First Avenue’s Annual “Best New Bands of 2021” Took The Throne


On March 4th, 2022 – a show erupted in downtown Minneapolis that took me by absolute blissful surprise. Growing up in the Twin Cities, I always wondered where and how I could tap into up and coming talent; let alone just Bands You Should Know About In General (like these – yes; all of them). From Durry, EVV, and Honeybutter to Kokou Kah, Lanue, Papa Mbye, and Vial – set after set I found myself finding and following each of these acts on Spotify just to get caught up and hopefully – along for their ride ahead to new heights. 

It was a usual melting season March night when I was pulling into the Macy’s parking ramp downtown. A busy night about around me, I made my way through the show-goers and bar-hoppers alike as I high stepped it into the historical First Avenue. 

Starting out for the night we had VIAL; consisting of Taylor Kraemer (Keys and Vocals), KT Branscom (guitar) and bassist Kate Kanfield – not to forget that drummer Katie Fischer was literally found on Tinder by the band (I love how this is just normal now). Their story was in mind only partially as they took the crowd’s attention from the moment they warmed up and hit things off. This indie-punk anthem producers have been gaining more and more traction around the cities, primarily (I’d offer) due to their great energy on stage, and their rather tongue-in-cheek writing with hits like “Mr. Fuck You” just to mention one. 

Coming up next we had Papa Mbye (stylized “papa mbye”). Front man Papa Mbye reigns locally from North Minneapolis, and gathers inspirations from Senegalese artists, retro alternative rock, 2000’s pop and more. An artist by total definition, this guy no only raps and produces the music we heard that night – he’s keen with illustrations, clothing, and film.  Papa game out with a stage full of supporting musicians that truly elevated his spotlight even though the stage was being shared by so many. 

After the second crew left stage, we were introduced to a local act known not just here but from Duluth to her hometown area of Eau Claire, WI – Lanue. Known for her rather direct and blunt lyrical punches and rhymes, she implements a variety of instruments to create a unique, vibrant sound (synths, guitars, and drums – oh, my!). Lanue’s sound can be credited to herself, of course – but also inspired by collaborations with members of Low, Bon Iver, Trampled by Turtles, Taylor Swift, and more. With a band of friends in hand, Lanue’s warm and welcoming presence helped heat up the stage and the crowd for the next coming act. 

Kokou Kah came out next and had my attention immediately with the variety of band instruments joining him, including a saxophone and enthusiastic drummer that I really enjoyed. Kokou, dressed for the occasion and with energy for a lifetime, is known for their cross-over/splicing of American and Liberian cultures warping together. Inspired by the legends like Bob Marley and Tupac, as well as Liberian pop music, the soul and energy of this guy really popped off stage and had the crowd itching for more. 

 Honeybutter took to stage next. The jolly band consisting of Zak Khan (guitar), Clara Wicklund (vocals/bass), and Andreas Fenner on keys and vocals – has been gaining more and more momentum for their intentional artistic mindset – led by my favorite essence of “honeyed vocals,” this group has a combination of spirits – from South American guitar riffs to homemade percussion – there’s an earthly ambiance all around with these folks.  These guys hit home for me specifically as a fellow MPLS resident, and who can’t love their reputation as being the “warmth and sugar on a cold winter day. Eat them for breakfast.” 

EVV came up next, as the crowd was truly packed in by this point. Known for the fact that they don’t want to be labeled by any specific genre; this bluesy-jazzy-rocky artist (Evelyn Speers) has surely gained a bunch of new fans after this fantastic semi-finale performance. What really attracts me to their sound and spirit overall is how they are rooted in the idea of inspiring young women to chase after their musical dreams and shatter glass ceilings. Already known for being an “artist to watch” by Ear Coffee, this Best-New-Band might be the next Best-Known-Band if they keep this act up. 

And lastly and certainly the most emotionally moving group for me personally took to stage. When the shutdowns hit – a lot of us lost a lot; but some managed to maintain their hopes and dreams (must be nice, but I digress LOL) – Austin Durry has been on my radar since 2020 when I caught him with his band “Coyote Kid.” That band was my favorite local act until the shutdowns – so I was listening to their stuff as it really blended with the mood we all had then. A ray of sunshine must have lit up Austin’s face one day during quarantine, because the once dark-and-western song writer and front man was now standing up for the common kid in high school, poking fun at the cool kids and rich folk alike – alongside new partner and long time friend (cuz their siblings, ha) – Taryn Durry. They have dropped hit after hit, and it really all came down to one song at the end that is also where I’d recommend you click to next: if you don’t know this brother-sister indie band from Burnsville, MN – the time is now. The Durrys don’t slow down – and their humility and genuine personalities are making them become one of the easiest things to fall in love with since Motivational Cat Posters were rolled out in some sad corporate office 25 years ago. Just go look up “Who’s Laughing Now” by Durry and you’ll fall into a black hole of joy consisting of new hits, catchy tunes, and way too relatable lyrics. “My Friends said ‘someday I would make it big’ but I’m still living in the basement” – Same guys, literally same. They won the night over for the crowd of acts, and truly put a bow on the Best New Bands segment for 2021.