The Barley Jacks with Brian Wicklund release a new album at the Cedar


Country music seems to get more flack than any other genre. Ask anyone on the street, "What kind of music do you listen to?" and the answer usually includes some variation of "Anything but country."

If that's the case for you, allow us to introduce you to The Barley Jacks with Brian Wicklund. Technically under the bluegrass tab of country music, the Minneapolis band raise the notch by performing interactive bluegrass, engaging the audience and making every performance unique.

Gimme Noise spoke with Brian Wicklund before the band's CD release at the Cedar.


Band Members:

Brian Wicklund-fiddle, vocals


Joe Cruz-guitar, vocals

Kevin Rowe-bass, vocals

Joel Arpin-percussion

Gimme Noise: There's not too many bluegrass/Celtic/jazz bands here in the Cities; are you finding there's a big audience for this genre?

Brian Wicklund: Although there aren't many bands who are making a living playing music in general -- or bluegrass specifically, there is a strong bluegrass and folk music community in Minnesota. As is common in the music industry, a lot of the fans also play and therefore are pretty knowledgeable about the music. I think that makes them appreciate the Barley Jacks more because they understand the level of musicianship that we have and appreciate it.

What drew you to perform and write bluegrass? Was there anyone you saw perform growing up that made that decision for you?

I heard bluegrass for the first time when I was 9 or 10 and started teaching myself fiddle by going to fiddle contests and jam sessions in the Twin Cities. I loved the energy of the music; it was all I played and listened to until I went to college. It's really my first musical language. In college I became interested in swing and folk fiddle styles like Appalachian old time, Celtic and Swedish. All of these styles get thrown into the pot when I perform and compose.

Although I grew up playing bluegrass, I don't specifically write in that style. A great songwriter friend of mine once said that the most difficult tune to write is an uptempo bluegrass song. The themes in bluegrass are either missing your home in the mountains, missing a girl, missing a girl in the mountains, or being jilted by the girl in the mountains. The emotional range of those themes has been fully explored. On our new CD The Lighthouse, the songs that I have written or covered generally deal with being disaffected with modern life; I wrote a song called "Chop Wood, Carry Water" about simplifying, and co-wrote another with Joe Cruz called "Can't Take My Love" dealing with losing your land to development. I also cover the John Hartford song "In Tall Buildings" about spending your life in an office building.

I really admire the writing of Tim O'Brien and Darrel Scott. They can write a folk song and make it current, yet timeless. Man, I wish I could do that!

In keeping with the last question, are there any artists that you are collaborating with or want to collaborate with?

I also play with a trio called Brother Mule. Ben Winship is an amazing songwriter who lives in Victor, ID and bassist Eric Thorin lives in Boulder, CO.  It's tough to get together but we string together a couple of tours each year. We've got a following in the US western states and the UK. We have two recordings.

What is the plan and ultimate goal with the new album? Any plans to hit the road with the new music?

Although we're all veterans of the professional music scene in the Twin Cities, the Barley Jacks is still a relatively new band. We've only been together a year and a half. We went from zero to eighty gigs in the second year. We've played some clubs to help get our repertoire solid, but we're really a band that shines best in a concert situation. We're aiming to play more concerts in halls and more music festivals this next year. I think our CD will really help with that. Now with New Folk Booking representing us, we will be playing a lot more in the future.

How do you decide if a song is going to be pure instrumental or if it's going to contain lyrics?

I know from the beginning whether the musical idea is going to be a song or a tune. I guess I just make that decision at the get go.

What do you believe that The Barley Jacks with Brian Wicklund does well and what do you think you need to improve?

The band always grooves hard. We've worked at it. We also really give it all for each performance. Everybody is very focused when they play and really listens to each other.  The band is also really good at co-arranging new music. I'll often bring a song idea to the band and they help craft it.

As far as things we could work on, I think becoming better singers is important to us. Though our vocals have really improved over the time we've played together, we still have room for improving. We're also working hard at communicating amongst ourselves a unified artistic and business direction. I think that can be the downfall of many good bands. I think all of us Barley Jacks know that we're in a band with huge potential and know that many bands like us fail because they can't communicate. We work hard at that and always can improve upon it.

You say that you make every performance unique; what goes into each show that makes it so?

We all put little unexpected things in each tune to keep things fresh and help everyone to pay attention. Each of us improvises our solos but I'll even change the arrangement just to put a little edge to the performance. That makes every show a little different and a little dangerous. We put a lot of trust in each other on stage and really open ourselves up for our audience, and we've seen our audience really grow because they respond to that energy.

What can we expect from the show at the Cedar?

A really great time!

The Barley Jacks with Brian Wicklund will release The Lighthouse at the Cedar Cultural Center on Friday, December 2, 2011. AA, $15 adv, $18 door, 7 pm

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