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The Dead South looks to warm up with Fargo shows

The Canadian bluegrass band will perform this weekend at Fargo's Sanctuary Events Center.

Dead South.jpg
The Dead South are (from left) Danny Kenyon, Scott Pringle, Nate Hilts and Colton Crawford.
Contributed / Lyle Bell

FARGO — Even in pre-pandemic days, January was a quiet month for shows in Fargo. Some acts are still on breaks from touring and the ones that are on the road, well, heading north to where the weather could be 20 below zero or colder is not always too appealing.

Unless you’re from Canada.

“Hopefully it’s a little warmer for us,” says Nate Hilts, of the Regina, Saskatchewan, bluegrass and Americana act, The Dead South.

The group returns to Fargo this weekend for night shows Friday, Jan. 14, and Saturday, Jan. 15, at Sanctuary Events Center.

This is the group’s 10th anniversary, something that Hilts hasn’t spent much time thinking about.

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“You kinda put one foot in front of the other and then you don’t even notice it’s been 10 years,” he says from his home in Regina.

The group is best known for the 2016 song, “In Hell, I’ll Be in Good Company.” The official video, featuring scenes of the quartet playing, singing and snapping the song in different places, has been watched 280 million times on YouTube alone.

Not bad for four guys who had little professional experience four years earlier.

Hilts and cellist Danny Kenyon played in a high school band before forming the group. Banjo player Colton Crawford was in a heavy metal band and mandolin player Scott Pringle was a singer-songwriter who opened for an earlier version of The Dead South.

“This band was the first go for most of us,” Hilts says.

The clip was the first exposure for many to the band and based on the group’s appearance, raised a lot of questions. In videos and onstage, the group wears white button-up shirts, black suspenders and pants. Hilts and Pringle wear wide-brimmed hats and Crawford wears a bowler hat.

The idea for the band’s look started with them all wanting to dress the same onstage. Once, they wore the same hats. Another time they wore ties. It was Crawford who suggested they wear white shirts and suspenders.

“Scott kept losing his tie so he just went with an open shirt. I got a beer gut so I started wearing a coat,” Hilts says.

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The look has prompted some to wonder if the group is Amish or even Jewish, and has led to people saying they look like pioneers or “Mumford and Sons’ evil twins.”

Hilts laughs at all of the assumptions made of the band, including that the look and the name may suggest they are from the American South.

That earlier version of the band featured a drummer who suggested The Dead South as a band name and they loved it, though Hilts doesn’t know what it was a reference to.

“I guess there’s a South everywhere,” he says.

The group will show its influences this year with the release of a double EP, “Easy Listening for Jerks.” The first part features classic Americana tunes like “You Are My Sunshine” and “Will the Circle be Unbroken,” while the second part includes modern rock classics like The Doors’ “People are Strange” and System of a Down’s “Chop Suey!”

Hilts sees a connection between bluegrass and early Americana music and modern rock and punk.

“Bluegrass was the punk of old traditional music and rock 'n' roll was the Devil’s music,” he says.

No one is claiming The Dead South as Devil worshippers, but the group has come under fire for the tune “Banjo Odyssey,” a fictitious song about incestuous cousins which includes the lines, “Tore up the restraining order / I don’t care I’m coming over” and “Pulled you out by your hair / If people ask I was never there.”

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Those concerns got even more attention in 2020 when three women made claims of sexual misconduct against Kenyon. He was never charged by police.

The group released a statement that announced Kenyon had stepped down from the band.

“The Dead South, as a band, as a company, as individuals, and community members, is opposed to, and does not condone, harmful behaviour of any kind,” the statement read in part.

Along with announcing Kenyon’s departure, the statement also said the band would also undergo training with its team members and record label on consent and create a code of conduct and would be “discussing the impact and future of our song ‘Banjo Odyssey.’”

Almost a year later, the group announced that after a period of “reflection and learning,” Kenyon would be rejoining the group.

So what were the lessons the band learned that led to Kenyon’s return?

“People change over time,” Hilts says, adding that the group took courses with the label.

“The biggest growth and experience is what you do on your own, sit back and think about things,” he says.

As for “Banjo Odyssey,” the band still plays it live.

“The song was never written in malcontent. The song isn’t about rape at all. We explain that and we’re comfortable with that,” Hilts says.

While he’s heard complaints about the song, he’s also heard from people who like it and want to keep hearing it.

“We get messages that say, ‘You guys gave me a sense of hope.’ We know what we’re doing — we can help other people,” he says.

If you go

What: The Dead South
When: 8 p.m. Friday, Jan. 14, and Saturday, Jan. 15
Where: Sanctuary Events Center, 670 4th Ave. S., Fargo
Info: Tickets range from $29.50 in advance for a single day ticket to $240 for two nights of a balcony table for four; proof of vaccination is required for entry to this ID-only show; www.jadepresents.com/sec-events/

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