What to do downtown after work
Some bluegrass musicians just sing about cars, cabins and the countryside. The three guys behind The Last Revel, however, live the words in their songs.
The trio of Vinnie Donatelle (fiddle, bass), Ryan Acker (banjo, guitar) and Lee Henke (lead vocals, guitar, banjo) play a kind of Americana and alternative music folk that they say is inspired by their native Upper Midwest.
Acker is a perfect example. Before making the band his full-time job more than a year ago, the St. Paul resident used a biology degree out in the field, working for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and then as a river guide.
“Besides for music, that’s my other passion. I’ve always been about the outdoors,” he said. “It’s a part of who we are. It’s a part of so many people’s lives in the Upper Midwest. … If our music can embody some of that in a song, it’s a pretty authentic thing to me.”
The band started through the music program at Minnesota State University, Mankato. Acker and Henke, two longtime friends, began playing open mic nights with Donatelle. The three came together around a shared baseline of roots, rock and bluegrass and an interest in artists like Neil Young, Johnny Cash and Bob Dylan.
“We all became really good friends, and the music came naturally because of that,” he said.
Roughly six years and three albums later, and the Last Revel have established themselves in the folk scene unique to the Midwest. Acker describes the area’s roots and bluegrass scene as “songwriter oriented.” The band is a result of that culture. Each member of the band writes and sings on most of their songs.
“I draw it all the way back to a Bob Dylan influence,” he said. “This is a songwriting community.”
Despite its old-school charms, the genre has grown. This has led to new folk festivals across the region, including many led by bands like Trampled By Turtles and Pert Near Sandstone that have paved the way for up-and-comers like The Last Revel, Acker said.
“People have really latched on to this type of music,” he said.
The Last Revel will open for fellow Twin Cities band Pert Near Sandstone when they play First Avenue’s mainroom on Saturday, Oct. 21. Two Midwestern bands, Henhouse Prowlers and Old Salt Union, are also on the lineup.
The band’s latest record, this year’s “Hazard & Fate,” blows past the genre’s most bland contemporaries — you won’t find any twee songs here — with emotive tunes packed with personality. Between Henke’s earthy, raspy voice and layers of banjo and bass, the humble songs tell honest tales worth listening to.
‘East meets Northeast’
You probably pass by it once a day, but Ginger Hop is worth interrupting your commute home if you’ve never been tempted by the “East meets NE” restaurant. Stop in for happy hour, and you’ll find a menu packed with plenty to order under $4. Try finding anything that cheap anywhere else.
I’d start with the wontons ($4). At Ginger Hop, you have two kinds to choose from, traditional and caramelized onion. If you’re server is willing, I’d cajole them into bringing you a half order of both. Each comes with its own sauce to mix and match to your liking.
Now you can stock up on spring and egg rolls ($4). Ginger Hop’s banh mi spring rolls can’t imitate the crusty goodness of a sandwich on a French baguette, but they do capture much of what makes the Vietnamese dish so good. If you’re staying vegetarian, then the spring rolls with hoisin-lathered tofu is a good option.
Finally, you can really get a sense for Ginger Hop’s Minnesota-meets-Asia vibe with its satays. The skewers come with chicken, beef, walleye, tofu, mock duck or even pickles (no, this is not the Minnesota State Fair). I’d recommend the chicken, which comes with a peanut curry sauce.
Of course, if you need something more substantial, you won’t have to break the bank. Grab one of the restaurant’s many creative burgers ($5.95), from the Kung Fu Panda — a burger topped with kimchi and ghost pepper cheese — to the Jet Li — this one is bit more Midwestern with bleu cheese, caramelized onions and bacon.
Wash it all down with a Sake Grove, a house cocktail with blood orange liqueur, citrus vodka and sake that can either refresh you in the summer or liven things up in the winter.
You can find Ginger Hop, at 201 E. Hennepin Ave., just outside downtown in the Nicollet Island-East Bank neighborhood.
An indigenous kitchen
Sherman is a local chef behind a Kickstarter-famous restaurant concept based on cuisine made from indigenous Native American ingredients. Sherman and partner Dana Thompson recently announced they will partner with the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board to bring the model to a new destination park site near the Stone Arch Bridge and Mill Ruins Park area in the Mill District.
It turns out they’ve written the book on this indigenous model of cooking. Sherman and local cookbook author Beth Dooley will launch their new book, “The Sioux Chef’s Indigenous Kitchen,” at the Aster Café on Wednesday, Oct. 19 from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. Locals will get a chance to try out some items from the cookbook, purchase the book and hear from Sherman himself how he dispels antiquated notions of Native American food.