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Published July 22 2012

Steve Earle comes to town with backing band for first time since 1997

FARGO – Steve Earle returns to the Fargo Theatre on Tuesday night for the third time in four years, but it’s the first time he’ll play the venue with his longtime backing band, The Dukes.

(Technically, this time around it’s the Dukes and The Duchesses, featuring Earle’s wife, Allison Moorer.)

While Earle has always been a force on his own, his career has been marked with colorful collaborations and influences, displayed in his previous shows.

With The Dukes, 1998, Playmakers Pavilion

Earle was touring behind his masterpiece “El Corazon” when he made his Fargo debut in the summer of ’98. The wide-ranging disc featured his old friend Emmylou Harris, the bluegrass Del McCoury Band, the gospel group Fairfield Four, the garage rock Supersuckers and Earle’s son, Justin Townes, who was on that tour as a Duke.

When Justin Townes Earle returned to Fargo in 2009, he couldn’t recall his previous stop here, calling it, “many a wild night ago.”

(The son followed his father’s descent into drugs, though now both are sober.)

With The Bluegrass Dukes, 1999, The Fargo Theatre

Earle’s follow-up album was the sharply focused “The Mountain,” a collection of bluegrass originals recorded with the Del McCoury Band. A tour with McCoury was announced, but the pair parted before the Fargo Theatre date. (Allegedly, Del McCoury objected to Earle’s occasional on-stage cursing, saying, “There was no room for vulgarity in bluegrass.” This prompted Earle to quip at the end of 2000’s “Until the Day I Die,” “And always remember, friends, there’s no room in vulgarity for bluegrass.”)

Earle didn’t miss a beat and quickly formed the Bluegrass Dukes with master pickers Tim O’Brien (mandolin), Darrell Scott (banjo) with Casey Driessen (fiddle) and Dennis Crouch (bass) in time for the Fargo show. The version of “Sin City” recorded in Fargo was a bonus track on some copies of 2000’s “Transcendental Blues.”

With Allison Moorer, 2008, The Fargo Theatre

After Earles married singer Allison Moorer in 2005, the couple moved to New York. The new surroundings inspired 2007’s “Washington Square Serenade,” which featured world music influences as well as electronic music sampling. Earle returned to The Fargo Theatre in ’08 with Moorer opening and later singing with her husband. Also joining Earle was Neil MacDonald, a club DJ.

With Townes Van Zandt, 2010, The Fargo Theatre

Hayes Carll opened the show, but at this show Earle really shared the stage with another notable Texas songwriter – the late, great Townes Van Zandt. Earle was never secretive about his appreciation for his musical idol, even naming his son, Justin Townes, after him.

In ’09, Earle released “Townes,” 15 versions of Van Zandt’s tunes, and took the songs on the road. Through the show, Earle shared stories of the talented, but doomed, singer, whose ’97 death inspired Earle’s own “Forth Worth Blues” that year.


Readers can reach Forum reporter John Lamb at (701) 241-5533