Everybody's got a Hungry Heartland

I just realized that I released Hungry Heartland one year and ten days ago. I find this hard to believe as it feels like three years have passed since April 19, 2015: a sticky hot year in Summerville, a dark fantastic year in Norge, and a slow thaw-out year in Jamaica Plain. When I listen back to HH now, I’m kinda surprised by some of the things I sing.

These songs cooked for a long time. I wrote most of them when I was on the move around the upper Midwest with Saint Anyway. We were ricocheting around the three great states of Minnesota, Wisconsin and Iowa then, playing in dive bars and sleeping on couches. Once between outings, when I was staying at my Mom’s house in Cloquet, I went out for a run and my iPod shuffled to Bruce Springsteen – Hungry Heart. WOW. The song sent me into a bit of a reverie and recolored my hometown.

Back from the run, I wanted to somehow play tribute to that feeling…maybe work up a cover version of Bruce’s anthem. It didn’t really work. So, I twisted the song title a bit and claimed it for myself.

Posted on April 29, 2016 .

Vestnytt Feature

Originally published in Vestnytt, 11.28.15. Norwegian-English via Google Translate:

In a great world it happens sometimes strange coincidences. Jamie Kallestad did not understand the reaction of the woman on the plane when he said her name.

She began to laugh. She told me she had been married Kallestad and her children called Kallestad, says the American singer-songwriter and artist Jamie Kallestad.

Margunn Kårevik is the woman who accidentally Jamie flopped down next to on the flight from Minneapolis to Reykjavik. She and her partner were heading home to Bergen for a holiday.

"I have a dream of going out to Kallestad outside Bergen, find the sign there and take a picture

Jamie was enthusiastic Førstereis boy, finally heading to find out more about Norway, where he has his roots. The 28 year old was therefore very enthusiastic about ending up next to a Norwegian couple on the plane, and very interested in getting into a conversation with them.

From before he knew very little about his roots. All he had found was his name on google maps.

I have a dream of going out to Kallestad outside Bergen, find the sign there and take a picture, he told her.

Margunn has been married Kallestad but has subsequently taken back girl named Kårevik. All her three children carrying Kallestad name, and several of them live in Sund.

When he presented himself as Jamie Kallestad, I received a very strange feeling, says Bridget.

I explained to him my name, and I wrote down the name of my son. Eventually sank it in with him, and he reacted really. We were very entustiastiske both, she says.

Six weeks later, Jamie Kallestad come to Sotra. His plan to take in at a hotel in Bergen and find a bus that went to Kallestad to take the famous picture, came to nothing. Instead, he is now on a week's visit with his daughter Bridget Siv Kallestad Berge and her husband Jostein Berge, at Berge in Sund.

"It's so incredibly nice to be here. It feels like a reunion, although we have not met before

I'm pretty overwhelmed. It is so incredibly nice to be here. It feels like a reunion, although we have not met before. It feels as if we are family, although we do not really know if we are there. If we related or not, does not mean as much. I feel that we matter is there, he says.

Margunn Kårevik tells something of the same.

It must be some kind of link here another time. He is exactly as us, welcoming and cozy. He fits right in. I am quite sure that we will continue to keep in touch, she smiles.

It was Margunn's children who really were enthusiastic. They got in touch with Jamie by email and established contact.

"I'm really excited. It is a dream for many American artists to play in Europe

Then I realized that Siv Kallestad Berge is also a musician, I was really enthusiastic, says Jamie, who is singer-songwriter. He has toured around the United States in åresvis both as a solo artist and as a member of various bands and has released several albums.

Vips had Siv arranged a concert deal on Glesvær for Jamie. Friday night played the experienced musician's first concert outside the United States, on Glesvær cafe.

I'm really excited. It is a dream for many American artists to play in Europe. I had not thought that I would get to something like this, said Jamie to Vestnytt before the concert.

The audience also got a lot to enjoy this evening. According to one of the employees was full house much of the evening on Glesvær cafe.

People heard much self-produced material from Jamie, and bluegrass and Dylan-influenced songs, says Mattis, who has worked on Glesvær since January.

Through contact with Margunn and family is not just a concert it suddenly has become something of. Together they dig now related the history of the American.

We are in the middle of a mystery, says both Jamie and Margunn.

In the early 1800s drew Jamie his forefather Lars Asbjørn Kallestad to Minnesota.

In 1850 he lived in Minnesota, so he left Norway before that time, says Jamie.

