The Mighty Pines: StL Musicians Create Folk-Pop Fusion

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The Mighty Pines are a grassroots rock ‘n’ roll band with a distinctive heartland sound and a strong connection to the River City. Composed of St. Louis natives Gerard Erker on vocals, mandolin and banjo, John Hussung on vocals and bass, Mike Murano on drums and Neil Salsich on vocals and guitar, the band is proud to represent the Lou both at home and on the road.

“When we go somewhere else — most people haven’t been to St. Louis — we’re able to connect with a lot of people and share with them what St. Louis is all about,” Salsich says. “A friend of mine told me we are the perfect ambassadors for St. Louis. We’re young, passionate, we love our city and we become the face of St. Louis for so many people that have never been or have a one-dimensional view of it.”

St. Louis is home to the band’s strongest fan base as well. “It has the most crowded shows and the biggest range of fans,” he says. “We get to see our whole world coming out for our shows: parents, family, old friends and new friends — it’s amazing.”

The band also finds lyrical inspiration in its roots, as heard in the song “Midwestern Guy.” “There’s a lyric where I’m talking about moving away, but I’ll stay close to the border because I’ll always be a Midwestern guy, no matter what,” Salsich says. “I identify very much with St. Louis, Missouri and the Midwest. There is this confluence of rivers, which is symbolic of the confluence of cultures here. To me, that’s what this city is about.”

Although some have called the group a bluegrass band, Salsich says, that is only one element of its sound. “The latest term I’ve been using is folk-pop fusion; I feel like that hits the nail on the head,” he says, adding that in addition to bluegrass, the band is influenced by funk and soul as well as rhythm and blues. Another major influence is the Grateful Dead, the ultimate jam band. “They fuse tons of styles, and the songwriting inspires us very much,” he says. “They ride the line between funky, dance music
and country.”

The Mighty Pines have been together for about five years; however, the first three of those were under another moniker: Acoustics Anonymous. “We changed the name because [Acoustics Anonymous] didn’t convey who we are,” he says. “There was an expectation of acoustic. Yeah, we play those kinds of instruments, but they’re plugged in. It was a bad name from the start, but when we chose it, we were very young and had little expectation. Our sound is a mix of so many different things, which is why it took us so long to find our path.” Beginning their journey with potential and excitement abound, Salsich says, the first three years were a time of musical self-discovery. “That fourth year was a year of transition; we changed our name, refocused ourselves and we all quit our jobs,” he explains. “It’s great to be together full-time.”

The city’s affordability is a major draw for many musicians. “To make money as a musician is so challenging,” Salsich says. “You have an original project where you’re putting all the money back into the business, and side jobs distract you from what’s important. The less money you have to make in order to live, the less meaningless work you have to do. And that’s why we love St. Louis — it’s affordable. Not to mention, other cities are louder and traffic is worse. Life here is low-key compared to being in another major city.”

Spending about 90 days per year on the road, the Mighty Pines play all over the country, from coast to coast and everywhere in between. “We’re at a stage where we’re ramping up our touring quite a bit; we do a lot more touring than most local bands,” he says, adding the group only plays in the Lou about 10 to 15 times a year. “We’re very conscious about not playing locally too much.”

When the band does play locally, the feel of the gig varies depending on the venue. “We’ll play a different show at the Broadway Oyster Bar than what we play at the Missouri Botanical Gardens, where we reach a whole different crowd,” Salsich explains. Local music lovers will have a chance to boogie with the band a few times in the coming months. On Sept. 21, they’ll open for the Lil Smokies at the Stage at KDHX. Then, on Sept. 28, the band will celebrate five years together with a show at Joe’s Café. You can also catch the group’s fourth annual Halloween show Oct. 27 at Broadway Oyster Bar, where they’ll play ’90s hits all night.

For more information, visit themightypines.com or find the group on Facebook and Instagram. M