Local Current Blog

Minnesota musicians to “PonTour” down the Mississippi River

Bassist Liz Draper aboard the Ivan Doerd
Bassist Liz Draper aboard the Ivan Doerd. (via Facebook)

In a summer that may have otherwise been filled with live music, musicians and audiences alike have been adjusting to socially distanced options. For most, this entails live streams and music videos made from home. For three Minnesota musicians, bassist Liz Draper, fiddler Clancy Ward, and multi-instrumentalist Kyle Ollah, it also involves a pontoon boat.

On Tuesday, July 21, the trio will be departing on the Ivan Doer’d down the Mississippi River for a six-day series of socially distanced pop-up shows. Along the way, they’ll be linking up with performers like country blues musician Charlie Parr and playing for socially distanced audiences on shore.

“I’ve always been obsessed with the idea of traveling the Mississippi River,” Draper says. She credits author Kenny Salwey’s book The Last River Rat as an influence for this type of trek. Her interest may still have stayed hypothetical had it not been for a clogger with a boat. Draper had toured with the Minnesota dancing group The Wild Goose Chase Cloggers last summer. Flash-forward to this past winter, and Draper got an email from one of the cloggers asking her if she’d like to take his old pontoon.

“My first question was ‘Does everything work?’” Draper recalls. The answer was no, but with the help of many community members, whether it was the boat aficionados she met while working at The Matchbox coffee shop in Minneapolis, or Rick Esser of Mankato Makerspace, Draper and crew have got the pontoon running and waterproofed.

It has not been lost on Draper that it takes a village to raise a boat. “There’s been so many people that have helped in ways that they don’t need to help, and I think it’s also apparent in our own Minneapolis community,” she says.

While Draper considers herself a novice boater, the team have gone to great lengths to make sure the trip is as safe as possible and that performances will be appropriately distanced from their audience. Connecting with an audience is something the trio are most excited for. “To play for people again,” Draper says, “and be able to do it every day? Or like anywhere we see people at a park? Pull over and play and hopefully they’ll want to come and listen? That’s just great.”

Proceeds from the Pontour will be going to the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. “We play old-time music,” Draper explains, “which basically just means old, traditional Americana music, which stems from African tradition. I mean the banjo is an African instrument, or descended from African instruments, and the music we’re playing has a very complicated history. And we want to pay our dues to that. I mean, we’re three white people. It kind of just seems like something we can do right now, and we want to do it, so we’re doing that.”

The name “Ivan Doer’d” came from an oddly appropriate misheard lyric. “It’s named after an old-time song that’s actually called ‘I’ve Endured,’” said Draper, “but I always thought they were saying ‘Ivan Doer’d’ like a person’s name. … It’s kind of full circle because, you know, we’re all enduring.”

The ways in which the Minnesota communities have not only endured during this time but also worked toward change has served as inspiration to this trip. “I just have so much respect for people who are on the frontlines and putting themselves at risk to make positive change,” Draper says, referring to the protests in the Twin Cities as well as First Nations communities defending the Black Hills earlier this month. “It’s so important, it needs to happen.”

Aside from the fact of getting to play together and for an audience, Draper, Ward, and Ollah are hoping to “create something outside of the box and create something that’s positive,” Draper says. “And hopefully that kind of energy will be infectious? Because it’s been infectious to us. And we’re all sort of reimagining our realities right now, so hopefully this could encourage people to envision their reality and try actualize what it is they want to do.”

Details about the Mississippi River Pontour can be found in The Current’s Events Calendar.

Pontour musicians
Mississippi River Pontour musicians (clockwise from top left) Clancy Ward, Liz Draper and Kyle Ollah (via Facebook)