folk group prepares to lead the next generation of the local music scene

Ian Jacoby, photos by Frank H. Robinson |

HARMONY FILLS THE STAGE, AS DO THE FOLDING CHAIRS. Minneapolis/Eau Claire folkers Mages hit The Nucleus for a show in mid April.

    If there’s one trend that we can pull from these crops of local and semi-local musicians and make it more than a passing fad, I hope it’s the sense of community that all of these bands instill. Sure, fans have always felt a sense of ownership over their favorite bands, but groups like Megafaun and The Daredevil Christopher Wright have taken these feelings and given them direction. There are no longer distinctions at these concerts between audience and performer, instead it is one organic unit, a community.

Mages rides the next wave of this ideology easily; they are the logical next step in the furthering of communal music experiences. But maybe we’ve gotten ahead of ourselves, because above all else, Mages is all about easy melodies and sweet harmonies.

Everything about this band is organic, from its inception as a two-piece folk group, to its current lineup, nothing seems out of place, nothing seems forced. Longtime friends and musical partners, John Paul O’Connor and Tyler Martin started Mages originally as just a place to hone their songwriting and maybe play some shows along the way. After a year passed, the band was playing regular shows and growing in size. They added John’s sister, Amy, to originally sing backup vocals, a role which has grown to include lead vocals on some of the band’s tracks.

“I remember just sitting in their house and listening to them play Halcyon. I started singing a harmony to it, and pretty soon I was jumping on stage with them.” said Amy O’Connor in a recent interview.

And that, as they say, was that.

There is something preternaturally soothing when you hear the siblings O’Connor sing together for the first time. Halcyon from Mages first EP especially brings the joy by the boatloads. The verses build and swell, augmented by strings and mandolin until the chorus kicks your legs out from underneath you (in a good way). As I write this, I’m listening to it for the fifth time in a row, and just starting to get a handle on it. Yeah, it’s that good.

    Want to hear some more good news? Mages isn’t done yet. Besides fleshing out their band with bass and drums (supplied by Scott Barden and Rob Goswitz respectfully), playing a Sounds Like Summer Concert Series show, and other general summer fun-ness, they are recording a new album at Minneapolis’ prestigious Shock and Audio studios. When asked about future plans, O’Connor was atypically cagey, “We would love to travel with this album, we’re always looking for fresh ears.”

And while one can’t exactly hang one’s hat on that promise, with songs this good it’s only a matter of time before we see these guys running things. It’s a good thing they’re into democracy.

    Mages + The Old-Fashioneds • June 10 • Phoenix Park • 6:30pm • FREE • details