Mipso goes from garage band to rising stars

Published 12:00 am Saturday, April 26, 2014

Have you ever witnessed the beginnings of celebrity, but didn’t realize it until later?
Of course seldom does anyone appear destined for fame from the beginning. When Leonardo da Vinci was a child, his father might have told him to stop drawing on the walls. Tchaikovsky’s parents paid for his piano lessons, but then steered him away from music and toward civil service. Oprah could already read by age 3, but she endured decades of poverty and hardship before Oprah’s Book Club became just one part of the mega-star’s empire.
Lots of famous singers were in middle school chorus at one time. And you’ve probably heard well-known actors tell about getting their start in high school productions of “Our Town” or “Grease.” Their cast-mates probably didn’t realize they were sharing the stage with future Hollywood actors.
Salisbury artist Barbara Richmond told me that when she taught kindergarten in Chapel Hill in the 1950s, James Taylor was one of her little students. I’m thinking there must have been something special about him, even then, for Barbara to remember him all those years later when he became a pop sensation.
When I was covering entertainment news on a regular basis as a writer for Salisbury Post I often interviewed musicians passing through Salisbury who were just starting out. When I watched Pokey LaFarge on the David Letterman show last summer, I remembered fondly the first time I saw him play for a handful of people at The Blue Vine. And it was nice seeing Jake Hull performing on Jay Leno’s “Tonight Show” a few months ago. It doesn’t seem that long ago that Jake and his band, the Momentary Prophets, played in Salisbury and even camped at my house a few times.
The reason I am bringing this up now is because the band Mipso is performing in Salisbury May 2 at Lee Street Theater. They are rising stars; you should catch them while you still have a chance to see them in a fairly intimate venue. I was reminiscing about the first time I heard them when they were starting out: hence my rambling about my not being able to necessarily see into the future.
The first time I heard Mipso they were not on a stage. They were in a garage, surrounded by tools, paint cans and extension cords.
Jim and Susie Avett had invited me to a barbecue and bonfire at their Concord farm one night in November 2011. Jim said they were having a few friends over, and some would bring their instruments for informal picking, and also three students from UNC were going to be there to play for us.
I had gotten to know Jim a couple years earlier when I wrote an article about him and his music, and he let me tag along to some gigs and hang out on the farm. I also attended a few of the gas station gatherings where Jim regularly played music with his buddies.
I was happy and honored to be included on the bonfire guest list. I was accompanied by then Lifestyle editor Katie Scarvey to the event where there was lots of great food.
It was surprisingly fun watching various large objects heaved onto a roaring fire. Then we retreated to the garage for a short jam session, followed by a performance by the three UNC students, Joseph Terrell (guitar), Jacob Sharp (mandolin) and Wood Robinson (upright bass) playing under the name “Mipso Trio.”
If I’d realized I was witnessing the beginning of celebrity that November night, perhaps I would have paid more attention, and taken more photos. Maybe I was too full of banana pudding, or too much smoke clouded my senses. I do remember thinking the Mipso guys were probably standing in the same spot where Scott and Seth Avett had practiced their music while growing up on this farm. I thought the Mipso guys were talented and smart and good-looking and funny (especially when they sang “You Make Me Feel Like a Natural Woman”) but I didn’t really think our paths would cross again or that I would be hearing them in the future.
Then a few months later my friend Jody Mace asked me if I’d ever heard of a band called “Mipso Trio.”
Jody is a writer who lives in Charlotte, and our lives had totally separate orbits until we somehow became acquainted through the magnetic force of our eerily similar musical tastes. She had come across a Youtube video of Mipso Trio purely by chance while trolling the Internet, and instantly liked what she heard.
I told her as a matter of fact I was acquainted with them, having heard them in Jim Avett’s garage, a statement which made Jody jealous. But Jody had put them back on my radar, and soon I was the owner of Mipso’s new CD, “Long, Long Gone” and I even found myself traveling all the way to Chapel Hill (with Jody and Katie) to hear them perform at Cat’s Cradle. When I saw them completely sell out the 750 capacity venue I realized they had an even bigger following than I had imagined.
At that time they were still full-time students at UNC, but they’d already decided to do music full-time after graduation. Their fame was mounting, so having to keep up with classes and make good grades was like trying to keep a lid on a boiling pot, performance opportunities spilling out all over while they just tried to keep things simmering until graduation.
Mipso got their diplomas in 2013, and they’ve been on the go ever since, traveling to Japan and China as well as around the U.S., sharing shows with the likes of David Holt and Steep Canyon Rangers.
They’ve released another album, “Dark Holler Pop” which has garnered acclaim and scored the No. 8 slot on Billboard’s bluegrass chart.
Since I’ve returned to teaching college music, I face classrooms full of aspiring musicians. I wonder if any of them are musical celebrities of the future. Time will tell.