The Last Revel reach for the next level

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The Last Revel
The Last Revel's Vincenzio Donatelle, Ryan Acker and Rachel Hanson. (Michelle Bennett/Wolfskull Creative)

The late-August breeze rippled across the Schell's Stage in the West End Market at the Minnesota State Fair, carrying with it the scent of mini doughnuts along with a hinting whiff of hay bales. Onstage, the Last Revel kept the audience at the Margaret Schilling Amphitheater moving, clapping and dancing along to a captivating set of rousing Americana tunes.

"I had an incredible time," says the Last Revel's Ryan Acker of that night back on August 23. "The crowd was really attentive and enthusiastic. It definitely was one of my favorite local shows I think that we've ever had for sure. Me and my bandmates really enjoyed it — everybody had a great time."

Seeing the band perform such a lively set makes it hard to believe that just a couple months earlier, the Last Revel nearly called it quits. The band's former guitar player, Lee Henke, had decided to exit the band, giving a six-month notice and departing in June. Acker and Vinny Donatelle, the remaining members of the formerly three-piece Last Revel, considered their future as a performing unit. "We were having some serious, heart-to-heart discussions whether or not we even wanted to continue," Acker says. " Ultimately, we came to the decision that we might be able to reformat the band and keep the heart and soul of the band the same, but try something new and just see what happens and see how it goes."

That's when Acker and Donatelle turned to their network of friends as they looked to refresh the lineup. The first person they reached out to was their good friend, Rachel Hanson, a singer and songwriter from Wisconsin with whom they had previously recorded and shared stages. "She was really excited and motivated right away, which was honestly a big factor for Vinny and I when we were still considering whether or not we even wanted to continue," Acker recalls. "That gave us the confidence and motivation to continue on."

Hanson brought two more Wisconsin friends with her, giving the Last Revel a rhythm section in the form of bassist Lauren Anderson and drummer Elliot Heinz. "We figured if we're going to make this change, let's make a big change and reformat in a way that, in my opinion, the band was always destined to go," Acker says. "We always talked bringing in other musicians and building out a full band, so we figured if we were going to make a change, let's make it big and see what happens."

What has happened is the band's sound has expanded beyond string band to include a wider spectrum of Americana music. The set at the State Fair demonstrated the revamped Last Revel sound: full-band numbers, including a batch of originals and a stunning cover of Gillian Welch's "Miss Ohio," as well as some traditional bluegrass instrumentals. "We're influenced by so many different subgenres of Americana," Acker explains. "To be limited to a string-band genre was not necessarily where our songwriting heart and soul is. Now, we don't feel restricted in any way. It's been eye-opening for sure."

With eyes wide open, the Last Revel are leaping at the opportunities now before them. On Wednesday, Sept. 12, the band will depart for Nashville as they begin a 12-day foray into the southeast. Their first stop is the Americana Fest, where the Last Revel will play a live session with Spotify on Thursday, Sept. 13; that night, they'll play an Americana Fest showcase concert at One Cannery Row. After Americana Fest, the band will play a folk festival in Indiana before returning to Nashville to spend two days recording tracks for their forthcoming album with producer Alison Brown, who is also the co-founder of the Compass Records label. As a producer, composer and studio musician, Brown has worked with such artists as Colin Hay, Indigo Girls, Alison Krauss and Union Station, and Blake Shelton.

Alison Brown
Alison Brown, pictured here with her custom Prucha banjo, is a musician, composer, producer and co-founder of the Compass Records label. (courtesy Compass Records)

With Brown, not only will the Last Revel begin tracking their forthcoming album in their new configuration, it will be their first time recording under a producer's guidance. "Everybody's really excited," Acker says. "I'm excited to see what that process is like for the band and how that interaction is and what that teamwork is like working with such an accomplished producer."

Acker says the Last Revel hope to have their album recorded by the end of the year, then they'll spend the early part of next year prepping for the planned album release in spring of 2019. The ideas are still flowing and naturally, there's no title for the album yet. "I'd hate to name a piece of art before it's been created," Acker says, "but there's definitely some themes starting to form."

Before returning to Minnesota, the Last Revel will play the Bristol Rhythm and Roots Festival in Bristol, Va., before being part of Boats and Bluegrass in Winona, Minn., at the end of the month. A glance at the band's tour schedule shows a busy docket for a band that nearly threw in the towel.

"Everything feels brand-new this year, which is really exciting," Acker enthuses. "We've been getting some really great feedback from our fans, and I feel really fortunate that people have been so supportive in that way to us, because I want to keep making music and I'm really excited about the evolution of it all, and if our fans are, that's even more motivating for us."

External Links

The Last Revel - official site

Alison Brown - artist profile at Compass Records

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