The Hippo


Jun 18, 2019








Courtesy photo.


When: Thursday, Feb. 18, 7:30 p.m.
Where: Dana Center, 100 Saint Anselm Drive, Manchester
Tickets: $28.75 at
Opening for Ten Strings and a Goat Skin

String thing
North Carolina’s Mipso comes to town

By Michael Witthaus

 Even in a world brimming over with clever placement, playing bluegrass during a nationally televised parade is an inventive way for a band to gain exposure. That happened when the four members of  Mipso rolled down the streets of New York City on a float sponsored by KFC, playing the upbeat old-time song “Bad Penny” during the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

“For a folk band used to driving itself around the country in a minivan, a morning getting paraded around Manhattan 20 feet above the ground on a rolling bucket of chicken in front of three million parade-goers sticks out a little bit,” band member Jacob Sharp wrote in a text exchange. “It wasn’t on our agenda, they just reached out ... a lot of new people heard the band and have seen us at shows since, so that’s amazing.”
Mipso follows in the footsteps of Americana trailblazers  Gram Parsons and Harvest-era Neil Young, while keeping company with  contemporaries like Nickel Creek, Milk Carton Kids and Sarah Jarosz. The band includes Sharp playing mandolin, guitarist Joseph Terrell, Ward Robinson on upright bass and fiddler Libby Rodenbough. 
Their musical interplay is superb, but it’s the harmonies that grab at first listen — smooth as honey-sweetened butter stirred with a cinnamon stick. On the band’s latest release, Old Time Reverie, modern accents — electric piano, Hammond B3 organ — are subtly stitched into a traditional sound.
Mipso came together organically in 2010 at UNC Chapel Hill, Sharp said in a recent phone interview.  
“None of us were in a band before,” he said. “We had different levels of a musical background, but none of us were studying it; it was just this joyful project that we were doing on the side of our studies.” 
It began as a trio of Sharp, Terrell and Robinson; Rodenbough joined a year later. Working near the Piedmont Triangle region of North Carolina provided Mipso with a deep well of musical inspiration, according to Sharp. 
“We have a lot to pull from, both from people that have come before us and a very vibrant scene happening right now as well,” he said, noting the diverse range of bands the region’s spawned, from Superchunk to Whiskeytown. “I think being in this area encouraged us to be aware of our roots but not be tied to them and let us fly a little bit more than maybe we would have in other places.”
The band’s first three records, Mipso Trio (2011), Long, Long Gone (2012) and Dark Holler Pop (2013), were primarily bluegrass affairs. Last fall, the new album debuted at the top of the Billboard bluegrass charts, but Sharp doesn’t think the genre should define them. 
“A more modern take on country influences ... is where we are coming from and what we think Americana is,” he said. “What’s unique about being a string band within this landscape is if we are going to have a foundation it’s not going to be a Scruggs banjo — though we love that sound. It might be a clawhammer and an organ, building an almost polyrhythmic space.”
Following a rigorous year that included 180 shows in 240 days, Mipso devoted January to what Sharp termed “flushing the system” and getting ready for a tour that stops at Saint Anselm College’s Dana Center on Feb. 18. The band will open for Canadian roots stalwarts Ten Strings and a Goat Skin. 
It’s Mipso’s first New Hampshire show.  
“We’ve played all around it, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maine and Vermont,” Sharp said. “We’re stoked.”
While preparing for the winter run, Mipso worked on ideas for a follow-up to Old Time Reverie. While experimenting more with electric and percussion instrumentation, they keep an eye to the past. 
“We’ve been taking a lot of time to reflect on the ’70s,” Sharp said. “With Bowie passing, it’s a nice time to look back at the roots when some of these transitions into what we now call Americana started happening; there is a ton from that era.”
As for the band’s quirky moniker, here’s the story: A first gig was booked without a name. Days before the show, a local newspaper called and they had 20 minutes to think of something. No one remembers how Mipso was chosen, but in subsequent interviews band members invented different reasons. A fun game, to be sure, but the Internet took note of every fabricated explanation. 
“Now they’re cemented on our Wikipedia page,” Sharp said with a laugh. “If you want to pick a more creative one, you’re welcome to.”

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