Lars lived in Balestrand, and emigrated from there. As far slektsdektektivene found out, staying there is currently no Kallestad people in Balestrand.

It appears that all emigrated to the United States, says Bridget.

"I'm incredibly happy to be here and over to get to know these people

There may be a possibility that Kallestad peoples moved from Bergen to Balestrand on business, says Jamie. In the Houston area there are two Kallestad sites: In Mountain and on Osterøy.

We'll dig even deeper in this, and see if there is a link to Sotra, says Jamie.

Although he did not find out the mystery around its roots, has Jamie Kallestad in any case found its name siblings and their symbolic Norway family - and family name on a road sign.

I'm really happy to be here and over to get to know these people, he says.

Posted on January 22, 2016 .

River Songs

A few words about the new EP: River Songs is an acoustic album that I recorded in a cabin near the headwaters of the Mississippi River. The music was inspired by three cross-country road trips down and up Highway 61, tracing the Big River from Minnesota to New Orleans and back. The lyrics were written in highway rest areas, motel rooms, and state parks along my route with one exception.

Many years ago and long before I made these marathon river drives, I wrote the song “Paper Town” about Cloquet, Minnesota, the town I grew up in and (by the end of high school) wanted very badly to leave.  Now I swear I’ve left that place dozens of times and it keeps happening.  That cycle is probably what this EP is about, among other concerns, but the action takes place mostly along the banks of the Mississippi River. So it’s called River Songs.

Download River Songs here.


Posted on October 31, 2015 .

Up The Big River

As a sort of companion piece to my new EP River Songs I wrote an extended travelogue that follows my most recent road trip up the Mississippi River.  I will post that someday.

But this is a sneak preview, my gallery of the best flip phone photos I took while driving north.

Posted on October 1, 2015 .

Starting From Somerville

Yesterday, I began my week long ramble across New England.  In an effort to live up to my lofty troubadour ideals, I packed frugally to keep the weight of living to absolute minimum.  My clothes will last until day four--just long enough for me to reach a coin-op laundromat in Northampton.  My toothpaste is travel size, and my computer is too.  My clip-board is miniature and my extra guitar strings have been taken out of that tiny cardboard box they were sold in.  I carefully considered my writing utensils before slipping one mechanical pencil, one Ticonderoga #2 pencil (unsharpened) and one black, felt-tip pen into my guitar case.  Did I take this too far?

As my bus crawled out of South Station in Boston, I wrote a few highly caffeinated and cautiously optimistic lines with that mechanical pencil:

With this backpacked guitar and my fat little duffel bag, I am a light travelling vehicle.  I hope I can stay that way for the next 8 days.  This is exactly the sort of wandering work-vacation that I have imagined for so long, and the stakes are too high for me to screw it up.  Will I feel alone?  Will I reach out to anyone who speaks to me?  Will I become warmer to strangers that I meet, or colder?  I may not have the answers after only one week of travel, but such is the nature of fieldwork.

And that satisfied me.  The bus wheels were buzzing underneath my feet, I knew the scope of my journey, and it's questions were scrawled in my lap.  I set my notebook and plastic pencil down in the vacant seat next to mine and soon lapsed into a deep window trance.  The Greyhound engine was humming, but the cabin was otherwise as soundless as a chapel.

Starting from Somerville

Hours later, in the folds of the White Mountains, I emerged from this calm with the sudden inspiration to wax romantic about the view out of my bus window.  Maybe something lyrical about the thin fog of snow, or the thick snow of fog or something. As I absently groped for my tools, I was surprised to find that the mechanical pencil was not exactly where I left it!  Hoping against hope that it had not dislodged and rolled clear outside of my immediate bus-seat universe, I paged quickly through the Sunday New York Times and ransacked my rumpled fleece jacket…feeling frantically for its familiar hexo-cylindrical form.  But it was gone.  My perfect balance was broken.  I could have easily packed a few extra Bic #2's for the road, but of course the poetry of minimalism had beaten back my usual compulsion for preparedness. What auspicious beginnings! What could be next? Surely this is some curse!  Dispirited by the ordeal, l stewed for a while in my cramped seat and cursed the ideologue who packed my baggage.  Did he even remember to pack a pencil sharpener?

Eventually, I pulled out my small computer and surrendered the moment to a (seemingly) lesser creative outlet: this blog post.  The result seems cooler and more honest that what I would have written on paper, so I suppose you could say everything is going according to plan.

Posted on November 17, 2014 .

Down The Big River

Read the original article in the Duluth News Tribune, published 8/29/14.

