Calgary folk fest: Five questions for The Cactus Blossoms

Page Burkum from Minneapolis, sibling, dark-country duo talks about Nick Lowe, expectations and where the act is headed on its musical journey.

It’s been quite a year for Minneapolis duo The Cactus Blossoms, two brothers (Page Burkum and Jack Torrey) who found their Zen playing obscure old country songs mixed in with their originals, eventually creating a sound that paid almost accidental homage to the 1950s while keeping both feet planted firmly in the moment.

Before they’d even released a record, they found themselves touring with Nick Lowe — twice. Then Rolling Stone called their debut You’re Dreaming one of the most anticipated country albums of 2016. And a few months ago, the brothers and their band appeared in David Lynch’s updated version of the cult series Twin Peaks, performing the song Mississippi, a melodic, delightful ditty about suicide by drowning.

It all seems to be working because the nascent band has toured Europe, Australia, and their home continent. They comfortably play packed club gigs to the trendy crowd in New York and then theatre gigs to more seasoned music connoisseurs the next day. Theyyscene caught up with older brother Burkum to ask five questions in honour of The Cactus Blossoms appearances on Friday, Saturday and Sunday at the Calgary Folk Music Festival on Prince’s Island.

Q: What was it like to tour with Nick Lowe?

A: We felt really lucky. The way that happened was, we were familiar with him and were fans, and we had some other mutual friends like JD McPherson (producer of You’re Dreaming), who we’ve toured with. (JD) was telling us, “I hope you get to see him and meet him some day.”

Nick was coming through Minneapolis and he was actually starting a tour here. Another musician (Small Faces’ Ian McLagan, who played keyboards on tour and in the studio for the Rolling Stones), who I was not very familiar with … he was a beloved guy. He was supposed to open for Nick in Minneapolis here and he passed away the day before the show.  It was not expected. So we ended up getting the opportunity to open for Nick here in our home town as a last-minute substitute. That was obviously kind of a strange way to start things off.

Even though it was a sad situation, we were excited to play in a show that we just wanted to go to as fans. So we ended up doing most of the whole tour. We felt lucky to be along and for us it was a learning experience. I think we watched every set he played. It didn’t matter if we’d heard the songs, we just really wanted to see him do his thing. He is amazing.

I hope that we just absorbed some of his songwriting and melodic and lyrical genius.

Q: How do you imagine your sound evolving over the next decade?

A: We haven’t started recording a new album yet, but we’re thinking a lot about it and planning some studio time. I think like most people, I guess we’ll find out after we record something new and we’ll see how similar it sounds or how different it sounds. I think most people probably want to change what they are doing a little bit just for the fun of it. No one wants to sing the exact same song for 20 years. Hopefully our sound will change a lot, but we’ll just have to see. I think touring with Nick, some of that might subconsciously enter our vocabulary.

Q: What’s the last record you listened to?

A: I was on a flight and they have this music catalogued you can listen to. They had a Bob Dylan bootleg series, 1965-66. You could hear them do 20 takes of Visions of Johanna or something like that. I got a kick out of that, so that was the perfect thing to have on a flight.

Q: Considering the histories of Dave and Phil Alvin, Don and Phil Everly, Charlie and Ira Louvin, and Ray and Dave Davies, do you think you’re jinxing things relationship-wise by being in a band with your brother?

A: We get along really well and then most of the stuff we argue about is really small and stupid and then we move along. I think we’ve done pretty well for how much time you have to spend with someone you’re collaborating with. You’re bound to have a few arguments, but we’ve done pretty well.

Q: You’re Dreaming was chosen by Rolling Stone as one of the most anticipated albums of 2016. Did that create some pressure for you?

A: To be very honest, it’s really nice to be included, but at the same time they probably release a new list every two weeks. “Oh, now we have the 30 most something or other.” I am aware they are just a little temporary thing. It was nice, but, well, we didn’t win any Grammys (Laughing).

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The Cactus Blossoms play Friday, July 28, Saturday, July 29 and Sunday, July 30 at the Calgary Folk Music Festival. For tickets, call 403-233-0904 or visit the festival’s website,

Mary-Lynn Wardle is a Bragg Creek writer who covers her two passions, music and horses. She has written in the Calgary Herald, FFWD Weekly, Swerve, Western Horsemen, Western Horse Review, Horses All and other publications, for over 25 years.