Catching Up with Monroe Crossing—Bluegrass in BloomingtonFebruary 15, 2019
Named in honor of Bill Monroe, the “Father of Bluegrass Music,” Monroe Crossing has been delighting audiences and making new fans for 19 years. Over the years, they have won the “Bluegrass Album of the Year” award (2003) from the Minnesota Music Academy, been inducted into the Minnesota Music Hall of Fame (2007) and appeared twice at Carnegie Hall in New York City.
In preparation for their upcoming concert series at the Ives this March, we posed a few questions to the band members Mark Anderson and Derek Johnson. They caught us up on recent developments and shared some memorable episodes from their years on the road.
Never let it be said that Monroe Crossing band members let grass grow under their feet. The band has an ambitious touring schedule, and even travels outside the U.S. In 2016, notes Derek, Monroe Crossing became the first bluegrass band to perform in South Korea. That was memorable!
Mark remembers playing at a bluegrass festival in Canada when the power went out during a lightning storm. Fortunately, Mark had a battery powered amplifier. “So all the bands played into a single mic under a tent surrounded by people under umbrellas. It was amazing to experience the music reflecting around, the rain falling hard and the dedicated audience barely breathing so they could hear.”
During winter months after the holidays, Monroe Crossing takes part in bluegrass cruises and entertains in warmer climates aboard ships leaving from Florida and California. On one such cruise, a friend had an accident and was confined to his cabin. So as not to make him and his wife miss the music, Mark remembers, “we performed…in their room. That was definitely our smallest audience ever.”
Wacky Mishaps on the Road
Most of the time, touring runs smoothly. But there have been a couple episodes that caused some consternation!
Back in January 2013, Monroe Crossing was performing in Phoenix, Arizona when someone stole Matt’s 2003 F-5 LaPlant Mandolin and fiddle from the hotel room. It was a devastating loss. Amazingly, the instrument found its way back to Matt the very next night through a stroke of good luck.
Turns out a fellow musician, Jerry Wright, was approached by a peddler at a gas station parking lot in nearby Scottsdale. Suspecting that the instrument was stolen, Jerry bought the mandolin and went looking online for a mention of it. He then called the band, and brought the instrument to their concert the next night. Derek adds, “the most heartwarming part of the story is the audience [who] took up a collection to pay [Jerry] back.”
Accident in Nassau
Just a few months ago, another mishap put a wrench in the band’s plans. On their winter Caribbean cruise, Monroe Crossing went ashore in Nassau, Bahamas. Mark takes up the story: “We were tooling around Nassau on Vespa style scooters and stopped in a parking lot for a soda and to enjoy a view of the ocean. As [Lisa] was coming to a stop, the sand under her tires had other ideas and she tipped, breaking her arm and fracturing her ankle.”
Lisa flew back to Minneapolis and had surgery within days to help her bones reset properly. The rest of the band had to finish the cruise concerts without Lisa, but learned a couple things on the way. First, Derek explains, “So many people have reached out to [Lisa] to wish her well. Bluegrass fans are the best.” He goes on, “It’s nice to know that even missing one of our members, the rest of the band has so much talent and experience that we were still able to put on some really entertaining shows.”
Fortunately, Lisa has recovered enough to sing with the band during their March dates at the Ives. The fiddle playing will come back too, but not for another couple months. The band’s next live CD has been put on hold until Lisa is completely healed.
Bluegrass and the Ives Auditorium
Monroe Crossing has put out many CDs over the years, and played at countless concerts and festivals. We asked what inspires the band to keep touring and playing bluegrass. Derek attributes the band’s staying power to “momentum.” “The more you play,” he explains, “the more you meet new people and new audiences. So, then your fan base grows and more opportunities arise. We enjoy making music together in front of a live audience.”
Mark has a slightly different way of describing the band’s success. “Bluegrass is like tofu,” he opines, “in that it can absorb almost anything you put into it. We bring a lot of different sounds and feels into the music while maintaining the drive and momentum that defines the music of Bill Monroe.”
Coming Back to the Ives
And why is Monroe Crossing returning to the Ives Auditorium for the third year in a row? Mark’s comment: “It’s a beautiful modern theater with classic charm, great sight lines and wonderful sound. Every acoustic musician loves playing in a room that makes it easy for the audience to hear all the subtle nuances acoustic instruments can bring to the mix.”
Notes Derek, “The Ives is a great place to see a show. It’s a nice room and very intimate. We travel far and wide but we always like entertaining our fellow Minnesotans. Plus, the commute is better!”
Come out to see these master musicians March 12, 13 or 14, 2019 at 1:00 pm. Click here to order your tickets! If you’d like to add on a gourmet lunch before the show (Oven Fried Chicken with mashed potatoes and gravy along with other sides), please call 952-948-6524.