Patty and the Buttons Party Like It's 1919

Patty and the Buttons | Heights Theater | Saturday, November 29
Patrick "Patty" Harison has a career much like a patchwork quilt. After crafting his musical style in New Orleans for five years, the 29-year-old musician has been making a living as a sideman for many projects including the Cactus Blossoms and Jack Klatt & the Cat Swingers, and now finally his solo project Patty and the Buttons.

Their debut record, The Mercury Blues, is steeped in the traditions of jazz, blues, and western swing. The band's new studio album opens the door and settles you inside a speakeasy during the prohibition era.

On a snowy November morning in a St. Paul coffee shop, Harison opens up about his past and explains his love for music from bygone eras.  
Patty has been playing traditional songs since he was 13. Instead of getting a job at a fast food joint like most teenagers did, he was playing bar mitzvahs and restaurants to earn a living. It's almost as if he saw what was normal and immediately decided to do the opposite.

On a steady diet of accordion and steel guitar, Patty developed a versatile skill set that eventually led him to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina hit. He was asked to move there to help keep the music scene alive since so many musicians were fleeing the city to find refuge in other places.

Between sips of latte, he shares, "I didn't really know anything about 1920s music, but I was willing to go down there and learn it."

After getting his feet wet in New Orleans, Harison ventured out to New York before Minneapolis called him home.

"I still wanted to play this kind of music, so I called these guys [Keith Boyles on bass, Tony Balluff on clarinet, and Mark Kreitzer on guitar] up, and they were really the only ones that were into this type of music," he continues.

"My band is comprised of guys that are old enough to be my father. Some of these guys are third generation musicians in this genre. It's great, because they have so much experience amongst them, and there's no drama of a young band. I mean, they can still party like nobody's business, but there's no petty bickering."

Despite having so many projects floating around, Patty wanted to give voice to this one simply because he felt this genre of music is not being made anymore. He declares, "If I want to play it, it's up to me to keep it alive. It would be foolish to waste all of the time I spent studying and playing with those people, and then let that information evaporate."

When making this album, Harison found a rich tradition of jazz and blues in the Twin Cities, including artists like Butch Thompson, that made Minnesota "New Orleans North." On The Mercury Blues, 80 percent of the material is composed of original tracks from Patty and his band, and the other portion is traditional songs from the dawn of jazz.

Harison gets a twinkle in his eye when he leans in and says, "You really can't tell the difference between the two eras, can you? The traditional pieces are from before 1921, so they're in the public domain. Royalties are expensive as all get out."

For his original songs, the lyrical content is expressing his own thoughts and creative content. He argues that it's the same as a rock band, but instead of electric guitar and synths, he has steel guitar, vibraphone, clarinet, and a banjo. "It's the sounds I like," he says. "There's no reason why you can't keep that pallete alive."

Patty gets even more excited when he talks about the album release show, which will be a day show at the Heights Theater in Columbia Heights.

"I'm really trying to offer something that no one else is doing; it's going to be such a unique experience," he says. "The Heights Theater is an amazing 1920s art deco theater, and it has a pipe organ that rises up out of the stage on hydraulics -- it's a little Phantom of the Opera-ish. We'll incorporate that with some silent films. We really want to engage people in a different setting than the normal concert setting."

When pressed on whether he is bothered that doing things outside of the box and playing Prohibition-era music may not get him to the level that investing in an indie-rock career would, he agrees. "It's invigorating, because I have to find fans that are off the beaten path," he says. "I'm on the outside in every scene, especially as a musician. I just want to play music and have fun. It's liberating to not have to think about being cool."

Patty and the Buttons will release The Mercury Blues at the Heights Theater with Davina Sowers (Davina and the Vagabonds), with a feature of Long Lost Silent Films and the Mighty Wurlitzer Organ. All ages, $20, 12:30 p.m., Saturday, November 29. Purchase tickets here.


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