The road has long represented a cherished lifestyle for Ian and Teague Alexy of Minnesota folk duo Hobo Nephews of Uncle Frank. Now it is a necessity for their survival as musicians as well.
In 2005, after a move from New Jersey to Minneapolis, the brothers decided to combine their solo musical talents into a folk roots project, and the songs that emerged were made for the open road. Influenced by heroes like Woody Guthrie and Jack Kerouac, their foot-stomping brand of bluesy Americana is fit for train hopping, afternoons on porches in small towns, and meandering cross-country road trips.
"The idea of having a lust for life that involves traveling, meeting people, and sharing music with them is a big part of the vision of the band. That informs the music and vice versa," says Ian Alexy, on the phone with the Source as he traveled from a gig in Colorado to play a show in Idaho the next night.
Beyond serving as an intriguing hook for unfamiliar listeners, the duo's off-the-wall name gives a peek at the Alexy brothers' background too. They do, in fact, have an uncle named Frank, who they describe as "a really great old school full-blooded Irish guy from Philly," and the hobo tag points at the more practical side of the brothers' relationship with the road.
"Our mom always says we're a family of gypsies, so the name is kind of a family joke, but it's real at the same time," Ian reveals. "The word hobo does mean 'train hopper' but the reason people were hopping trains was to overcome their economic situation in their own communities, so they would travel to go work. And that's exactly what we do. We travel around the country for our work rather than sticking in the towns we're from and taking what we can get."
After years of relentless touring, they've built an inclusive fan base that extends from coast to coast with hotbeds sprinkled throughout the midwest.
"It's a community experience. We like people to have fun and dance with each other, and we've seen lots of different people come together during our shows," says Ian. "We get to know communities of people in small towns like Lacrosse, Wisconsin, where we've played a bunch of times. Then somebody from Duluth, Minnesota, will come to a show there and we'll see them become friends with all the Lacrosse locals." He adds, "We'll literally see it happen from the stage. Watching people branch out and connect with other people through our music is just an incredible feeling."
That feeling of community is helped by a level of energy at their live shows that can be difficult to believe comes from just two men. Thanks to amplified homemade wooden "stomp boards" that allow them to play percussion with their feet while strumming guitars and singing, the duo is able to create a bigger, more frenzied sound than many bands three times their size.
"We're always working our butts off up there and it's exciting for the audience to watch and take part in that," Ian explains. "Sometimes you'll see a five-piece bluegrass band and they'll look like they're all just hanging out up there. We're working with 100 percent effort 100 percent of the time, because it's just the two of us. Some people might think of it as a weakness when they come to our show and see it's only two guys, but it becomes a strength when we start playing and they can't believe we're making such a big sound."
Hobo Nephews of Uncle Frank
7 pm. Thursday, March 5
McMenamin's Old St. Francis School, 700 N W Bond Street