A new party has emerged in Minnesota and it's not about politics. Tree Party is the newest musical group to splash into the Land of 10,000 Lakes. Last Sunday, Tree Party held a CD release concert that featured "Iced Over: Thawing Minnesota's Local Lore," the result of a year-long project that brought to life several stories and local history from all parts of our state.
Band leader Joey Ford is a 2013 recipient of an Artist's Initiative Grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board. Joey's mother, Gretchen Ford, is an old South Dakota friend with whom I reconnected recently in Austin, Texas. Although we hadn't seen each other in almost four decades, it didn't hinder the rekindling of old times, which included the musical scene of which her son is now a part.
"I'll be in the Twin Cities the first week in February," she informed me. "We'll have to get together."
"We'll do you better than that. You can stay with us and we'll go see your son's band play," I told her.
The day before their performance at the Cedar Cultural Center, Tree Party played several of their songs on television's KARE-11's Saturday morning show. After his 15 minutes of fame, Joey stopped by our house with his mom.
"Where did you get that voice?" I inquired, referring to the young man's falsetto that at times reminded me of Hank Williams Sr.
"Uh, my parents, I guess."
Gretchen gave credit to Joey's father and my old friend from the 1970s, Mel Ford. Gretchen reminisced, "Joey used to harmonize with his dad."
Eight years ago, Mel passed on shortly after being diagnosed with leukemia, but not before passing on incredible musical talent to his son, Joey. After watching Joey perform, I could only think, "My God, Mel would be so proud of this incredible young man."
"Here's a gift in honor of your band," I said as I handed Joey a bag of Minnesota wild rice.
"Here's Joey's new CD," said Gretchen, as she handed me a copy of "Iced Over."
Joey is a young man with a million-dollar smile and a voice to match. His falsetto brings sound to Lake Superior's chilling cold North Shore featured in the tale of legendary sled-doggin' mail carrier John Beargrease. The album also features the haunting story about "Charlie," a current ghost who still hangs out at the Calumet Inn in Pipestone, Minnesota. His demise in a fire at the hotel on February 14, 1944, left Charlie wailing, "I don't want to die."
Tree Party honored in song one of Minnesota's most famous legends, the "Root Beer Lady," Dorothy Molter. The last non-native to live in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area, Dorothy is said to have handed out more than 12,000 bottles of her famous homemade root beer.
"I'll only drink two," Joey crooned.
Joey stumbled upon the legend of a Chippewa native named Wrinkle Meat. Purported to have lived to "at least 137 years old," Wrinkle Meat walked all over Minnesota carrying only his blanket. It is said that the chief from Cass Lake always rode the rails for free and he earned his living selling his image on postcards so people could say they saw "The Oldest Man on Earth."
The addition on stage of a trumpet, trombone and tuba gave the song "Plainview's Great War Hero" a sound reminiscent of the Beatles' "Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band." The song was a tribute to Byrl Sylvester who joined the French Ambulance Corps in 1917. Sylvester "diligently wrote letters that were printed in The Plainview News informing the public and exposing the reality of the Great War." Interestingly, Joey learned that during the time around World War I, several people opposed to the war "were tarred and feathered. That wasn't very Minnesotan."
After playing all the songs on their new CD, Tree Party featured solos from the rest of the band's members. Joey's wife, Jenna, played accordion and fiddle and supplied many of the background vocals. Lead guitarist Travis Bolton's riff carried the audience for a ride, much to their delight. Andy Carroll earned their admiration not only by thumping on his stand-up bass but also with his sweet melodic voice. They tried to close out the night with several original tunes, but the crowd wasn't about to let this refreshingly unique band go home. Back for an encore, Andy hollered to the audience, "Don't you people have to work in the morning?"
Joey sang an awe-inspiring rendition of Hank's famous "Lonesome Blues," putting a fitting cap on an evening that was filled with stories and songs about legends. The superb yodeling that resonates from Joey's voice almost resurrected Hank Williams Sr. from the lethal drug and alcohol induced overdose that long ago had carried him to hillbilly heaven. If you closed your eyes, you could almost imagine that was Hank back on stage in the voice of Joey Ford.
This young man and his band deemed headed for stardom. I want to be there when it happens.