Philadelphia has grown accustomed to seeing North Carolina-based folk quartet Mipso in exceptionally intimate rooms, such as Boot & Saddle and The Locks at Sona. However, on their current headlining tour they are playing a handful of significantly larger rooms, some holding 1,000+. But, lucky for us, on their upcoming local stop Mipso will be playing two nights at the still-plenty-intimate, 200-capacity MilkBoy, December 17th (w/ Alexa Rose) and December 18th (w/ Johanna Samuels).
During a recent phone chat, Mipso fiddle player and vocalist Libby Rodenbough tells me that she’s not only a fan of the City of Brotherly Love and Sisterly Affection, but also the last remaining Center City spot of its kind: “I have a special place in my heart for Philly because two of my best friends live there. I visited there twice during the pandemic… and I really love MilkBoy.” Mipso has been on and off the road since this summer, although they are doing things a little bit differently due to the pandemic, but Libby tells me that some of it is actually a nice relief: “We didn’t stay with any friends. We go hotel rooms every night. You usually did a lot of socializing with college friends and all that, but sometimes that can be stressful too.” She also tells me that some of the shows they’ve played have been some of the highlights of recent years for the band.
“We played a tour in the Southwest, which we’d never done and I’ve never even been there (I grew up in the Southeast.) Places like New Mexico are just so beautiful. And we actually had people come out to the shows, which you never know when you’re going somewhere for the first time… We started in Seattle and made our way down the coast, experiencing all the food and culture that go along with that.”
Mipso are currently touring behind the release of their self-titled fifth full-length, which was released in October of 2020 on Rounder Records and produced by Sandro Perri, who brought something new to the usually-acoustic group: “We recorded the last album with Sandro Perri and a lot of his music is very synth-heavy, but not beat-based, just organic synths… We don’t know so much about the huge world of synths.” However, despite the change in production and instrumentation, the band sounds nearly as organic as ever and still retains the ring of their bluegrass roots. When I ask Libby if she’s had any favorite reactions to the new material, she says that the one that stood out for her came quite early on: “The first time we played ‘Wallpaper Baby’ it was a smaller, intimate performance and it went over really well and people erupted with applause and the album wasn’t even out yet, so they definitely hadn’t even heard it before.”
When I ask Libby about the highlights of Mipso in general – who have been around since 2013, while she’s been an official member since 2014, after originally appearing as a “frequent collaborator” – she tells me that it has less to do with specific moments and more to do with the lives and legacy they’ve built for themselves over the years: “When I think about what gives me happiness or pride, it’s much more about the conglomeration of doing it for all these years. I look out at the audience some nights and I’m just bowled over by the fact that people are there to listen to us.” “I don’t really think of our career as a linear path. I try to think about it as less liner and more of a twisty, turny series of concentric circles,” she tells me, before adding, “As long as we’re able to do this and not have to get other jobs, it feels like it’s exceeded our expectations.”
Their upcoming stop in Philadelphia will be the only time on Mipso’s current run (or their dates next January) to include two shows in the same city. And Libby tells me that for those dedicated fans who don’t already have plans that weekend and don’t mind spending a little extra money (Each show is only $15, to be fair.), the band is more than excited to offer a different experience each night: “It’s a fun opportunity for us to find out how to differentiate the set. We want to make it so if someone buys tickets to each night, they’ll feel like they saw two different shows… Sometimes when we do two nights at the same place we’ll do a theme for each set, although we still haven’t decided on it yet, but we don’t want each show to be a carbon copy.” She also tells me that this notion is something that seems perfectly natural and normal to her: “Growing up, a lot of the bands I would go see had a different set every night. I mean, it’s like, what’s the point of having the same set every night? I mean, my friend plays with Bruce Hornsby and I remember there was one tour where they didn’t repeat any songs for the first like five nights.”
*Get your tickets here.