If I said imagine a band with one member from Minneapolis’ West Band and one from Olympia, Washington playing at the Cedar Cultural Center, I think you might be able to picture The Lowest Pair. He used to play Palmers on Tuesday nights; she used to work in a vegan bakery. They look exactly like you might think. However you might not picture the most important part: two banjos. Palmer T. Lee is originally from Minnesota he plays with The Boys n’ the Barrels; Kendl Winter is from Arkansas but lived in Olympia. They met about a year and a half ago and started a recording project almost immediately. They each play banjos (and guitars) but they don’t play dueling banjos; they play harmony. And it works.
Actually the Lowest Pair explained that they did play together for a few months before they started on their first album (released Friday night). When they started they really took turns supporting each other’s work. They played the first song they wrote together (When I Dock My Boat) you can hear the difference. Both banjos sound stronger, both voices sound stronger. They don’t simply support each other, they lift each other up.
The music is bluegrass country. Winter has a raspy whispery voice; Lee’s voice is rounder. They sound good together. They played a blend of songs from the new album and pleasantly tweaked versions of old favorites, including Oh Susanna, Hush Little Baby and Mama’s Little Baby Love Shortening. They were naturals at the Cedar Cultural Center; they would be naturals on the stage of Prairie Home Companion. They had a nice rapport with the audience answers questions as they tuned and telling short stories about their road to the stage together.
Opening up for The Lowest Pair was The Dead Pigeons. They have been playing Palmers for years, which for folks not familiar with the West Bank, is next door to the Cedar Cultural Center. But it’s a big upgrade as the band pointed out , it’s nice to play a place where you aren’t afraid to go to the bathroom. The Dead Pigeons also play bluegrass Americana. And Palmer Lee (from The Lowest Pair) used to play with them. So there really was a down home feel to the night. The performers, the venue, the audience were all happy to celebrate Minnesota music.
The Dead Pigeons played a number of toe-tapping tunes. Ryan Douglas Canyon’s mandolin is a standout sound—partially due to the light contrast with the steady Americana beat from the rest of the band; it’s a great complementary sound. Lead singer Drew Peterson has a gruff voice that draws in the listener and balances with backing vocals from Gretta Hunstiger, who also plays fiddle. There are two standup bass players (Rich Casey and Brad Smith), which is always a bonus. I think they both shone during the encore performance with The Lowest Pair, when everyone took the stage. Daryn Christensen plays percussion, which included a wide range of instruments. He really set the toe-tapping beat. My favorite song from The Dead Pigeons was a compilation of cover tunes; it included snippets from U2, Pat Benatar, Mike Doughty, John Denver and others!
It was a fun show. It was funny to listen in on the conversations around me. I’d say as many people frequented Papa Charlie’s up near Grand Marais as had their last meal at the Hard Time Café down the road. Lots of musician talk, and bakery workers and folks of all ages—include some pretty small babies.
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