Ten years together, and still going strong
It's been 10 years since Minnesota bluegrass band Monroe Crossing first began performing together -- and to celebrate, the quintet will kick off its 10th Anniversary Tour in Detroit Lakes this Friday, June 4 at the Historic Holmes Theatre.
Named for the legendary "Father of Bluegrass," Bill Monroe, the group performs a wide range of music, combining classic bluegrass with original compositions --occasionally throwing in some rock and country cover songs as well.
"Our current CD, 'Heartache and Stone,' has a lot of originals from the band, some songs written by friends of ours, and we even do a cover of a Prince song -- a bluegrass version of 'Purple Rain,'" said Matt Thompson, who plays mandolin for the group. "He's (Prince) a Minnesotan too; the CD is mostly originals from Minnesota songwriters."
In all, the group has 10 CDs to their credit, or about one for every year they've been together. All of their music is available on the group's website, monroecrossing.com, and they also sell CDs at their concerts.
In concert, about a third of the group's repertoire is songs written by its own members, Thompson added.
"Three of our members do a lot of writing," he said. "It's common in bluegrass to do covers of older songs, and we do that too. We also throw in some stuff from other genres. We do the Etta James song 'At Last,' the Temptations 'My Girl,' a few country and rock songs. We do a variety, so people are entertained.
"The second half (of each concert) is all audience requests," he continued. "If we know it, we'll play it. Sometimes the songs they request are ones we haven't done before, but we'll just go for it.
"Sometimes it works out great, sometimes it doesn't, but that's part of the excitement of live performance."
Another unique aspect of their concerts, Thompson said, is that the group performs around a single microphone, in classic bluegrass style.
"We move in and out of the microphone (for different parts of each song). That's real fun for the audience," he added. "Visually, it's more interesting, and we have a lot better microphones than they (classic musicians) did."
Besides Thompson, who lives in Rosemount, the other members of Monroe Crossing include guitarist Art Blackburn of Ramsey, Minn.; banjo player Benji Flaming of Minneapolis; and the husband-and-wife duo of Mark Anderson, bassist, and fiddle player Lisa Fuglie, who live in Brooklyn Center. Blackburn and Fuglie share lead vocalist duties, Thompson added.
"We've had a few banjo players, but Benji was our first -- he came back, so we (the current lineup) are the five original members," he said.
Blackburn also serves as the group's booking agent; Monroe Crossing does about 130 shows a year, according to Thompson.
"Half our shows are in the Midwest, and the other half are everywhere else," he said. "We've played everywhere from California to Washington D.C., from Canada to the Caribbean."
Though all of the band's members are Minnesotans, Fuglie has particularly close ties to this area of the state, because her parents grew up in Ulen.
"We do a show every year in Ulen, at the Top Hat Theatre," Thompson said.
"Lisa's relatives and friends are still up there, so we make it a tradition to play there.
"We're looking forward to coming back up to Detroit Lakes next week," he added.
Friday's show at the Historic Holmes Theatre gets under way at 7:30 p.m. Adult tickets are $16 in advance, $20 at the door, while student tickets are $8 in advance, $10 at the door. You can purchase them at the Holmes Box Office, 806 Summit Ave.; by phone at 218-844-SHOW (7469), or online at www.dlccc.org.