Pert Near Sandstone: One Decade In, and More to Come


Pert Near Sandstone | First Avenue | Friday, October 24
It's hard to believe Pert Near Sandstone's Kevin Kniebel once almost gave up the banjo.

Everything fell into place when he had his first clawhammer-style lesson with regional folk musician Bill Cagley. By the next week, Kniebel started playing the banjo on stage, and for most of the past decade his banjo has traveled across the country alongside his closest friends. These friends hatched upon a style of string band music that hits hard with acoustic instruments.

Before Pert Near Sandstone celebrates their 10th anniversary with special guests the Big Wu and "Spider" John Koerner, Gimme Noise got the band to look back at what got them here.


The members of Pert Near started playing music together around a campfire in high school. They parted ways for college and other pursuits, but started jamming together after graduation for fun. Their folk-style collaborations landed them gigs at local venues, and an audience that was having just as much fun listening to them as they were having onstage. A regular gig at the Cabooze expanded into regular touring.

Later on, they caught the Americana old-time bug, and a string-based repertoire became their trademark. "Now we know what we're doing," Kniebel says. "We really committed to this project and turned it into this art before we truly knew what it was that we were doing. Now it's something that's more defined and something that we have embraced."

Pert Near Sandstone members have come and gone over the past decade, but what hasn't wavered is the drive to explore the potential of their instruments and songwriting abilities. "My songs have definitely walked the path with me," Kniebel adds. "It just comes back to the depth that just comes with time."

From <em>The Hardest Part of Leaving</em> release party at the Fitzgerald (feat. Nicholas David on piano, members of Trampled by Turtles, Jillian Rae, Steve Kaul from The Brass Kings, etc.)

From The Hardest Part of Leaving release party at the Fitzgerald (feat. Nicholas David on piano, members of Trampled by Turtles, Jillian Rae, Steve Kaul from The Brass Kings, etc.)

"I like how eclectic our music is, partly because we all write from different perspectives," his bandmate Nate Sipe explains.

Sipe taught himself how to play the mandolin while traveling the country hitching rides in boxcars and thumbing it on the road. Years ago, he invited himself over to a jam session and ended up becoming a band member. Also a fiddle contributor, he recently moved to Los Angeles, and flies back for shows.

Guitarist J. Lenz sets himself apart as a teacher, and holds classes in guitar, most brass instruments, and non-bowed stringed instruments. Filling out the current lineup are Wild Goose Chase Cloggers vets Andy Lambert and Matt Cartier and bassists Justin Bruhn and Adam Kiesling joining in for shows.

"We're still together making music that we love with people that we love," Kniebel says. "I'm proud of the music that we've been able to make over the years. If we weren't having fun, I wouldn't still be doing it."

Pert Near's latest, The Hardest Part of Leaving, creates a strong acoustic vibe with somber lyrics and reflects the growth they've experienced over the past decade. More lush arrangements and textures are immediately audible, but the band's core eclectic sound -- their own thumbprint on the history of folk music -- remains.

"People don't always take into consideration the heritage that comes into folk music," says Sipe. "We're stewards of folk music and that's something that will always kind of be there. We will fade away eventually. I like to think of us trying to do the music justice and somebody else picking it up someday."

"If I stop playing music tomorrow," Kniebel adds. "I want this community to thrive and I hope that I played a small part in somebody's inspiration. It hasn't been an easy row to hoe, but every day of it has been worth it by every stretch of the imagination. I wouldn't take any of it back."

Pert Near Sandstone. 18+. $15. 8:30 p.m., Friday, October 24 at First Avenue. Tickets.


53 things you might not know about Prince
73 things you might not know about Bob Dylan
Top 10 sister acts of all time
Top 20 best Minnesota musicians: The complete list