ALL ABOUT THE MUSIC: Willie Dixon Tribute

Every so often Todd Parks Mohr, frontman for Big Head Todd and the Monsters, breaks free from his music to celebrate legends.


Todd Parks Mohr (right) and Ronnie Baker Brooks

I had the good fortune to see him and his band team up with some remarkable musicians, Mud Morganfield (Muddy Waters son), Billy Branch, Ronnie Baker Brooks, and Erica Brown (who joined the group as their backup singer and power house), to sing songs from Willie Dixon.

One of the remarkable things about this concert was its venue, a small renovated theater, something out of the Vaudevillian days, in downtown Red Wing, Minnesota. Red Wing is a small Mississippi river town that I’m sure no one outside of Minnesota would have hear of, but regardless, it was perfect for an intimate night with Todd and his friends.

As always, I’m very easily “blown away” by live music, not just any live music, but music of soul shaking proportions, and this was surely a night to remember.

Erica Brown only came out twice, which was a shame, because she had some “pipes” in her, holy god… was living the Maxell tap commercial, fantastic.

The rest of the boys shared the spotlight singing their renditions of Willie’s master pieces, but what was surprising to me, though maybe not to you, was “You need Love” which Mud sang….Led Zeppelin has also covered it pretty famously.

One of the highlights was the up close and personal moment each singer spoke about, their introduction to the blues, meeting Willie, and how the Blues changed their lives. Mud spoke of his father Muddy and the day Prince showed up in a long Limousine, or Todd’s first meeting with Ronnie Baker Brown 20 yrs ago.

Billy Branch, Erica Brown, and Mud Morganfield

Billy Branch, Erica Brown, and Mud Morganfield

Paul and I have followed Big Head Todd since their debut album back in the 80’s. They remain one of our favorite bands to see live, showing us music is timeless, and uniting.

It’s All About the Music: Mikaela Davis

by Thomas Speltz

mikaela2Last week I went to a concert at The Dakota Jazz Club  in Minneapolis. When I took my seat at the venue I saw that there was a big beautiful harp on stage. Excitement and anticipation bubbled up inside me as I was not expecting to see a harp. In fact, I had never even heard harp in any of the music by the artist I was about to listen to. Because I spend most of my time seeing theatre, opera, and orchestra it didn’t occur to me that there would most likely be an opening act. Sure enough, Mikaela Davis entered the stage, sat down at her harp, and took my breath away.

When she began to play her first song, My Light Is Always On, I immediately thought of the well known singer, songwriter, and harpist Joanna Newsom, but as soon as Davis started to sing I could tell that she undoubtedly had unique voice of her own. It was amazing to me how she was able to make the harp sound different throughout the piece. At times I heard a harp but other times I heard a mandolin, a guitar, a sitar, a dulcimer. “I think a harp can do anything,” Davis declares, and I’m inclined to believe her.
mikaela3After her 30 minute set I was eager to hear her recorded work. On listening to the two albums I purchased from the merchandise table I discovered that Davis is not a solo performer. In both albums, her and her harp are accompanied by a small rock ensemble. At first I was disappointed that the songs were a total change of pace from what I had listened to at The Dakota. The music was missing that intimacy I loved in a voice and harp. But as I continued to listen I found myself recognizing what loved about her live performance in the mix of the larger ensemble.
In exploring more of her music on iTunes, SoundCloud, and YouTube I was able to get a better picture of what Mikaela Davis is all about. Her compositions and arrangements cleverly combine elements of folkpsychedelic rock, and chamber pop and her voice reveals a wisdom and ruefulness that belie her years. She employee the harp as a pulse, a rhythm, or a texture that seamlessly integrates into the rock-band context. I hope, as I continue to follow her work, that she maintains her ambitious stride in being a singer, songwriter, and harpist.


It’s All About the Music: The Dakota Jazz Club

by Judy Speltz

This past week, Paul and I caught Ruthie Foster playing at the Dakota Jazz Club in downtown Minneapolis. It’s a small venue — a restaurant with less than 350 seats around a small stage. It reminds me of the “MTV Unplugged” set— but with food and wine, and room to dance if the mood moves you, but cozy.


Judy Speltz of ANTICABLES with Jack Broadbent

Prior to the show, the manager always comes out to engage the audience in conversation and promote upcoming shows. This particular night, he said “we have a surprise”.  A slender young man with long hair and a beard/mustache sauntered out on stage holding a pint and introduced himself with a British accent as Jack Broadbent. He then sat down on his small amp, lay his electric guitar on his lap, grabbed the silver whiskey flask he uses for a slide, and put the audience at attention with the first pluck of the strings.

If music were static, then we were all clinging to the whip of his wrist as the whiskey flask traveled up and down the neck of his guitar. I think we were in disbelief for a minute, but soon surrendered to the trance we found ourselves in.

Lucky for us, Jack had just finished a tour with Peter Frampton, and after ringing up someone in the Twin Cities, we found him playing ahead of Ruthie Foster that night. We’ve come to learn that Broadbent has already made quite a name for himself, starting on Youtube playing on the streets of London and Amsterdam. I guess Paul and I are late to the party — but if you haven’t heard of him either, familiarize yourself with this man cause he ain’t goin’ no where but up!

Ruthie Foster is no stranger to fame. She’s been singing since she was a young girl — at 14 Ruthie was the soloist in the church choir. If you Wikipedia Ruthie, her accolades are numerous, too many to mention here. It was a beautiful evening of music from Ruthie and her band. Ruthie’s gospel background flavors all her music and keeps you firmly connected to her southern roots. It was our first time seeing Ruthie, a woman who has been compared to the great Aretha Franklin. It was one of those evenings where you feel so damn lucky.








It’s All About the Music: The Jayhawks

The Jayhawksby Judy Speltz

For the past three summers we have been attending “Music in the Zoo” concert series at the Minnesota Zoo — a small amphitheater setting outdoors among the animals.

In late June we settled into a fantastic concert with three encores: The Jayhawks. We’ve had a couple of their albums for years, listening to them as they make their way through our music rotation. Paul noted, “I’ve always wanted to be able to like The Jayhawks more than I did, and seeing them in person achieved that”.

I have to agree — WOW, what a great night. Seeing live music is always exciting, especially when it’s an intimate setting, but their music is still resonating in my head a week later.

How do you define them: are they folk, are they soft rock? Greg Louris’s guitar playing could really grind out the Rock side of their music, yet the harmony and lyrics to their songs are soulful and steadfast.

The night was a pleasant surprise for us, and we hope you will take an evening to become more familiar with this long standing Minnesota original, The Jayhawks.




It’s All About the Music: Ziggy Marley

IMG_4444This past June we attended a ‘Music is the Zoo’ concert (part of our local Minnesota Zoo summer concert series), featuring Ziggy Marley.

His concert came on the heals of the Orlando tragedy, when our country was feeling heavy with sadness and frustration.  He walked out on stage, the crowd rose and we never sat down for the entirety of his performance — two hours plus an encore.

His music, with its message of Love, Peace, Joy, and Mother Earth was so uplifting and full of celebration, and really brought a few thousand strangers together, as only Reggae music can do.  Like his father, Bob Marley, Ziggy held the crowd in his hand as we all moved to the groove of “Is this love”, “Jammin”, and “No Woman No Cry”. It was a magical evening and one we will remember with great fondness!