Show Review of Dan Rumsey in St. Paul, Minnesota

by Susan Budig

I’ve found
something better to do than sleep-in on a Sunday morning. Instead of indulging
in sweet slumber, on July 20th , I take in the sweet sounds of Dan Rumsey (

Under an
overcast sky, I zip over to the Black Bear Crossing café near Como Lake in St.
Paul to hear the offerings of guitarist. Dan Rumsey and his musical cohorts,
Sally Heinz on flute and Andy Anda on fiddle and mandolin. These three music
makers know how to celebrate the world with their talents. Their music is
infused with their spirits and it shows as they share themselves with the

under a hanging birch bark canoe, suspended in air by ropes, Rumsey starts out
with “Here Am I” .It’s a piece which shows off the vocals for the morning and
sets the tone as we sip our coffees heavily laced with cream and sugar. We move
right into the traditional “Down in the Valley.” sung with an aching melancholy.
Anda whispers along with his fiddle, using a two finger hold on the bow, his
touch is so light.
Curt Mayfield wrote this next number, “People Get Ready” .The band’s rich sound
is presented as a unit. While each player takes a turn with the melody, they are
so cooperative that they sound ideally suited for one another. Then, while Heinz
takes a quick moment to swab at her flute, Rumsey and Anda mess around with
their instruments, managing to work out a bit of a tune. Rumsey mischievously
grins and murmurs, “what song is this?.” With Heinz back at her seat, they
launch into “The L & N.” by Jean Ritchie. The song from Kentucky is flavored
with a bit of Southern blues and old-time.

The band
gives us a fiddle tune from Doc Watson, “Warm and Windy” .I note, not for the
first time, that while a coffee shop has a quaint sort of charm, it also has
very poor timing. The loud bangings and hums of the espresso maker nearly drown
out the soulful melody.

For the few
kids in the sparse audience, Rumsey sings out in a jocular voice, “Vegetable
Dance” .The band horses around and giggles as they perform. Peter Rowan is the
originator of the subsequent song, “Knocking on Your Door” .This tune, along
with the next, “Life Is Like A Mountain.” has a Southern taste. The end of this
duo of songs features Rumsey poignantly singing with a lone fiddle accompaniment.

After a lengthy instrumental introduction, Rumsey intones “You Don’t Know My
Mind” .Anda gives an impressive run with his fingers reaching up into the
highest range of his fiddle.

second set begins with an original song, “The Peaceful, Loving Way” .This number
is finger picked on the guitar with the flute sounding like a river as it
carries along the notes of the vocalist. Rumsey’s soul is into this tune. I hear
it in his voice and instrument. Heinz is so responsive to Rumsey’s picking, it
seems intuitive. It makes me wish his entire show was comprised of his own work
because he is so present and focused. The song is beautiful and I don’t want it
to end.

The next
piece, one which revs up thoughts of activism, is titled, “Who Are These People?”
Rumsey gives a heart rending entreaty of his concern about land (over)
development. The instruments are cohesive and reflective of the mood of the song.
After this we hear “Four Wondrous Women.” which Rumsey wrote after a gig he
shared with Ellis and others at a peace benefit concert. The song celebrates
women’s voices.
Far and away, Rumsey’s original work is the true grit of his show. All the rest
of the music, while competent and well orchestrated and mostly polished, are
just side dishes to the main course. My opinion is, I believe, validated with
the next number, “The Wicked Trail” .Rumsey wrote this song as a tribute to Gram
Parson, Hank Williams, and Townes Van Zandt who, Rumsey feels, lived lives and
played music in a way which burned them out.

I admit I
am a ardent Bruce Molsky fan and when Rumsey starts up the next song, an old-time
traditional one, “Fishing Blues.” I nearly shake my smug head in skepticism. Why
do I doubt Dan Rumsey? He pulls off the number with such an amazing energy and
rollicking fun that a comparison to Molsky’s rendition is pointless. Rumsey has
a blast “fishin’.” with his guitar and Heinz turns her flute into a pole,
casting out an imaginary line to the audience.

slips in a bit of Irish with his political song, “Me Laddie Friends and I.” He
wrote this with the current state of our world firmly in mind. Our morning ends
with a Fleetwood Mac tune. Rumsey heard Eva Cassidy’s recording of “Songbird.”
and plays it for us now. At the end of the song shivers run up Rumsey and he
comments on his goose bumps.

It’s easy
to hear Rumsey perform if you live here in the Twin Cities of Minnesota. He’s at
the Black Bear Crossing the second and fourth Sundays of the month. He also
weekly hosts open mic at the Riverview Café. If you aren’t close by, he has his
debut CD at A review
of it is included in the spring, 2003 issue of “Sing Out.” magazine. A new CD is
forthcoming later this year.