Written by Julia Cote and Clara MacMeekin
Photo by Greta Scheff
Our dear readers, Julia and I had the opportunity to witness the greatness of Mipso, and are eager to share it with you. Thus, you’ll discover that the next sections are written and separated by our persons. This is intentional, as we feel it would be a disservice to try and combine our distinct experiences. – Clara
Suppose the human body is a band. Its parts work together as well as you’d expect them to after knowing each other for a certain number of years (we’ll use ten, in this instance). Being in the same cramped spaces, answering the same questions that the rogue mind tends to want to know. Suppose your stomach is a fiddle. Your liver is a mandolin. Each of your kidneys bears half the sound of a double bass. Your pancreas is a guitar. The high register vocals are your small intestines; the low are the large. Your heart is the amp. The keyboard is your trachea. Sometimes you rest a cup of warm tea on it. You are a body. You are alive. You are Mipso.
It’s a Saturday night, in a concert hall that keeps filling up. It’s thirty degrees outside but various sources–dancing, alcohol, laughter–seem to have warmed people up. Light dances across the stage, catching strobes of those strange particles that seem too thick to be air and too thin to be smoke or manufactured fog. The band plays on strings and sings with voices that are deeply Southern. Everyone listening longs for a place where the weather is warmer and the tea is sweeter.
Currently on the album release tour for their latest record Book of Fools, Mipso took the stage at Higher Ground in South Burlington last Saturday night. As the quartet introduced themselves, I couldn’t help but feel welcome by their soft voices which lent Southern invitations to their words. This was the band’s fifth performance at the Concert Hall in ten years, returning with fond memories, as Jacob Sharp explained.
Book of Fools was released on August 25th, 2023 and is the band’s sixth album over the course of ten years together. The album is its first to be labeled as Bluegrass, showcasing their talents for expanding their musical niche. Certain songs delve into the sounds of traditional Rock and Roll while still maintaining the band’s aptitude for Americana and traditional Folk. What we saw Saturday night was a performance worthy of the church of Bluegrass, Alternative Folk, and Americana.
Mipso is particularly unique in that it features three lead singers: Jacob Sharp, also on the mandolin; Joseph Terrell, also on guitar; Libby Rodenbough, also on fiddle, and a bit of keyboard, too. On bass is Wood Robinson and, joining the members for this tour, is drummer Sean Trischka (who played on a set of baby blue drums that I couldn’t keep my eyes off of).
Throughout the night, it became clear that Mipso can feed the souls of those who hunger for live music–regardless of their preferred genre.
This includes me. Maybe just due to the nature of the DIY scene or my friends’ tastes, lately I’ve been further submerged into hardcore, fast-rock, grunge music. I’ve gotten used to my brain vibrating in my skull from music so loud as to blur the boundaries of the instruments–Mipso’s performance came as a relief I didn’t know I needed. I’d forgotten what it feels like to hear live music that doesn’t throttle you. I felt like a baby being cradled by my very talented, cool, young parents. A fucking fiddle!
As they played their first song of the night, I felt like a kid again, hearing an orchestra for the first time and experiencing the desire to crawl inside any and all instruments.
The band came out hot (and punctual, points to Mipso), playing a track from their newest album “Called out Loaded”. It’s one thing to know how to play an instrument; it’s another thing to know how to perform. Right off the bat, it was clear that the members of Mipso can do both. It’s impossible to not be captivated by Sharp’s vocals while Terrell handles an electric guitar with the expertise and confidence that I can only accomplish when I put my car keys in the ignition on the first try without looking.
While it was a challenge to pull my eyes away from the stage, I had to make an exception during the band’s performance of “A Couple Acres Greener”. Makes me want to stomp my foot, clap, and nod my head while closing my eyes, I quickly wrote in the notes app on my phone so as to not miss any more of the baptism by Bluegrass I was experiencing during the song. With a glowing gold stagelight behind them, Mipso gathered around one microphone with an acoustic guitar, a fiddle, a bass, a guitar fiddle, and harmonizing that I can best describe as heavenly. The song is a popular track off of their first album titled Dark Holler Pop, which the band paid homage to by playing another song, “Louise,” from the same album–a crowd favorite and now a favorite of mine.
“The Numbers” easily became my favorite song of the night. Written and performed by Libby Rodenbough, the track is featured on their newest album. As Mipso’s keyboardist and fiddle player, Rodenbough was a dazzling spectral for my eyes to behold. If there is anything that could describe the aptitude of her fiddle skills, I’d like you to take a moment and remember the song “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” by The Charlie Daniels Band and know it is she who is surely stashing the devil’s golden fiddle somewhere.
Also sung by Rodenbough was my personal favorite, “Servant to It,” a poppy-folk-rock track from their 2018 album, Edges Run. The strings, the quick beat, and Rodenbough’s voice all ran laps around me and my constantly moving body.
Though not a Mipso track, the performance of opener Kate Rhudy’s “You’re Not an Angel (Anymore)” with Rhudy herself, has remained the most memorable of the night, for me. Watching the six of them–Mipso’s four members, Rhudy, and drummer Trischka–all huddled around one mic, I had a hard time believing such synchronicity could be separated by six separate anatomies. They’d move in and out with their instruments, allowing the leading player to get closest to the mic. In, out, tighten, let go.
A quick word by Jacob Sharp introduced Rhudy as a longtime friend and the person who landed Mipso their first gig back in the day. Rhudy’s performance was, to say the least, transfixing. In the moments I could bear to tear my eyes from her, I saw the crowd around me, equally mesmerized.
Something I’ve noticed about Southern women is their ability to tell a story and another and another, until you forget what you came for in the first place. In between songs, Rhudy told the crowd about her old cat Mercedes, too wild for his own good; a beer-pong partnership that wasn’t meant to be; an ex who talked in his sleep and who recently talked a little too much (presumably while awake). She never stopped telling stories, even as she raised the handle of her guitar and picked up her voice. Her stories took the form of poetry, became flighty things that flew around the room and dared people to dance. I was particularly fond of “I Don’t Like You Or Your Band” and “Lonely Last Night,” as well as her cover of Danny O’Keefe’s “Good Time Charlie’s Got the Blues.”
Before the band left the stage, they surprised the crowd with a brand new song not yet released called “Green Jesus”– a song about the wonderful and medicinal graces of religion. In less poetic terms, it was about the Lord and Savior, Mary Jane. If that doesn’t make you wish you were friends with this band, I’m not sure what will.
It is not often that I experience a band’s live performance as my first introduction to their music. Now I am wondering why I waited so long to do so. No point in dwelling on the past, not when the future now includes Mipso, and I’m so happy that it does.
I may have felt out of place walking into a venue dominated by Blundstones, vests, and amish-adjacent attire, but, all differences melted away when I realized how much the crowd and I had in common: we love Mipso.