MINNEAPOLIS -- It was billed as "Girls With Guitars," although "Girls With Acoustic Accompanists" would have been more accurate. Or "Four Blondes & One Non-Blonde."
It was a guitar pull of sorts Tuesday night (Oct. 8) featuring Sheryl Crow, Ashley Monroe, Kellie Pickler, Maggie Rose and Gloriana in a benefit for a Twin Cities breast cancer center in front of 900 people at Mill City Nights, an AEG Live-owned club in downtown Minneapolis. The event was put together by the Minneapolis radio station KMNB-FM (BUZ'N 102.9).
Each star brought her own accompanists -- most of whom were men. And Gloriana was certainly the odd act out since the lead singer, Tom Gossin, is a guy, with Rachel Reinert mostly adding harmonies. And, oh, Rachel is a redhead.
No need to nitpick, though. Because this was two and a-half hours of nonstop of humor, harmonizing and hoisting up drinks. The conversation and quips may have been more memorable than the music. It all started with Reinert talking about "douchey exes" and Rose becoming enamored with the term.
And it doesn't take much -- or anything, really -- to get Pickler going. Let's start with the fact that her in-laws live in the Twin Cities. It was her father-in-law's birthday, and she had to show off her Minnesota accent. And make fun of her North Carolina accent. And make fun of some Texans in the crowd. Shall we go on?
Absolutely. Because we've got to get to the night's best story -- the time Pickler and Gloriana, who toured together for two years, went out to celebrate a birthday in Austin, Texas. The acts bantered back and forth Tuesday about the details. The long and short of it is that Reinert and Pickler got matching tattoos on their feet, but only Pickler got a nose ring.
"My husband had to get a diamond [stud] out of my nose with a pair of pliers," she said.
Pickler doesn't mind laughing at herself. That's why when she introduced her new single, "Little Bit Gypsy," she said, "We might need to rewrite it to 'Little Bit Tipsy.'"
Leave it to Crow, the "new kid on the block" (her words) in country but the old pro in the bunch, to add some dignity and class to this Tuesday Night Music Pull. Calling herself a breast cancer survivor, she talked about the importance of getting mammograms, knowing your family medical history and doing self-exams -- or having your significant other do it. (We won't go into the repartee that line elicited.)
Crow was one of only two featured singers who played guitar much (Monroe was the other), though she was accompanied by a lead acoustic guitarist and acoustic bassist, two men she described as her "chick magnets." She triumphed with both her pop ("Strong Enough") and country songs ("Callin' Me When I'm Lonely"). And she even mashed up her first country hit, "Picture," into a medley with one of her biggest pop favorites, "If It Makes You Happy."
Each act did five numbers in the round-robin format. Gloriana offered the night's only cover -- The Lumineers' "Ho Hey," which had the crowd singing along. No act did the usual bit of plugging her latest album, though Pickler mentioned she has a new one coming this fall. Crow did urge the audience to buy albums, not just singles, for the other four acts. She said she made enough money off her debut, 1993's Grammy-winning Tuesday Night Music Club, back when people still bought albums.
Rose, who talked about growing up in Maryland, demonstrated an appealing combination of sass and smarts, offering the scolding "Ain't Your Mama" and the haunting "Preacher's Daughter."
Monroe impressed with her spunk, spirit and humor, as well as her ace accompanist, Sarah Zimmerman on mandolin and acoustic slide guitar, who received one of the night's biggest ovations. Monroe knows how to find a balance between the tough life ("Like a Rose") and the good times ("Weed Instead of Roses").
Unlike traditional guitar pulls, there was little harmonizing on each other's songs (it only happened twice), and there was no big hootenanny number at the end. And the oddity of this approach in which every act had one or two accompanists was that there would be one woman singing, backed by one or two pickers and 12 or more people sitting onstage with nothing to do but listen -- or drink. Except for the time when Pickler left the stage to ... um ... pee.
Jon Bream is the music critic for the Minneapolis Star Tribune and author of biographies of Prince, Led Zeppelin and Neil Diamond.