Music note: Spaghetti Western String Co., under the big St. Paul sky


Scissors beats paper. Rock beats scissors. And last Thursday evening, string beat rock.

The Patio Nights summer concert series at the Minnesota Museum of American Art (MMAA) moved into its second week last Thursday with sets from Spaghetti Western String Co. and Davina and the Vagabonds. The event also marked the opening night of the MMAA’s new exhibition Crate 1 of 2: Paintings & Sculpture from the Collection.

For more information on Spaghetti Western String Co.: Davina and the Vagabonds: Upcoming shows in the Patio Nights series:

Crate 1 of 2 is a small but broad offering of art made by Minnesota-seasoned favorites—like abstract expressionist George Morrison and social surrealist Walter Quirt—peppered with work by nationally-renowned American masters, including impressionist William Merritt Chase and realist John Sloan. All works are from the MMAA’s permanent collection. As of opening night the proverbial dust had yet to settle; a small crew of casually-dressed workers with electric drills and folding ladders spent the night blocking off a section of the gallery with lines of extension cords, to fiddle with something—the ceiling lights? the wall mounts? some precocious painting?—under the bright stare of portable floodlights. This distraction aside, the selection of paintings and sculptures was apt, daring, and rewarding. This is hard candy for locavores of the arts and culture variety.

A phone call from my companion’s babysitter forced us to duck out during intermission, and leave before catching headliners Davina and the Vagabonds, but listening to opener Spaghetti Western String Co.—two-time recipient of Minnesota Music Awards for “Eclectic Artist of the Year”—made for a pleasant evening out.

From their name, one might expect Spaghetti Western String Co. to have a twangy, country-western sound, but the name actually honors founding member Michael Rossetto’s Italian roots—you’ll recognize a somber kind of Romani in their sad, often wordless, ballads. An acoustic quartet, the band comprises Rossetto (banjo, guitar), Nicholas Lemme (mandolin, guitar, voice), Paul Fonfara (clarinet), and Ethan Sutton (cello). Their compositions are technical—think Reinhardt and Grappelli—and the players proficient, yet their performance was playful and inventive. On one song, Lemme incorporated a colorful plastic baby monitor—yes, the kind new parents use. Draping his moaning vocals in static, he varied the distance between the monitor’s broadcaster and receiver to play their hissing feedback like a Theremin.

The crowd, though mostly seated, was responsive and appreciative, and included young and old. Great Waters Brewing Co. served beer on the patio. The brewery’s main location is less than four blocks north on St. Peter St., and proved very convenient for pre-show merrymaking. As the sun set on this warm evening, folks seemed happy to relax, drink their drinks, enjoy the tunes, and let the picturesque Mississippi roll by.

Daily Planet contributor Jason Ericson lives in Minneapolis.

Also in the Daily Planet:
Melissa Slachetka on Awesome Snakes at the MMAA
Jay Gabler’s summer music preview