The line to the Palace Theater was stretching too far for comfort when I walked up this Thursday evening as crowds of people were waiting for a folk’ing awesome time. Downtown St. Paul at night has always been one of my favorite places in the midwest, but what I didn’t realize is that it was only about to improve with the sounds of Mandolin Orange, Kate Rhudy, and what felt like a sold out show in the works.
The theater was nearly packed while Kate Rhudy opened up the evening. Commanding the stage while only joined by her guitar under arm, Rhudy owned the scene. Her spectacular voice and playful lyrics joined by an uncanny traditional country vibe made for one of the best opening acts I have seen to date. Rhudy not only performed, but took the time to chat with the audience between some songs and complimenting the venue.
Shortly after Kate Rhudy left the stage, out came Mandolin Orange. Traditionally lead by two front-men Emily Frantz and Andrew Marlin, the group also came out with drums, an upright bass, guitars, a mandolin, and a fiddle depending on the song selection. The collection of instruments and vocals created a cozy, true Americana atmosphere that I can confidently say I’ve never seen the likes of. The group captivated the crowd’s attention almost immediately, drawing on all our senses and jaw-dropped gazes. People were so infatuated, it felt like we were all huddling as a group, leaning towards a campfire – be it the sound or the lyrics, we were all in. Whether it was Frantz or Marlin taking lead vocals, each song had a nostalgic and optimistic voice as the tempos and style changed in a comfortable, natural way throughout the set. Simple, satisfying folk – nothing complicated.
We must not overlook that during breaks the duo engaged the crowd as if we were old friends casually checking in. Additionally, being in Minnesota, we were again not able to escape the mentioning of the cold! In the words of Marlin, things are “not warm” here; you’re not wrong, Andrew. Will there be a show where the weather doesn’t come up at least once? Only time will tell.
Regardless of who was on stage, what I can’t give enough justice to is how down-to-Earth these musicians and their music are. With things like pop-folk growing by the day, it was nothing short of a breathe of fresh air to hear rustic, authentic Americana in a pure form. We often forget the mantra of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” and both Mandolin Orange and Rhudy have managed to keep intact traditional folk/Americana, seamlessly avoiding the catchy riffs and radio-ready choruses that corrupt so many artists of similar styles these days. The next time either of these artists are in town, I hope you’ll join us.