It’s called the shout-out, the chatter made by a stage performer to the audience between songs. While often a sincere thank you, performers have been known to engage in everything from aggravated puffery (“You are the BEST audience EVER!”) to outright confusion (“Hello Rapid City! It’s great to be back in North Dakota!”). Things are different tonight. Burlap Wolf King is on stage at ICON Lounge in Sioux Falls. When he says Sioux Falls is THE place to be at that moment, he’s not only sincere. He also may be right.
Wolf King, sporting a snappy stockman’s hat and a smart, Eisenhower-cut jean jacket, is the on stage persona of Sioux Falls musician Thomas Hentges. He and his crisp combo (bass, female backup vocalist and a great old-school tremolo Telecaster) are one of five performers playing live and releasing brand-new vinyl recordings on Different Folk Records, a new record label based in Sioux Falls. Sure, the big room is full and it’s a party. But even a jaded recluse like me can tell there’s something exciting, authentic and downright…joyous…going on here. The music, the on-stage banter and even the engaging smiles and chatter at the impressively stocked merch tables are refreshingly absent of the kind of corporately-trained friendliness you get from the cookie-cutter server at the chain restaurant who warns you about the hot plate fresh out of the microwave before ending his/her memorized spiel with “ENJOY!” Something uniquely special is going down here tonight, and everyone in attendance seems to know it.
I enjoy a fun cover band as much as the next guy, but this night’s menu was like a farmer’s market with fresh and homegrown singers, players and songs. Ryan Kickland, story-telling Sioux Falls native now basing out of Rapid City, opened on stage with only a hollow-body electric, his equal parts mournful and rye voice, and collection of smart, engaging and at times mesmerizing new tunes. Next up was the spellbinding Jami Lynn, whose playing, singing and songwriting continues to grow like sunflowers in July. The depth of her songwriting has always belied her girl-next-door appearance, but something’s clicked over the past couple of years revealing pain and feeling you just don’t often hear. Also, her pairing with do-everything pro bassist Andrew Reinartz and Dalton Coffey’s shockingly great slide dobro play makes an extremely engaging package.
Later, The Union Grove Pickers are onstage, overflowing with one great player and singer after another. The Pickers are arguably the most “ready for prime time” performers on Different Folks. It’s always easy to go to this kind of show as a “homer”, cheering your local favorites but forgiving them if their singing, playing or songwriting isn’t quite up to snuff. No such apologies here, as the Pickers bring virtuosity, polish and confidence to their evening’s work and their new record. Even if rootsy, traditional bluegrass is not your thing, there’s no denying these guys are REALLY good.
Perhaps Burlap Wolf King best exemplifies what Different Folks Records and this batch of hometown performers are all about. For years you clap and whoop because they’re your local kids. Then one day you wake up and realize that through hard work, maturing talent, life’s hard knocks and simple time, you’re not just cheering because they’re yours, your whoopin’ because they’re yours AND really good by anyone’s standards. A friend once told me it’s not enough to just be local. You have to be local AND good. BWK is local AND good.
37 years in the radio business meant I was a peripheral player around the music business for several decades. I know how hard it is and how lucky you have to be to make a record label or a music career survive. Many more fail than succeed long term. Do I know for certain Different Folk Records is going to survive? No. Will they ever see dollar one of profit with this business? Don’t know. Am I 100% certain one or more of these local label mates will make it to the “big time”? Of course not. However, just sayin’…there was a serious vibe in that room that you don’t often feel in the increasingly superficial world of music and recording. Perhaps the perfect metaphor for the evening? The first releases sold on Saturday were all vinyl. Yes, the current vinyl revival is part fashion trend. But it’s also part attitude: Old school, authentic, tangible, a bit rebellious. Some might call starting a new local record label releasing vinyl a sucker bet. However, with sucker bets like vinyl, mid-century furniture design, living downtown, recycling/upcycling, the Ford Mustang, gardening and bacon beating the odds, you just never know for sure. I’ve found quality content wins out in the end. If Saturday night is any indication, listen before you bet against these performers or Different Folk Records.