For any musician, performing at a venue like the iconic Red Rocks Amphitheater in Colorado is a dream very few get to realize. Rich Mattson, the Iron Range-based musician known for being the front man for bands like the Glenrustles, the Tisdales and Ol’ Yeller, and the sound engineer behind hundreds of albums, was able to do just that.
Last month, he joined friends Trampled by Turtles on stage at Red Rocks to sing the band’s rendition of the traditional folk tune, “Shenandoah,” which he sang on and recorded for the band’s fourth album, “Duluth,” to a sold out crowd of 10,000.
“Who wouldn’t want to get on stage at Red Rocks in front of a sold out crowd? It was unbelievable, just a sea of people,” Mattson said. “The whole day was like a dream.”
He’ll be leading a more intimate performance when his band, Rich Mattson and the Northstars, comes to Mankato’s What’s Up? Lounge Friday, Aug. 16. Bandmate and partner Germaine Ganderling fondly recalls Mankato’s punk rock heyday of the 1980’s when she performed here as a young musician. It’s Mattson’s first show in Mankato in years.
“We’re really looking forward to playing Mankato,” Mattson said. “It’s been a heck of a long time.”
The Northstars formed when Mattson rekindled a connection with Gemberling, who moved from the Twin Cities to Ely in 1998. Their bands played shows together in the ‘80s and ‘90s when both lived in the Twin Cities.
“We started hanging out again together,” Gemberling said. “I started recording with him and he started playing on some of my music. In 2009 he officially joined my band and he backed me up on my album.”
Around the time Gemberling’s album, “Generator,” was released in 2013, the two began collaborating on songs together, and formed Rich Mattson and Northstars the following year. The band is rounded out with original Ol’ Yeller drummer Keely Lane, who had returned from Nashville after working as a session musician there, and bassist Kyle Westrick.
They’ll be joined by friends Headlight Rivals, of Manhattan, Kansas, who recorded an album at Mattson’s Sparta Sound recording studio earlier this year, about the same time the Northstars released their fourth album, “Totem,” full of jangly chord progressions and vocal harmonies soaked in Americana roots. Their music has been compared to early R.E.M., Guided by Voices and Neil Young and Crazy Horse. The band describes itself as “nebulous rock via cosmic folk.”
They arrive in Mankato following dates in Kansas City and Lawrence, before finishing off their mini-tour in Minneapolis.
Mattson, who grew up on Minnesota’s Iron Range, returned to Eveleth in 2005 after a nearly two-decade career recording and performing in the Twin Cities to create a kind of rock-and-roll retreat for musicians and bands seeking refuge from the big city. After networking with bands for 18 years in the Twin Cities, bands were attracted to getting away from it all to record.
“When I moved up here I had this idea of it being a retreat for bands, a rock-and-roll bed and breakfast,” Mattson said. “A large percentage of the people I record do come from Minneapolis and St. Paul. I get a lot of people from Duluth.”
The Iron Range itself has a thriving music scene to keep him busy recording bands from northern Minnesota. Plus, all that networking led him to find some unusual gems for venues beyond Duluth and the Twin Cities.
“We’ve been on a never-ending Minnesota tour,” Mattson said. “We keep pretty busy with it. There’s all these nooks and crannies we’ve found. We get up to Grand Marais a lot, Bemidji, Park Rapids, Duluth and of course Minneapolis-St. Paul. But we don’t get south of the cities very often.”
Mattson’s other bands, the Glenrustles and later Ol’ Yeller have graced the What’s Up Lounge years ago, and he said he was pleased to see the venue still bringing in so many regional bands.
“It’s cool to see it’s still open and still having live music,” Mattson said. “We’re going to rock it.”