Here’s a simple road trip: Head south from Duluth on I-35 until you reach Wyoming, Minn.  Hop onto U.S. 61 in that town and drive south.  Don’t stop until you hit New Orleans.  It’s so easy, you can leave your smart-device in the glove box and trace the Mississippi river the whole way down.  Without Siri, you might even discover more about the very old route you are travelling. 

I made this trip over the course of three unseasonably cool days in July, and can’t recommend it highly enough.  My circumstances were unique: I was charged with driving a borrowed station wagon and two borrowed dogs from Minnesota’s arrowhead region to their future home in New Orleans, La.  It was one of many odd jobs I took during that summer and definitely the best.  With a 2013 Rand McNally road atlas as my only guide, I had no trouble keeping my wheels pointed down the Great River Road.  Of course there were a few diversions that begged me to veer east or west along the way – so let me take you state by state:

3. Highway 61.jpg

IOWA: My first day on the road transformed our familiar landscape of rugged granite and pine into painted limestone bluffs and rolling farmland.  This “driftless” region of eastern Iowa was not scraped by the last glacier front and remains a scenically underrated swath of American heartland in my mind. The intimacy of a two lane highway will take you careening past dozens of cozy-looking bars and silos nestled into green hills.  I stopped at many roadside vistas to walk the dogs and relax on the banks of the still young river.  Playlist: Highway 61 Revisited – Bob Dylan, Over and Under – Greg Brown

 MISSOURI: I lost Highway 61 a couple times on the second day.  As I drove south, the swelling Mississippi began to set her own boundaries – winding around tree trunks and flowing freely over fields.  Eventually, my chosen highway was entirely submerged and I was forced to seek higher ground. (A humbling experience, but it reminded me just how geologically ancient this downhill route to the Gulf of Mexico really is.)  While blue river water lapped at the municipal buildings of Davenport, Iowa, Mark Twain’s hometown of Hannibal, Mo. stayed dry behind 20 feet of cement and earth levee.  Not all of these river towns were equally prepared for the whims of nature.  Playlist: Life On The Mississippi (digital book) – Mark Twain.

 MISSISSIPPI: I steered clear of congestion in St. Louis and Memphis, though the music of those two cities blared from my speakers in tribute.  Chuck Berry and Elvis Presley sounded great in their native latitude, but I was determined to get to the source.  Quietly, on the morning of our third day on the road, the dogs and I rolled across the intersection of Highway 61 and 49 in Clarksdale, Miss. – the legendary crossroads where delta bluesman Robert Johnson sold his soul to the devil.  I will never forget the humid and heavy feel of that region.  The flat plane of Mississippi was windless and overcast that day, which I found quite suitable for ghost hunting.  Eventually I steered the hatchback off of Highway 61 and out to Little Zion Missionary Baptist Church, where I stood a while beside Robert Johnson’s grave – one of three.  No one else was there in the tiny church yard, and it was satisfyingly difficult to find.  Playlist: The Complete Recordings – Robert Johnson

 LOUISIANA:  My roadtrip ended in the same way that the Mississippi river ends.  The flow of traffic slowed as we slipped through dark mangrove forests, cars bunched and eddied with stored momentum, and finally in a rush we plunged straight into the open water of the Louisiana coast.  It was thrilling.  To experience this crazy explosion from the continent, you must leave Highway 61 in Baton Rouge and approach New Orleans via the 23 mile causeway across Lake Pontchartrain.  The Causeway is the second longest bridge in the world, and it flies low over thousands of cement pylons rising from the windy gray water.  Try to imagine a four-lane highway erupting straight out from the Duluth harbor and disappearing into the horizon of Lake Superior.  Sure, the map shows that there is a city out there, but when all you can see is water forever…it’s hard to believe some kind of Atlantis is really waiting on the other side.  Playlist: Car Wheels On A Gravel Road – Lucinda Willaims

Some kind of Atlantis was waiting for me as it turns out, and New Orleans did not disappoint.  I spent the last night of my trip bouncing between music bars, drink in hand (open container laws are appropriately lenient in “the Big Easy”) and then traced the Mississippi levee through French Quarter, thinking about all that those walls were holding back.  If I wasn’t flying home from Louis Armstrong International Airport the next day, I might have followed the Big River in reverse, stopping to wander the gardens of Graceland or linger beneath the St. Louis arch…but I know I will be back.

Posted on August 27, 2014 .

Hey John Oliver, Your Net Neutrality Rant Is Way Off!

