By Rebecca Marx Photo Credit Tony Nelson
When David Huckfelt of The Pines commented on the fact that in this day and age, a music venue is largely seen as “irrelevant”, and mostly viewed as a “piece of real estate”, I could only nod in agreement. The arts, and the venues that give them a home, aren’t often given the credit that they deserve, not acknowledged for the community that they not only serve, but create. Huckfelt’s aside was powerful to me in that moment, as I reflected on the fact that on this very somber Thursday night the Dakota Jazz Club was an oasis of community in a country that was reeling in the aftermath of yet more killings of African American men by Police Officers.
The much lauded musician Keith Secola was the opener for the evening at the Dakota Jazz Club that featured The Pines. Secola is an Arizona transplant originally from the Mesabi Iron Range of MN, and is not only a Producer and Engineer, but a talented writer and storyteller as well. Secola has toured with The Pines before, and they’re brothers not only in the sense that as Secola said: “we travel the same road”, but in the development of a whole new musical genre: that of Native Americana. Secola’s own website explains it best: “Native Americana merges roots music with a native soul, weaving folk, rock, and world beat with poignant and occasionally witty lyrics.” Secola is an eloquent spokesman for his Native American heritage and community, as well as a staunch proponent for environmental health.
Secola took the room with his reworking of Woody Guthrie’s “This Land is Your Land” aptly named “This Land”, and sung in his native Anishinabe language. The song “Frybread” brought tears to my eyes, memories of a childhood trip through the Southwest – where on a reservation near Mesa Verde, my mother was taught the art of how to make Frybread by a Native American woman, the two women connecting in the universal language of food, and motherhood.
As a performer, Secola is completely comfortable onstage, a man who has experienced much, and can offer his learning in a relatable and easygoing way. He just finished recording in Venice Beach with John Densmore (The Doors) and is currently working to bring his musical “Seeds” to a theater near you. Secola is one of the most influential Native American artists of our day, and a keeper of the Native American flame.
The music of The Pines is difficult to categorize, but perhaps – Americana Roots Shoegaze fits best? Whatever you may name it, their sound complimented the echo of Keith Secola’s Native Americana set beautifully. Onstage they performed a pared down set – minus drums and bass guitar. Frontsmen Benson Ramsey (son of acclaimed musician Bo Ramsey) and David Huckfelt charmed the audience with captivating road stories, complete with anecdotes from their private lives. Huckfelt related a story of Benson Ramsey playing a flute that was given to him from Keith Secola after a Duluth MN show. To their alarm the music seemed to summon a Coyote out onto their touring path. In all their travels across the US, the band had never seen a Coyote, and in response to the situation, David Huckfelt warned Benson to: “Put that away (the flute) – you don’t know what you are doing!”
The sound of The Pines is evocative of another place, of another time that you can’t quite ascertain. Listen, and it will transport you with lyrics that embrace the traditional sound of the Blues and Americana aesthetic via David Huckfelt’s musical stylings, or take you far away with vocals that are reminiscent of an eerie, melodic Dylan in the case of Benson Ramsey. The sound of The Pines wouldn’t have been complete without the well placed banjo that was performed throughout the set by longtime Pines member Michael Rossetto. The influence of Alex Ramsey (brother of Benson, son of Bo Ramsey) on the keys cannot be understated, for he is essential to the transformation of their roots sound.
“Sleepy Hollow” from their present release Above the Prairie, is a quintessential Pines song: a story within a song, that draws you into its mysterious trap. Ramsey’s vocals are diaphanous on “All The While”, like light shimmering across the forest floor. Every song seems to create a visual that comes alive as the music plays, when it drifts to nothing, you mourn its passing.
Speaking to the timeless nature of The Pines, the band included a song written in 1854 in their set list. Their cover of Stephen Foster’s “Hard Times Come Again No More” was transcendent, nor had it lost its socially conscious message of how it should be morally required that the more fortunate help the lesser. The song was a popular folk anthem in the days of the Civil War, and its message rings just as loud today.
When the last song played, the audience wasn’t ready to let go, and stood up in appreciation of a show well played. The Pines filed back onstage joined by Keith Secola on the flute, and performed the track “Pray Tell” off their album Tremelo (2009). The song is a stop you in your tracks, and look you in the eye – kind of a song, sung by David Huckfelt in an aggressively honest manner, accentuated by the beautiful slide guitar of Benson Radley – WOW!
The Pines have succeeded in creating music that transcends a specific genre, or time in music, and they play it magically. The audience at the Dakota Jazz Club can attest to that. The messages that run through Keith Secola’s music emphasizes the building of a community for the present and future, without ignoring the past. On days like these, the simple enjoyment of a show may seem superficial, but I think it is what we need now more than ever. There is emotion in the playing and enjoyment of music, people tend to let their guard down, joining one another in a non-judgemental way. Music may not be the answer to the world’s problems, but I can’t think of a better way to foster connections between one another. Through connection, may we find common ground, and greater understanding of our shared humanity.
See The Pines at The Walker Art Center: August 8th: http://www.bandsintown.com/event/12194519?artist=The+Pines&affil_code=fbjs_thepinesmusic.com