's cover-which depicts a stunning nighttime landscape of wide-open grassland spotted with crumbling, abandoned cabins beneath an infinitely expansive galaxy of stars-the songs on Above The Prairie at once evoke the vastness of space, the ceaseless passage of time, the beauty of Earth, and the inescapable loneliness of inhabiting it.
In some ways, Above The Prairie may sound like an attempt to reconnect with the past, to capture the feel of the land and the communities of their youths, but the songs seem rather to reflect on the impossibility of such an endeavor in the modern age.
"People say you can't step in the same river twice," says Huckfelt, "but you can't even step in the same river once, because change is the only constant. Home isn't the same home you remember, and you don't get a minute to catch your breath to think about it."
It's a sentiment that pervades the album and comes vividly to life on the record's closing track, "Time Dreams," a poem written and read by the famed Native American activist/poet John Trudell and set to music by The Pines.
"He articulates some profound truths that resonate throughout the record," says Ramsey. "There's just this kind of disconnection from the Earth that we experience. There's this loneliness about it, and there's this truth that's sort of undeniable but that no one really wants to talk about."
"We both grew up in Iowa in very sparse, rural communities," adds Huckfelt, "and we watched our towns kind of dissipate and the vitality go away, but at the same time also remain in certain hidden, unexpected ways."
Above The Prairie explores those hidden places, from "Lost Nation"-a synth-driven instrumental penned by Alex and named after an Iowa town with a population of less than 500-to "Villisca," another soundscape featuring Uilleann pipes and titled for an Iowa community that lives under the ominous cloud of an infamous 1912 axe murder.
"There's a remoteness to the record and the feelings," says Huckfelt. "These communities are tiny, but they're out there. There are homes with people and lives being lived there, and the towns we grew up in were not so different."
Finding somewhere to feel at home is a recurring theme on the record. On "Where Something Wild Still Grows," Huckfelt longs for a place "through the trees, past the city, beyond the glow" where he can be at ease, while "Sleepy Hollow" finds Ramsey contemplating our treatment of each other and our planet as he looks into the abyss of the night sky, and "Come What Is" (which features Ryan Young of Trampled By Turtles on fiddle) tries to find contentment in the present moment.
At the core of it all, though, is the realization that if this life is nothing more than a fleeting journey on a tiny speck of a planet floating among the stars of an infinite universe, then there's no more important act than to love each other and the Earth. When Ramsey sings "hold, hold on to me" in opener "Aerial Ocean"-which brings together lush, sweeping slide guitar with gently plucked guitar and banjo-it's repeated in the intimate, reverent tone of a prayer. The narrator might be singing to a person, or he might be singing to the prairie. In the case of The Pines, he's probably singing to them both.
JT Bates has worked with artists from the ends of the spectrum. Equally at home improvising with Paul Metzger, as well as delicately rumbling under a Pieta Brown song, the drums are an extension of his daily life. Exposure and experience into improvised and creative music through a high school friendship with Ben Vida (Bird Show, Town & Country) opened him to the idea that any sound is music, and that any music is just sound, organized. JT Bates is a drummer, keeping time and playing songs with many folks (Greg Brown, Erik Koskinen, Frankie Lee, Dead Man Winter, The Pines, and more). JT Bates is an improviser, churning up the spirits alongside Evan Parker, Tony Malaby, Anthony Cox, Michael Lewis, Adam Linz, and Craig Taborn. He is a session drummer for the likes of The Blind Boys of Alabama, Andrew Bird, Mason Jennings, Marijuana Deathsquads, Joe Pug, and Trampled by Turtles. He is also a curator. The Jazz Implosion, now in its 17th year in the Twin Cities, has solidified modern and avant-garde music in the Twin Cities scene. Featuring folks young and old, from near and far, always searching for the newest sounds they can find. Many traveling guests over the years such as Tim Berne's Snakeoil, Tom Rainey & Ingrid Laubrock, Jen Shyu, Jerry Granelli, David King, David Tronzo, Tatsuya Nakatani, and many of Minnesota's finest talents as well.
JT's longest standing bands both feature his dear friend Michael Lewis (Bon Iver, Happy Apple). Alpha Consumer, a true rock and roll power trio, also featuring guitarist/composer Jeremy Ylvisaker (The Suburbs, Andrew Bird, Fog) on the guitar. Fat Kid Wednesdays, the romping, slightly out of control jazz trio, which also features bassist Adam Linz (Embezzler, Upper-Torso Malfunction). Finding his own voice has been the main impetus to tirelessly continue in music, and these bands you will hear that shining through, alongside his closest friends.