by Tom Wickstrom
The Blue Ox Music Festival 2017 will be in Eau Claire, Wisconsin from June 8-10. Pert Near Sandstone, a bluegrass band based out of Minneapolis/St. Paul, Minnesota has hosted, performed & have been involved from the beginning. Started in 2015, this will be the 3rd year for the festival which has quickly become a destination for bluegrass, americana & acoustic inspired music in the upper Midwest. This years lineup is stellar from top to bottom featuring such diverse acts as the Punch Brothers, Greensky Bluegrass, Railroad Earth, Sam Bush, Son Volt & Fruition. Horseshoes & Hand Grenades, Dead Horses & Dead Man Winter are among the regional bands showcasing their talents as well.
I had the opportunity to speak with Nate Sipe, mandolin & fiddle player for Pert Near Sandstone recently about the band and the Blue Ox Music Festival. Below is what we discussed.
Tom Wickstrom: Thank you for meeting me today. 1st off, let’s talk about the Blue Ox Music Festival. How did it get started?
Nate Sipe: We were on tour in Colorado with the Travelling McCourys. Jim Bischel, Who runs Country Jam USA in Wisconsin , happened to be visiting his son Mark, who was living in Colorado at the time. They just happened to come to our show. Mark was trying to show his dad what the bluegrass/americana/younger acoustic scenes were all about, because thats what Mark’s enthusiasm was focused. Jim was blown away by the scene and the experience and he started wondering if this scene & enthusiasm existed in the Minnesota/Wisconsin area. Since Jim had been producing Country Jam USA for 30 years and it was kind of a family business, he began thinking there might be a way to add & include this music. Since we were on that show in Colorado and based out of Minnesota, Jim asked us if we wanted to get involved & we jumped at the idea. Initially the thought was that it would just be an added stage to the Country Jam lineup, but the idea blossomed into creating a separate festival to showcase bluegrass, americana & acoustic styles of music. Because of our many years of touring around the country and our many connections to bands within our scene, it grew into a bigger concept than a side stage addition. That’s how Blue Ox came about. This will be our 3rd year and it keeps getting better. It’s been a complete success.
TW: How does Pert Near Sandstone get involved with the festival?
NS: We say that we are curating the festival. That means we are completely involved with selecting all the bands, producing the various stages & scheduling, as well as working closely with the Country Jam folks to make sure everything is working from both the audience’s & performers perspectives. We make sure hospitality is working and that everyone is happy so they keep coming back year after year. We also have a family camping & picking areas to appeal to all kinds of music fans. There will also be late night picking jams that have yet to be announced.
TW: Do you try to include local artists on the Blue Ox Lineup?
NS: We do have a side stage that showcases mostly local and regional acts. Since we are based out of Minnesota, many of the bands that we have befriended over the years will be performing. We like to present local favorites to perform, because you may not get an opportunity to see them elsewhere in the country. The Wisconsin/Minnesota music scene is very do it yourself. We are all supportive of each other and have worked diligently to lay roots & create that has been supportive of each other. It’s a fun community to be a part & to see it grow & evolve.
TW: Is there any new music coming up for Pert Near Sandstone?
NS: We just recorded a cover of an old Sam Cooke tune we’re going to be releasing as a single. It’s mostly to help promote Blue Ox and we’re always working on new music. We hope to get back in the studio in the fall and hopefully have new music come out in Spring 2018. We will probably record again in the home studio of Ryan Young (Trampled By Turtles). He’s a great friend and one of my favorite persons to make music with.
TW: Any other projects you’re currently working on?
NS: A couple of us play locally in a band called the Fiddle Heirs. It includes myself, Ryan Young and a rotating cast of local musicians. We get together and do a handful of shows once in a while. I think we are sitting on an album’s worth of music, so hopefully we can get tht record out soon. We may get a chance to jam together at Blue Ox also.
TW: I see you will be at the John Hartford Memorial Festival the week prior to Blue Ox. Is this your 1st time there?
NS: No. This will be our 2nd appearance. We had the pleasure of playing there 2 years ago. This festival has a special meaning to all of us because of what John Hartford meant to us and the music we’ve learned to love. There’s a special vibe there and there’s also plenty of late night picking for us. We were also amazed at the amount of golf carts there.
TW: Thank you for your time today. I’ll see you at Blue Ox.
Blue Ox Music Festival is from June 8-10, 2017. Pert Near Sandstone is hosting & will perform 2 nights. For more information, go to www.blueoxmusicfestival.com.