Bygone days with Cadillac Kolstad

Cadillac Kolstad and his band perform for a packed Palmer's Bar on Sunday night in Minneapolis.

James Healy

Cadillac Kolstad and his band perform for a packed Palmer’s Bar on Sunday night in Minneapolis.

Jackie Renzetti

As a young boy, Cadillac Kolstad’s father snuck him into bars on the West Bank of Minneapolis to give him his first exposure to live music. 
 
Now an established musician, Kolstad brings his traditional boogie-woogie piano and roots sound to his gigs, including regular appearances at the Loring Pasta Bar
and Palmer’s Bar. 
 
Though Kolstad said he didn’t receive any parental pressure to pursue music, he recognizes his father, musician Papa John Kolstad, as an important part of his decision. 
 
“[My father] would’ve been a big influence. But also, I’ve gotten involved playing in some bands right when I got out of high school and was having fun with it, and it just kind of kept going from there,” Kolstad said. 
 
Kolstad said the name was “awarded” to him because he owns three 1964 Cadillacs.
 
“Though, I don’t drive around the city much,” he said with a laugh. 
 
The musician said he considers himself a history fan, which fits with his traditional roots style and the venues he often plays.
 
“I really like performing in venues that are older and historic or repurposed older buildings,” Kolstad said.  “That’s kind of a habitat for musicians like me.” 
 
At the Loring Pasta Bar in Dinkytown, he plays Thursday night dinner hours with Cornbread Harris and performs occasionally for Sunday brunch. He also plays Sunday nights at Palmer’s Bar, where he and Cornbread Harris ran their popular “Cadillac vs. Cornbread” show. 
 
The two began playing together after Cornbread Harris would sit in and listen to Kolstad’s gigs following his own at the Loring. Eventually, Harris began to join him.
 
The pair hit it off, leading to regular appearances together. 
 
“That’s been a real exciting and fun thing and a real privilege to learn some stuff from [Cornbread Harris],” Kolstad said. “Some of the best stuff happens when the two of us sit down on the same piano.” 
 
Kolstad has released three albums — one with his band Cadillac Kolstad and the Flats, a solo album and one with Cornbread Harris. He performs his versions of roots and jazz standards along with his own songs.
 
“They say the role of musicians is communing with the ancestors,” Kosltad said, recalling the phrase from musicology readings. “I’ve always liked that. We do a lot of traditional stuff. But then we’ll fill in a lot of modern twists here and there that are pretty subtle. We’ll do some subtle political commentary or commentary on current events or whatever to kind of bring things into a modern context.”
 
Though he no longer performs with Cadillac Kolstad and the Flats, he still plays with a semi-regular group of musicians, including Cornbread Harris. Kolstad said he is planning a trip to Europe with that group in the fall.
 
It wouldn’t be the first time the two took a trip together. Kolstad said he remembers cross-country travels with Cornbread Harris and the band, including a memorable snowstorm on their way to Tennessee. Kolstad said he’s also played both impromptu and planned concerts in pubs around Ireland and in hotels in China.
 
Still, Kolstad said he prefers the piano benches of the Loring and Palmer’s and emphasized the importance of the “tradition and continuity” of historic neighborhoods for musicians who specialize in older genres.
 
“It gives my music context, and it gives a lot of music context, and it gives everyone sort of a continuity, a feeling of belonging, even if you just show up. … It’s pretty hard to do old school music when everything is brand new,” Kolstad said. “In some ways, walls really can talk.”