For Pert Near Sandstone bassist Justin Bruhn, the band’s role at Blue Ox Music Festival is something every music fan can appreciate.
The Twin Cities-based group serves as the festival’s host band and co-curator for the three-day event beginning Thursday in the town of Union outside of Eau Claire. That means, Bruhn said in a phone interview, they help select the lineup along with festival president Jim Bischel, his sons Mark and Tony, and the rest of their team.
“This is like our mix tape dream concert,” Bruhn said. “We make our lists and send them out. How cool is that? And we get a lot of people we’re hoping for.”
It’s actually even better than it would be for a typical music fan, considering Pert Near Sandstone get to do more than simply listen to the music — they take the same stage as their idols. This year they will perform at 8:45 p.m. Friday and Saturday on the festival’s main stage.
Earning national and international notice over their 15-year career, Pert Near Sandstone have nine albums to their credit, including “Discovery of Honey,” a studio effort from 2016, and “Live at Blue Ox,” released last year.
Their current lineup consists of Bruhn, fiddle/mandolin player Nate Sipe, banjo player Keven Kniebel, guitarist J Lenz and clog and fiddle player Matt Cartier.
The band has crafted a sound that combines old-time string music with contemporary song craft, which Bruhn credits to their varied musical tastes.
“(E)ach of us comes from a different background historically of music,” he said. “How we learned, where we came from, what we listened to when we were younger.”
Their old-time sensibility comes strongly from Sipe as well as Kniebel, although Bruhn said Kniebel grew up enjoying all types of country music, including the pop side of that genre.
Lenz, on the other hand, has played in ska bands and favored metal and reggae. Bruhn himself came from a classic rock and metal background.
“Naturally what comes out of us is less old-timey just because of where we came from,” he said.
But whatever the parts make up the group, the musicians bring a hard-driving, exuberant feeling to their music.
“We truly have fun playing together on stage,” Bruhn said. “Our objective and goal is to share our excitement with everybody’s who’s with us and watching us. We feed off each other. We have good old friends who still come to watch us so it’s really fun to perform onstage when friends are around and everybody’s having a good old time. We try to make sure we’re having fun.”
In their role as host band, Pert Near Sandstone members can rely on their own experience as musicians to make the event enjoyable for the other stars as well as audiences.
“We’ve been around the country playing festivals, and we know what we love at festivals and what we want to try and avoid at festivals as artists,” Bruhn said.
Jim Bischel complimented their efforts at the festival.
“They see a lot of things because they’re out on the road,” Bischel said. “They’ve been a great band to work with. They promote; they have a ton of good suggestions. They’re great guys for one thing, and they’re a great band also.”
Besides being ambassadors for the festival backstage during tour dates, Bruhn and Sipe have helped spread the word about the event by hosting the “Road to Blue Ox” podcast.
In the five episodes that have aired, they have shared music by the artists in this year’s lineup and done interviews with others, including Dave Simonett of Trampled By Turtles, Ronnie McCoury, Sarah Shook and Eau Claire-based Them Coulee Boys. Those interviews include a “lightning round” of questions such as favorite pre-show meal and preferred onstage drink.
“Nate and I have discovered we like doing that sort of thing,” he said with a chuckle, adding that they might even produce a few more episodes before the end of the year.
But in the meantime, as the Bruhn and Sipe say at they end of the podcast, they and their band mates will “see ya in the pines,” where no doubt they’ll again be having fun.