Folk singer, back in Duluth again, finds a good place and sticks with itA New Hampshire folk singer has a standing date with Amazing Grace Bakery & Café: Bill Staines always plays a show at the Canal Park venue on the Thursday before the last Saturday in February.
By: Christa Lawler, Duluth News Tribune
A New Hampshire folk singer has a standing date with Amazing Grace Bakery & Café: Bill Staines always plays a show at the Canal Park venue on the Thursday before the last Saturday in February.
It’s been that way since the café opened in 1995.
“I’m drawn to one place and play every year until they won’t have me anymore,” Staines said.
The prolific singer came of age in the thick of the Mitchell-Garfunkel-Baez era in Boston and is a heavy touring singer-songwriter known for his upside-down guitar playing, yodeling and depth of catalogue.
He’s been heard on “A Prairie Home Companion” and the HBO series “Deadwood.”
Mostly he lives the old-school folk singer lifestyle, traveling around the country in his Jeep and playing 150-200 shows a year at coffee shops, festivals, auditoriums and living rooms.
“I’ve played one place in Massachusetts for 43 years in a row,” Staines said. “Who’s going to be the evil demon that says we can’t hire Bill next year?”
Staines said he was contacted by late owner Chip Stewart back when the café started booking music. Once Staines finds a place he likes, he likes to double back to it, he said.
Staines’ regular Duluth stop became a natural extension of an annual three-day stand in Minneapolis the last weekend in February. The details of his Minneapolis show have changed over the years, but the Amazing Grace gig remains set.
“Oh, it’s great,” Staines said. “It’s a very intimate crowd. The atmosphere — it’s like playing in your living room almost. People are really warm and it’s usually brutally cold outside. It’s just a very warm feeling.”
John Ward and Lori Hatten have worked as sound techs around town and were on board when Staines started playing his regular gigs at Amazing Grace.
“I’ve seen almost all of them,” Ward said. “He’s the consummate Americana singer-songwriter. He just weaves great stories. His songs are memorable and thematic. They have a kind of Western feel, which is unusual because he’s from the Northeast.”
February has become the time of year when Staines books shows in Chicago, Wisconsin, Duluth and Minneapolis. He played Tuesday at Edison Club in Antigo, Wis., and on Wednesday was en route to a show at Bo Diddley’s Pub & Deli in St. Cloud, Minn. From Duluth he will travel St. Peter, Minn.
Staines estimates that he travels 65,000 miles per year by car.
“It’s the only thing I’ve ever known,” he said of the lifestyle.
On Wednesday, Staines’ road companion was a recording of Jack London’s “Call of the Wild.”
Staines once held a traditional job. He worked for Sears Roebuck for four years out of high school. But it was the folk music scene in the local coffee houses that drew him. The Boston-Cambridge area was host to Joan Baez, Judy Collins, Gordon Lightfoot, Art Garfunkel and more — artists who would play in front of a crowd of 90 people.
“It was a great time to grow up in the Boston area,” he said. “I, myself, was playing at the smaller clubs.”
In 1969 he quit his day job and never went back.
“I was immersed in the music,” he said. “It became a snowball effect. Gradually I was touring more and more and then it was 45 years later.”
Staines has written children’s songs, campfire songs and church songs. A News Tribune reviewer described Staines’ live performance in a review of his 2010 album “Old Dogs”:
“It wasn’t his comfortable well-crafted songs about love, cowboys, the road and aging; it wasn’t his pleasant half-sung, half-spoken vocal style; it wasn’t his easy stage manner, interacting with the audience the way only someone who has toured endlessly over the last 40 years could; and it wasn’t even the occasional yodel that graces many performances. It was his guitar playing! It was backwards and upside down. … Staines’ guitar playing seemed so bizarrely achieved that I was glued, so to speak, to the fingerboard during his show.”
His 20th album, “Beneath Some Lucky Star,” was released in fall 2012.
Go see it
What: Bill Staines
When: 7 p.m. today
Where: Amazing Grace Bakery & Café, 394 S. Lake Ave.
Tickets: $15 at the door