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Jen’s World: Six Mile Grove marks 20 years of rock and roots

November 22, 2018

When I saw Six Mile Grove play for the first time, I was on stage.

I wasn’t performing. I wasn’t emceeing. In fact, if you were in the audience at Rochester Civic Theatre that December evening, you probably wouldn’t have even seen me.

But I was there — watching local Americana/rock roots band Six Mile Grove play for my first time from some of the best seats in the house. That night, for a special joint holiday show with Minneapolis band Trailer Trash, a few rows of chairs were set off on the back of the stage. And, lucky us, my Rochester Magazine team got to be among those sitting in them.

I remember a lot about that night, despite the glass or three of wine that was flowing in my direction. I remember someone I only marginally knew leaning in close to yell in my ear, “Quit dancing in your chair and get up and dance for real!”

I remember hearing the band play “Man of Steel” and “Century Farm” for the first time — not yet aware that they’d still be favorites years later.

I remember that I was wearing a green poncho. (That really adds nothing to this story. I just find it fascinating that I remember that, seeing as I’d have to go look in the laundry basket — or, let’s be honest here, on the floor next to my bed — to tell you what I wore to work yesterday.)

And I remember that by intermission, I’d already bought tickets to the band’s next show.

Boy, that had to be six or seven years ago now. Maybe more.

Since that show, I’ve seen Six Mile Grove play at festivals and fairgrounds, open for the Gear Daddies, serenade audiences from garden patios and in backyards, perform back at Rochester Civic Theatre (many, many times), and hit the stage at Minneapolis’ First Avenue.

I’ve heard them harmonize to “Will the Circle Be Unbroken.” Seen them invite other musicians into the fold. Witnessed them leading theater-sized sing-a-longs (“Take a load off, Fannie…”)

For a band that has billed themselves as “dads with day jobs,” they manage to get around.

Of course, they haven’t always been dads with day jobs. I may have just discovered Six Mile Grove during the last decade, but they’re actually celebrating 20 years of making music this year.

On stage, lead singer Brandon Sampson occasionally tells the story of the band’s early years in Lyle. How he and his brother, Brian, started playing — Brandon on guitar, Brian on drums — on their family farm. How they rehearsed in the kitchen of their great-grandmother’s old farmhouse with their friend Barry Nelson. How, when bass player Dezi Wallace joined the group, he had to be driven to practices by his mom since he didn’t have his license yet.

Six Mile Grove will celebrate these beginnings — and everything the last two decades have brought them (including an additional member in pedal steel/dobro/accordion player John Wheeler) — in a concert this weekend.

But they’re not just looking back. Not by a long shot. In addition to being their 20th-anniversary show, Saturday also marks the launch party for Six Mile Grove’s seventh studio album, Million Birds. (Incidentally, the concert will also be the inaugural show at Rochester’s newest venue, Castle Community.)

They’ll play, I’m sure, the new album. Maybe some old favorites. Maybe we’ll get a sing-a-long in there.

I’m not telling you all of this because they asked me to. They didn’t. Or because I’m getting a cut of ticket sales. I’m not. I’m telling you all of this because I think it’s important to support local music and local musicians. And also because when a local band has been able to make a go of it for 20 years — when they’ve set up and torn down, and rearranged work schedules and kid schedules, and borrowed on goodwill from their spouses, and played their hearts out for two decades — I think we should buy a ticket and congratulate them.

And also listen to some really good, original music.

So, if you don’t know Six Mile Grove, I recommend checking them out this weekend to see if you’re as enamored with the band as I’ve been since I first heard them. (Tickets are at www.mytownmymusic.com.) And if you do know Six Mile Grove, well, you probably already have your tickets.

And — good news: If Saturday’s show leaves you wanting more, you’re in luck. On Dec. 15, Six Mile Grove will be back for a holiday show with Trailer Trash, this time at the Eagles Club. I’m excited to relive how it all started for me. Even if, this time, I don’t get to be on stage.

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