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North Carolina’s Mipso returns to Virginia Arts Festival

Mipso performs at the 2023 Virginia Arts Festival.
Courtesy of the Virginia Arts Festival
Mipso performs at the 2023 Virginia Arts Festival.

Mipso returns to the Virginia Arts Festival for the third time this month

North Carolina’s Mipso will perform at the Virginia Arts Festival May 28, bringing their unique blend of genres back to Hampton Roads.

Guitarist Joseph Terrell talked to WHRO before their return.

This interview was edited for time and clarity.

Vicki L. Friedman: Joseph, thanks for talking with us. Mipso has played in Norfolk many times, including twice at the Virginia Arts Festival. Could you touch on your affinity for both the festival and Norfolk? Are there any specific memories from playing in Norfolk that really resonate with you?

Joseph Terrell: The first time we played Norfolk was at a house concert series, which was one of the best in the country and one of the best we've ever played. And after that, we were able to play the Arts Festival. And one of my favorite memories of the Arts Festivals (is) they had a banner up with our faces on it that was probably like 12-foot by 6-foot and after the show, I asked them if I could take it home and they said yes.

Vicki L. Friedman: When the band started in 2012 in Chapel Hill, all of you were college students at North Carolina. Your fans talk about the chemistry that you have with each other on stage. Just like your sound has evolved, how has your chemistry evolved 1,100 shows later?

Joseph Terrell: I think we know each other better now than we ever have and better than we ever could have without playing together for 10 years. I think in music, it can be a beautiful way of knowing someone because you can anticipate the vocabulary and personality of your bandmates and that happens in the writing process.

Vicki L. Friedman: What's going to be a little different with the band kicking off its tour in Norfolk?

Joseph Terrell: We're super excited to have good friends joining us this summer, we're kind of making the summer feel like, full and collaborative and fun. That includes Viv & Riley, who are an amazing duo who live in Durham, North Carolina as well rooted in old time but just great songwriters and great instrumentalists, as well as Isa Burke, who is a member of the band Lula Wiles and plays with The Mountain Goats and many other great bands. She's a great little player and songwriter and singer too.

Vicki L. Friedman: Before we get into the album you released last August, I wanted to ask you about your new single “Green Jesus.” Talk a little bit about how that song came to be, thanks to your green thumb and how audiences responded to it.

Joseph Terrell: It really comes from a genuine place. I think I grew up in a D.A.R.E environment, like the program that they do with kids, meaning drug abuse resistance education, a sort of “Just Say No” Reagan-era holdover. And I was really disillusioned about that after a while but realized that I really did grow up thinking that marijuana was bad and that it was evil.

I think it's a really beautiful drug. I think it helps me to pay better attention to my life around me and it helps me to be more empathetic, including to myself. I felt like once I realized that it was fair game for writing songs, and I'm glad that one came out.

Vicki L. Friedman: It's always been difficult to put Mipso in just one category because the band is so multidimensional with influences. You've got Appalachian and bluegrass and folk rock, even jazz. Your latest album “Book of Fools” expands on all of that, with some new sounds: the vibraphone, the moog – talk about how that album came together.

Joseph Terrell: We recorded this new album “Book of Fools” in Oakland, California.

It was the first time we recorded all to tape, and I think people hear musicians talk about that and it sounds a little bit like inside baseball, it's kind of a wonky differentiation. But the point of doing it to tape is that we weren't making minute edits to every little decision. We were simply, as it used to only happen, playing together in a room as a band, which meant it really depended on the chemistry that we have together and our knowledge of each other and our ability to really play stuff live in a way that feels good.

Mipso will perform Tuesday, May 28 at 7:30 p.m. at the Perry Pavilion in Norfolk. For more information and tickets, visit the Virginia Arts Festival.

WHRO's Vice President of News, Maurice Jones, is chair of the Virginia Arts Festival Board of Directors and WHRO's President and CEO Bert Schmidt is a member of Virginia Arts Festival's Board of Directors. Jones and Schmidt are not involved with WHRO Journalism's editorial decisions.

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