Influenced by spending a summer in the alluring Upper Peninsula of Michigan, Minneapolis singer-songwriter Esto is releasing an album based on his experiences. The album, Houghton-Hancock Hum-Alongs, is out today.
When not going by the moniker “Esto,” Blake Morgan performs full time with the Twin-Cities-based, nationally renowned vocal ensemble Cantus. This nine-man group has performed on A Prairie Home Companion, NPR’s Tiny Desk Concerts, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, and at other venues around the world.
Morgan grew up in a musical family, and his first taste of music performance was playing a drum set. He began writing music around age six. Later on, he would use his father’s recording equipment and a tape deck to layer recordings and produce music. While touring as a teenager in a choir, he fell in love with music and knew it was something he wanted to do. Producing music has always been a part of him—Morgan constantly writes music and is always thinking about what his next product will be.
After spending a summer in Michigan, dubbed “the U.P.” by those who frequent the area, choosing to live there for several months was an easy choice for Esto. “I have always loved Michigan,” he explained. “I wanted to find a way to go there.” By taking a counseling job at a college, he was able live in the Keweenaw Peninsula area for the summer. During this summer, he began producing Houghton-Hancock Hum-Alongs. Morgan began recording the album while in Houghton-Hancock—it has taken him five years to create the final product.
“Houghton-Hancock is the prettiest place in Michigan—absolutely gorgeous,” said Morgan. Everything from the natural beauty to the beautiful people made his summer experience worthy of an album. Morgan explained how the locals embrace newcomers: “The people are welcoming and warm and live an old-fashioned lifestyle.”
Along with the cultural attractiveness, the physical beauty of the area is also referenced on his album.
Morgan described his favorite part of the entire area: “On one side [of the river] is Houghton, the other side is Hancock, and there is an awesome lift bridge that connects the two.”
As described in his song “Bridgefest,” this lift bridge is celebrated annually by the the two towns coming together for “Bridge Fest” celebrations.
The music on Houghton-Hancock Hum-Alongs is influenced by his experiences, the area, and the history. The eighth song on the album, “Quincy Mines,” was influenced by the mining history of Calumet. “It attempts to step back in time during the civil war and what it would have been like to be a [mine] worker moving back to Calumet to support his family,” Morgan said.
The other songs on the album are based on his experiences and pay homage to Houghton-Hancock. The song “Calumet” explains how his “heart leapt out of [his] chest” while visiting the town.
Additionally, said Morgan, the raw, grassroots feel of the album pays homage to the organically-inclined people living in the area. “I want people to find beauty in the U.P.,” he said. “The area doesn’t get enough credit.”
Ever since he spent his first summer in the U.P., Morgan always finds a way to go back every year. For Minnesotans who have never been to the area, Houghton-Hancock Hum-Alongs does a convincing job encouraging listeners to take the trip.
“It’s not far away,” Morgan said. “I can’t think of a better way to think of summertime than Houghton-Hancock.”
Houghton-Hancock Hum-Alongs is available now on iTunes and CD Baby, and will be released on Spotify later this month.
Kelly Busche is a member of the class of 2019 at the University of Minnesota—Twin Cities with plans to major in journalism.