Mipso has come a long way since forming at UNC-Chapel Hill during the bandmates’ undergraduate days. Over the past six years, the Americana/bluegrass group has built a solid nationwide following well beyond its Triangle home base – capable of headlining coast to coast.
This fall found Mipso on the road as part of “Campfire Caravan,” a 30-date tour that took the group all over America before coming back to North Carolina to wrap up Nov. 17 at Lincoln Theatre.
That said, here are six things about Mipso, one for each year of the band’s existence.
1. They’re chart toppers.
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Mipso’s last three albums were independently released, but they all debuted in the Top 10 of Billboard magazine’s bluegrass chart, including a No. 1 bow with 2015’s “Old Time Reverie.” That’s an impressive accomplishment.
“It’s something to be aware of and humbled by,” says mandolinist Jacob Sharp. “We’re not all that bluegrass-sounding, but we’ll take it. We pull enough from that family of music for it to make as much sense as anything else.”
Chapel Hill's Mipso plays "Down in the Water" to a packed room at The Pour House in Raleigh, NC during the first night of the IBMA Bluegrass Ramble, Tuesday, Sept. 29, 3015. Scott Sharpessharpe@newsobserver.com
2. They’re prolific.
On the group’s current album, “Coming Down the Mountain,” Bradley Cook from Hiss Golden Messenger produced, helping Mipso find its freak-folk flag and let it fly.
“We brought in two-and-a-half records worth of songs, and Brad helped fine-tune the material, and he also assembled the cast of characters who joined us in the studio,” said Sharp. “He’s a great encourager in finding the shared energy and spirit of any project. This was as fun and loose as we’ve ever been in the studio, which I would attribute to the vibe Brad brought in.”
3. They cover their idols well.
Mipso has a well-deserved reputation for well-chosen covers of other acts’ songs. This go-round, the set list includes songs by the likes of James Taylor and Tom Petty, who died last month, just as this tour was getting started.
“When your heroes are a generation above you, their passing becomes normalized,” Sharp says. “I saw Petty two months ago in Brooklyn and he was so top-notch. He and the band’s love of their music and each other was so cool to see, a really authentic brotherhood.”
4. Mipso works hard.
By the end of 2017, the band will have been on the road for more than half the year to play 135 shows while also finding time to record not one but two albums. It can be a disorienting way to live.
“Humans are malleable,” Sharp says. “We’ve done our fair share of three- to six-week outings where you become accustomed to abnormal situations – and the first day or two back home afterward, your body definitely lets you know you’ve been through something, physically and emotionally.”
Chapel Hill's Mipso plays to a packed house at Raleigh, NC's The Pour House during the IBMA Bluegrass Ramble Tuesday night, Sept. 30, 2015. McClatchy
5. They’re spreading their wings.
Despite the group’s deep local roots, Mipso is no longer a 100-percent North Carolina band. Sharp actually lives in Brooklyn nowadays.
“I think the Triangle is as full and diverse a music scene as anyplace in the country,” Sharp says. “But it’s the only one I’ve ever known, and I felt like I needed to be challenged by something new and different. I was slipping into known patterns too much, so I took a leap. But it’s one-foot-in-one-foot-out. Given our tour schedule, I’m probably in Chapel Hill as much as if I still lived there.”
Bonus! They’re creative.
Who: Mipso with Lil Smokies and Brothers Comatose on “Campfire Caravan”
When: 9 p.m. Nov. 17
Where: Lincoln Theatre, 126 E. Cabarrus St., Raleigh
Details: 919-821-4111 or lincolntheatre.com
Bonus free show: Mipso and Lil Smokies also play a free show at 3 p.m. Friday at the Cameron Village Great Outdoor Provision Co., 2017 Cameron St. in Raleigh. For details, see greatoutdoorprovision.com/landjam.