“Deer,” I said. “DEEEEER!”
My wife’s eyelids stretched back into her head and her face went pale. The deer zipped into the road and her foot got to the brake juuust —
I could hear her heartbeat from the passenger’s seat. The deer got brighter as the headlights dug their beams into them. It looked like a spectre, wide eyes glowing and fluid movement. The moment right before you hit a deer becomes a still for a split-second. I’m way too comfortable in this moment. My right foot pressed its invisible brake juuuuuust —
The tag missed by inches. The deer got its back legs up just enough for the front fender to sneak underneath. Safe! The deer jumped into the woods, and Smooth pulled over to pray.
“I do too,” I answered, “but for the sake of debate, I’ll say it’s pronounced PAY-san.”
Paisan: I kept getting excited by Facebook invites to their shows, but the anticipation was repeatedly kneecapped by a three-hour drive time. The lead singer and I went to college together, and catching up with him had been difficult (he with his singing gigs and trips around the world, me with my tailgates and cheeseburger challenges – we’re busy people). So you could imagine how thrilled I was to see Paisan was setting up shop at The Dalles House in “nearby” St. Croix Falls. Only 59 minutes away? Shit, I’ve driven that far for pizza.
We turned off I-35 onto Highway 8 toward Tourist-Trap-I-Never-Got-Around-To-Seeing Taylors Falls. My first memory of it: Gliding down the main drag, under a pitch black sky, out of tourist season. If the zombie apocalypse started here, on that night, I reckon the undead would have themselves a decent head start. We passed through without stopping (you know, in case Jason Voorhees was stalking about) and made toward the Minnesota-Wisconsin line.
So creepy and shifty was this little space that the “Welcome to” state signs lurked heavily in the shadows, unguarded, unlit, like booby traps. On I-94, you’d have to run the American Gladiators final gauntlet to reach these signs, all the while praying no authorities drove by. But here, we could have just stopped the car on this two-lane road and pranced right up. If you wanted to smash ketchup packets against the signs and write your name in red, there was nothing to stop you.
But then I remembered: Nobody does that here, because this is rural Minnesota and Wisconsin and people generally have respect for things out here.
About 10 minutes later, we were at The Dalles House. On the sign outside, Paisan was spelled “Paison;” on the calendar inside, it was spelled “Pison.” I saw Guinness on tap and was happy. I ordered Smooth a Honey Weiss, and I saw Benjamin Unit setting up with the band.
I want to spend a lot of time talking about the number of camoflauge baseball caps and neck tattoos I saw in this bar, but I’m not going to because that isn’t the correct way to have a conversation about rural Minnesota and Wisconsin residents. In fact, I’m going to flip it: There wasn’t a single MMA-themed T-shirt or ill-fitting button-up in the place (well, maybe a couple ill-fitting button-ups). The 40-somethings, rather than dress like angsty teens like they do in Stillwater, were content to look 40-something. No emo cuts, minimal faux-hawks.
Benjamin Unit was wearing a flannel. In a flannel, he matched my image of him from college precisely. I’m glad he isn’t writing this, because I was holding Smoove’s beer and he would have written, “Frank was holding two beers. Holding two beers, he matched my image of him from college precisely.”
I was glad to get a couple of minutes with him before the show. We hugged awkwardly – he wanted to shake hands but, you know, beers – and Paisan got started soon after.
First, Benjamin Unit sings well – infuriatingly well, like “How the hell!?” well. When he wasn’t singing, he played the harmonica with the same aggression I drive to work with each morning.
I wish I had gone to college with the whole band, because they all deserve that kind of acclaim. One track saw the keyboardist bust out an accordion, while many of the members took alternate instruments and made them look natural. They played classics, they played 2000s hits better than the original bands. They played with energy.
No seriously, ENERGY — Paisan played for five hours, with only a couple of 10-minute breaks. I can’t even sleep for five hours sometimes without my back getting cranky. Paisan is a weekend town festival on wheels. There was nobody in the bar not having a good time. How we’re getting away with seeing bands like this without paying a $10 cover is something I hope nobody ever finds out and stops.
And, quite frankly, the whole experience left me refreshed.
Try having a show like this in the Twin Cities and you’ll have 400 too many people show up and some asshole is bound to get the cops called. The Dalles House atmosphere was perfect. It kind of made me miss being a bumpkin from Carlton County.
Down Metro, you have to think about yourself all the time: Whether somebody’s going to take your seat, whether somebody’s going to take your coat, whether the bartender will ever see you, whether you’ll ever get past this fucking crowd of people. Not so at The Dalles House. The only time I thought about myself was when my glass was empty, which let me focus on the pony-tailed gentleman holding a lighter up during a White Stripes song and throwing up the metal sign during The Black Keys. We also focused on the two bikers canoodling on the dance floor.
“Keep it in the leather!” Smooth and I kept yelling to each other.
Oh, and Paisan rocked.
We left around 1 a.m. We decided to take an alternate route home, and that’s where this story begins.