The Cactus Blossoms return country to its roots

Local country band preserves time-honored traditions

Brothers Page Burkum and Jack Torrey founded the traditional country band The Cactus Blossoms in 2009.

Photo Courtesy of Cactus Blossoms

Brothers Page Burkum and Jack Torrey founded the traditional country band The Cactus Blossoms in 2009.

Grant Tillery

“Drunk on You” is catchy, Eric Church’s “Springsteen” sounds like good indie rock and Taylor Swift is the perfect guilty pleasure.

But there’s a lot more to country music than the commercial stuff (the songs celebrating cold beer, pickup trucks and blue jeans). They’re catchy anthems, but they’re derived from Lynyrd Skynyrd, not George Jones.

In Minneapolis, The Cactus Blossoms are keeping traditional country alive. Brothers Page Burkum and Jack Torrey founded the band in 2009 and have since gained national and international momentum.

Last week, A&E sat down with Torrey and Burkum at the N.E. Yacht Club and quizzed them about their influences, the local music scene and all things country.

 

Did you listen to a lot of old country music when you were growing up? Was it played around the house?

Jack Torrey: Growing up, we listened to all kinds of music — Rev105 [when it] used to be on the air.

Page Burkum: I was into the Beatles and the Beach Boys and the Everly Brothers.

When did you start getting into country?

JT: I started out playing folk songs and blues songs about nine years ago. My brother was getting into country stuff, and I always liked Hank Williams. I started singing more Hank Williams songs when I was busking.

Where did you play?

JT: Nicollet Mall, Dinkytown, farmers markets — I still do that occasionally. The horn players always did better than me on Nicollet Mall.

[To Burkum] How did you get into country?

PB: We met a few friends in town who were into obscure, old folk music.

Not like Bob Dylan …

PB: Stuff that Bob Dylan would listen to, the old 1920s and ‘30s recordings like Lead Belly and Woody Guthrie. Around that time I heard Jimmie Rodgers, who was the first famous country musician — between him, Hank Williams and the Louvin Brothers …

JT: And we raided the public library. We totally raided the CD collection.

What spoke to you about that music?

JT: It’s social music. We got together with friends and played. It wasn’t a super performance-based thing; we took turns singing.

PB: Honesty and good stories — it’s a totally different approach to music, music recorded before someone was concerned about making a big hit. [Classic country’s] approach was natural and refreshing to hear.

JT: How do kids now — in a time when 85 percent of the population is urban — get into rural music? It isn’t rural music anymore.

Yet you guys have had success — you’ve been mentioned by BBC and around the world. What do you attribute that to?

PB: Over in England, Americana bands have as much success as they do here.  They might tour over there before they tour in America because there’re people who really appreciate it.

JT: It’s been a thing since the Beatles. The Everly Brothers were going to the UK right away. Chuck Berry was touring [there]. If you look at CDs at the library of old recordings, half of them were made by labels in Europe reissuing the music.

Where have you toured? I know you’ve played dates in both the cities and in backwoods areas.

JT: It’s different when you play at First Ave. than when you play in somebody’s barn, but the people aren’t that different.

PB: We’ve been happy that different types of people like our music. It was fun to be included in the Current’s birthday show, since we’re not playing the music that’s most likely to be played on the Current. It’s also fun to go out to the country and play for older folks.

Was it difficult gaining momentum?

JT: We would play a lot of KFAI events. They were big supporters of us, getting the word out that we were playing on the West Bank. They’re sponsoring our show at the Cedar this Wednesday.

Are there other modern acts you resonate with?

PB: There’s modern acts who I like. At the Current birthday show, the guy playing bass with us, Mike Lewis, was just sitting in. He’s a saxophone player and he plays jazz; I’ll catch him in town. We like old country music, but it’s not all we’re into. When I think of going to a show in town, I don’t just go “Where’s the country music?” I’d just as much go down to the Icehouse; I’d rather see Mike Lewis play saxophone than see half the country bands I could catch around here.   

Who do you like locally?

JT: The trouble is I’m going to forget one person! I really appreciate everything that’s coming out of Minneapolis. There’s a lot going on, and you could spend a whole day checking out bands who are high-caliber that are operating out of this city.

Who’s your favorite to see, and who would you dream of playing or collaborating with?

JT: Lizzo!

PB: We’re friends with a guy in town named Jack Klatt. We really like his music. There’s a guy named Patrick Harison who’s got a group called Patty and the Buttons; he plays accordion with us sometimes, and we’re big fans of him.

Are you putting out another album soon?

PB: We’re hopefully going to record at the end of March. Our first album is all original songs, and our live album has a mix of stuff we’d play live. Our next album will be mostly original.

Where do you see Cactus Blossoms going in the future?

JT: It’s hard to predict the music industry. We’re on the sea of “see what happens.”

PB: We don’t just want to play for people who only like country music. That’s our goal, to play for everybody and not be niche-y.

 

What: The Cactus Blossoms, opening for Foghorn Stringband

When: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday

Where: Cedar Cultural Center, 416 S. Cedar Ave, Minneapolis

Tickets: $12-15