Bill and Kate Isles at Fort Belmont Rendezvous

Bill and Kate Isles

Bill and Kate Isles, Fort Belmont Rendezvous, Jackson, MN 12 Sept 2009

I’m gonna leave the city, I’ll be ridin’ on that train
If I don’t leave the city, I might lose my brain.
-Matching Baggage

Bill Isles reminds me of his hometown of Duluth, Minnesota. The port city at the head of Lake Superior stands nestled into the crags of the harsh North Shore, not so much built as grown out of rock, sweat and tears. It is a Detroit sort of city, a weathered shadow of better days gone by, yet full of Minnesota vim and vinegar.  Americana on the North Shore.  If there hadn’t been a Duluth a writer would have invented it.

As I set my sails, a headwind raged
It stressed my vessel greatly
-Wilderness Lady

If Bill Isles hadn’t become a folk singer, a writer would have invented him. Bill came back to the musical life late in life. Not that you would ever know from his easy bearing presence on the stage, the subtle intonation of delivery bringing out carefully crafted stories of love, loss and life.

But nothing lasts forever, it’ll all fall down
Like wood and stone and metal, returning to the ground
-Old Fences

Sometimes you go to a show and the artist just wows you from the stage. But they don’t connect; they’re in their own little world up there and you are just getting a small glimpse. That isn’t Bill. He commands attention on stage, yes, but he’s in our world, grounded in hopes and dreams of any Minnesotan.

All I wanna do is love you, and in your arms is where I wanna be
All I wanna do is love you, ’cause darlin’ your love has set me free
-All I Wanna Do

Bill and his wife Kate have an album of duets out this year, titled Matching Baggage ( They met when Bill released his first album back in 2001. Bill Isles is a performing songwriter, and the songs on this album are all written by one or both of them. The exception is an upbeat song, “Tonight in My Dreams”, by Canadian David Francey. They are joined on the album by a variety of guest musicians, and have been touring with violinist April Verch.

We never could have planned a day like this one
We just took off and said let’s have some fun
-September Sun

They joke that they have to sing like they are driving, since they mostly practice during ample windshield time driving gig to gig. That may be, this show was an informal affair held during a Mountain Man Rendezvous.   It felt like the small crowd was just gathered around their front porch, sharing a good old time.

The whole darned thing was just some thinkful wishin’
I gotta stay awake when I’m out fishin’
-The Sutra (Comma) Minnesota Polka

There’s enough pretentiousness and ego in the music business to go around. It’s a rare treat to meet an artist who can tell a thoughtful story or two and keep it real. It would be worth your time to go on down to the station when Bill & Kate Isles bring their Matching Baggage to a stage near you.


Bill & Kates Isles are playing in the Chicago area this weekend (22-26 Sept 09).  They are scheduled to be at Folk Alliance SE in the Ozarks in October and Folk Alliance West in L.A. come November.


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