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Traditional sounds will close out the year

Monroe Crossing, a bluegrass quintet, returns to the Sheldon Theatre for a holiday show on New Year’s Eve 2017. Submitted photo1 / 2
Monroe Crossing, a bluegrass quintet, returns to the Sheldon Theatre for a holiday show on New Year’s Eve 2017. Submitted photo2 / 2

Red Wing exactly where Monroe Crossing wants to be on New Year's Eve.

"It's sort of become a tradition, for ourselves and for Monroe Crossing fans," said Matt Thompson, mandolin and fiddle player who also sings harmony vocals.

The award-winning bluegrass band returns to the Sheldon Theatre at 7 p.m. Dec. 31.

"We love that beautiful venue," he explained. "Our bass player describes it as a wedding cake ... and the sound is great in there."

The acoustics are very important to them, Thompson said. "The band sings into a single microphone. We move in and out for the most part," he explained. "That's how bluegrass was performed in the early days."

The bluegrass band, named in honor of Bill Monroe — he's known as the Father of Bluegrass Music — is based in the Twin Cities but performs an average of 150 shows a year throughout the country plus Canada and Europe.

"Monroe Crossing dazzles audiences with an electrifying blend of classic bluegrass, bluegrass gospel and heartfelt originals," according to the Sheldon Theatre.

Among their many honors, the band was awarded "Bluegrass Album of the Year" by the Minnesota Music Academy in 2003, and in 2007 they were inducted into the Minnesota Music Hall of Fame." Signature appearances include two Carnegie Hall concerts and the first ever Minnesota bluegrass appearance in South Korea.

The band consists of five distinct personalities with different musical backgrounds. In addition to Thompson, members are Derek Johnson, guitar and lead vocals; Lisa Fuglie, fiddle, mandolin, guitar and lead vocals; Mark Anderson, bass and bass vocals; and David Robinson, banjo, dobro, harmonica and harmony vocals.

Thompson disagrees with those who would question whether Minnesota is a bluegrass state.

That may have been the case when the band started out some 38 years ago, he said, "but it's not the case now." Movies and changes in music styles likely contributed to its growing popularity around the world.

He explained that many people who used to listen to classic country of the 1950s or even polka music have become bluegrass fans. "Country music today is very different. It's more rock 'n' roll than country," Thompson said.

The quintet has discovered, however, that music from the golden era of country, the 1950s and '60s, can coexist with bluegrass. Earlier this year the band released its 15th album, "Monroe Crossing Plays Classic Country." In it, songs from George Jones, Patsy Cline, Johnny Cash and other stars of the era are given bluegrass instrumentation and "that special Monroe Crossing vocal blend," according to their website.

This winter, they released more music: "Mortals and Angels: A Bluegrass Te Deum" featuring Monroe Crossing and Minnesota choral legends VocalEssence, as a followup to their "Bluegrass Mass"; and "Winter Wonderland," which is filled with traditional holiday songs.

The Red Wing concert will have a New Year's theme, Thompson said. "We'll talk about the year past and look forward to the coming year," he said, while performing classics such as "There's No Place Like Home for the Holidays" and "Let It Snow."

For the second half of the concert people in the audience will be invited to request their favorite Monroe Crossing songs.

Following the concert they'll be around for a "shake and say Howdy" session, Thompson said. CDs will be for sale.

Then, he said, the band will be taking a couple of weeks off before heading south in search of warmer weather for about a month. "We're a smart Minnesota bluegrass band," he laughed.

Tickets to the New Year's Eve show are $25-$30, students $13. Visit the box office, call 651-388-8700 or go online to www.sheldontheatre.org.

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