Alright John – I’ve never written a blog post before, but watching your widely circulated tirade about the corporate conspiracy to end internet neutrality in the U.S. has inspired me to issue something of a rebuttal.   Of course I understand that America requires a level playing field online in order to innovate and grow.  Of course I understand that your argument was thoroughly researched and fact-checked to the point of impregnability.  But I can’t sit idly by and watch a comedian distort our national conversation with one-sided opinioneering and such unapologetic spinnery on what is (clearly) a multifaceted issue.  It’s astonishing really John: despite your stellar record of cultural criticism, you somehow believe that Sting – aka Gordon Matthew Thomas Sumner, English singer/multi-instrumentalist par excellence and former front man for transcendent 80s punk-reggae squadron known as The Police – is boring.  As boring as “net neutrality” sounds.  Ha! Far from it.


Just one minute into the now famous rant, you drop this slanderous laugh-line: "Yes, net neutrality.  The only two words that promise more boredom in the English language are featuring Sting"

Ouch. That’s word-for-word John, and it was the most successful joke in your 13 minute opus.  (Even you have to smile after selling that whopper.) Most egregious of all, you don’t offer any evidence to back up your claim!  Rather than methodically tearing apart the allegedly snooze-worthy Sting oeuvre with characteristic pluck and befuddled dismay, you cowardly pivot to a few easy targets: C-SPAN, Thomas Freidman, and the inevitable anthropomorphic khaki pants.  Why can’t you attack Sting’s rich career of musical re-invention head on?  Are you afraid of the truth?  Do you secretly know the soaring heights of Sting’s artistic range and the voluminous depth his poetic soul?  Do you actually own 3 copies of 1993’s 10 Summoner’s Tales (two original vinyl unwrapped, one for “parties”), and do you lie in bed pondering the emotional intricacies of “The Shape of My Heart”?  Are you happy to sell out the 62nd best living songwriter in the world (Paste Magazine, 2006) for the sake of a cheap laugh?  I think you are! Here is what you won't admit:

The words “featuring Sting” actually promise many things (brilliance, subtlety, risk, beauty, and probably a couple instruments you have never heard of) but BOREDOM is not among them.  The Dire Straits’ 1984 hit “Money For Nothing” supposedly features Sting, but they really should have called it “another breathtaking vocal performance by Sting, featuring Mark Knopfler and his band.”  Seriously! This former English teacher just kills it.  Don’t even worry that he cannibalized the hook from an old Police song in this case; it will always be Sting’s artistic right to re-interpret Sting as Sting sees fit.

And on the subject of re-interpretation, please reflect with me a minute on Sting’s newly minted folk/pop historical musical The Last Ship. The story follows the decline of a once thriving shipbuilding industry in Wallsend, England and, according to Sting, was inspired by a 1991 studio album called “The Soul Cages” also by Sting. Now tell me this – who else would be brave enough to attempt such a selflessly erudite project, all the while convincing his PR team that shirtless promo pics are still “the way to go”?  It’s actually incredible; this 50-something continues to show up in enough half-naked photos to give Vladimir Putin a run for his money.

And speaking of Russians John, I wonder if your are familiar with Sting’s 1985 breakaway hit “Russians”?  In this portentous parcel of pop perfection, Sting fearlessly melds the hook from the Lieutenant Kijé Suite into an otherwise thoroughly modern synth dirge—cleverly preserving the enviable songwriting credit “Sting/Prokofiev” in ASCAP’s database forever.  It’s a hummable masterpiece that summarizes Cold War anxieties of the Reagan era while deftly rhyming “historical precedent” with “president” to Shakespearean effect.  Go ahead and count ‘em, that’s four layers of genius.

Now John, it’s entirely possible that you did not fully consider Sting’s landmark contributions to rock n’ roll, art, and/or humanity before airing this net neutrality rant.  It’s entirely possible that you have never heard the song “Englishman in New York” which, by all rights, should be the intro theme for Last Week Tonight.   It’s even possible that you consider an entire album of renaissance lute ballads a chore. But more likely YOU ARE SECRETLY EMPLOYED BY PAUL SIMON TO TARNISH STING’S REPUTATION AS THE PREEMINENT WORLD-MUSIC-INFLECTED-POP SONGWRITER OF THE 80s AND 90s!!!!!

At any rate, I’d like to see you try and defend your sensationalized claims.  If it happens that you can’t fully explain away the rewarding complexities of Sting’s catalog, then doo doo doo, da da da is all I’ve got to say to you.


Posted on July 2, 2014 .