Jami Lynn

Dakota Duets

Throughout this project, I’ve really enjoyed exploring the musical landscape of South Dakota through the eyes of other musicians. Inhabiting such a rural and spread-out state, we’re not always in tune with what is happening in other areas. I often find myself going back and forth between Sioux Falls and the Black Hills to play concerts, but Sisseton, with its low rolling hills, modest population, and close proximity to the Sisseton Wahpeton Reservation has quite a nice music scene.

It is a musical community that not only raised me, musically speaking, but also continues to support and inspire myself and other players in the area. Before I had even completed the concept for this project, I knew I wanted to work with guitarist Derrick Lawrence. On a small stage in Peever, SD, he and I took in classic country, polka, and folk music while honing our own performance skills.

Derrick was always around music at home, with his father’s guitar picking and his mother’s love for playing the piano. “She still plays to this day,” Derrick says. Perhaps this early immersion is why he started playing at a younger age than most musicians. At eight years old, he was chording along with favorite songs, and he eventually dove into finger-style acoustic guitar. Chet Atkins and his father, Elden, were his first musical role models. During my formative years, I was mesmerized watching Elden play tasteful, twangy lead guitar at the monthly Jamboree in Peever, SD. I didn’t know it then, but through listening to Elden and Derrick play guitar, I was already a fan of Chet Atkins. Today, Derrick still draws heavily on his style when performing on acoustic guitar.

In middle school, Derrick and a few friends formed a rock band, starting out with cover songs but eventually writing some original songs. The core of the band later became “Eclipse,” which, though comprised of different members, still tours the region today. “There were three of us that played guitar, I think, and we switched off.” The early band premiered their music at Camp Dakotah, near Sisseton. “To mixed reviews,” Derrick adds with a chuckle. Local musician, Lance Pond, was Derrick’s first exposure to the “flat-picking” style that he would later employ when playing electric guitar in rock bands.

Though Derrick plays more instrumental music than not, he’s done some lyrical writing throughout the years, and enjoys recording in his home studio and the recording studio at Sisseton Wahpeton College where he works. For our duet, Derrick and I selected a Steve Wariner arrangement of “Sails” written by John and Johanna Hall. The tune is almost meditative, and Derrick’s clean fingering and even tone give it space. That space, paired with the natural reverb of the windowed hall at the college make this recording really special. Soak it up.

Singer/songwriter Erin Castle may not always be taking the lead, but she has carved out a niche for herself in the Sioux Falls music scene for over a decade. You may know her from folk band The Union Grove Pickers, or the alt-rock collaboration A Ghostwood Calm, but Erin’s glimmering vocals shine on their own or in the midst of a six piece band.

A musician’s attachment to their first real instrument is something a bit magical, much like Harry Potter being chosen by his wand. Finding my first beloved instrument took years, multiple guitars, and two banjos. To find the guitar that flat-picker Jake Jackson affectionately refers to as his “work horse,” took him a few days tooling around guitar shops on Colorado’s front range. 

Many of my fellow transplants to the Black Hills speak of an "aha" moment or experience that moves them to make this place home. For Mike Linderman, it was a little of both. A period of time spent in a friend's cabin in a deeply shaded canyon followed by a hike in much sunnier Wind Cave National Park is what spurred Mike's permanent move to Hot Springs. Since then, he has been a fixture of the singer/songwriter music scene in the Southern Hills.  

At the time I started playing music in front of audiences in SE South Dakota, I wouldn’t have crossed paths with Thomas Hentges. I would have been softly crooning over an acoustic guitar, tucked in the corner of a noisy coffee shop, whereas Thomas was likely screaming at the front of a rock band in one of the few remaining clubs in Sioux Falls in the early 2000s. Years before that, his first gig was four songs in front of the student body of Chester High School before it let out for Christmas break. “I got pulled out of the place by my ear by their principle because he thought I was using profanity on the stage. I assured him that a.) I wasn’t and b.) he needed to get his hands off of me,” Thomas explained with a laugh.


As someone who generally performs solo, I find collaborating with another musician to be transformative. I welcome this chance to ride shotgun while someone else takes the wheel. So I’m setting off on a new adventure--Dakota Duets. With help from a fellowship grant from the South Dakota Arts Council, and the audio/visual talents of my friends Andrew Reinartz and Dalton Coffey, I'm recording duets with some of my favorite musicians from every part of the state. Here, you’ll find the first installment. And if you haven’t yet heard of Paul Larson, you should.


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