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The Cactus Blossoms blend new, old sounds

Eli Bronfman
Jacob Blickenstaff/Jacob Blickenstaff
Eli Bronfman

The Cactus Blossoms are a Minneapolis, Minnesota-based duo consisting of brothers Page Burkum and Jack Torrey. The pair's music draws on vocal harmonies associated with classic artists such as The Everly Brothers and Louvin Brothers with contemporary flourishes added in.

The Cactus Blossoms perform Sunday, June 9, at Bartlett Arboretum in Belle Plaine.

Brothers Jack Torrey and Page Burkum formed the band in Minneapolis in 2011. They quickly began issuing a series of recordings that blended elements of The Byrds, Roy Orbison, The Everly Brothers and deep country music that accentuated the unmistakable vocal blend Torrey and Burkum had found.

The most recent Cactus Blossoms album is 2022’s “One Day,” though Burkum and Torrey say they have new music that they’re preparing for release.

The pair spoke with KMUW about their history and future.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

When you go into a city or venue that you haven’t played before, do you have a different approach to the show or the setlist? 

Jack Torrey: Day-by-day. We don’t scheme about each place but day of show [we might say], “Let’s do more of this type of song.”

Page Burkum: If we’re going to be playing outside and there’s people in lawn chairs, we might play a few more up-tempo numbers. Some kind of fun stuff. Maybe if we’re in a quiet listening place, we might get away with some quieter stuff than we might do otherwise. Sometimes you’ve got to embrace the place you’re in.

If you have new material, do you ever work that into shows? 

JT: A little bit. We’ve been working on a new album that hopefully is going to be coming out really soon. We’ve been playing a song that’s going to be on that for the last half a year or so. We mix it up a little bit.

PB: We might have to try a couple more out.

JT: You’re inspiring us. Maybe we’re going to have to try a couple of the new ones. See how it hits at the arboretum.

And if it’s anybody’s first time experiencing you, they’re all new songs. 

JT: True.

PB: It is usually peoples’ first time experiencing us.

I’m curious about when you started the band. Did this just start with the two of you, acoustic guitars, and the natural blend of your voices? 

JT: Pretty much. We were chopping away on acoustic guitars, and we got really into old country music. When we started out, we were playing lots of obscure [songs]. We’d throw in a couple Hank Williams songs or a Lefty Frizzell song, but we were mostly into very old, non-hit country songs, so that’s kind of how we cut our teeth.

We were playing as a duo. We had a little band, too. Upright bass.

PB: We pretty quick found a fiddler and a steel guitarist and kind of formed a hillbilly band.

JT: But then I fell victim to the electric guitar, and we’ve written a lot of songs since then. Things have kind of shifted and moved on but that’s how it started.

How long was it between then and when you started writing or had you been writing songs before that? 

JT: I’d written a couple. If I wrote a song, we’d just kind of sneak it into the mix of old country songs and not even tell anybody, “Here’s one that we wrote,” because I always liked it when I caught somebody singing along to a song they’d never heard. It was a pretty slow, organic start to it. I don’t think either of us felt like we had to write songs. When I first started, I loved Bob Dylan. I thought, “He already wrote all this? What am I to do? I guess I’ll just sing other peoples’ songs.” That was kind of my attitude going in, and then I started slowly realizing, “There are some things I want to say that haven’t exactly been said before.”

It seems to me that the music you make would appeal to a broad range of listeners. Do you see a pretty wide spread in terms of the people who turn up for shows? 

JT: For sure. There’s not a ton of kids at our shows because we play a lot of bars that are 18 or 21-plus. But that’s what’s fun about playing gigs at places like the arboretum, where I bet you, there’s going to be some kids dancing out there and older folks lounging around. We’ll get the full spread, I’m sure. It’ll be great.

A long time ago, I had a guy who must have been in his mid-70s. He came up to me after a show and said, “Man, I wish my dad was alive to see you guys!” [Laughs.]

PB: For this 70-year-old, it was almost like, “Ah, your music’s a little old-fashioned for me but my 90-year-old dad would have loved you guys.”

JT: I’ll take it. I’ll take it.

Jedd Beaudoin is host/producer of the nationally syndicated program Strange Currency. He has also served as an arts reporter, a producer of A Musical Life and a founding member of the KMUW Movie Club. As a music journalist, his work has appeared in Pop Matters, Vox, No Depression and Keyboard Magazine.