The White Squirrel Bar is one of the latest additions to the Twin Cities’ live music scene, opening just a year ago. Located on West Seventh Street in St. Paul, the bar is intimate and warm with a touch of the rustic charm found in lakeside cabins. It is not just decorated with white squirrels in the interior, but a large depiction of the namesake also climbs the side of the building, giving a friendly greeting to those who walk by.
The owner of the White Squirrel Bar is also the co-owner of the popular Minneapolis bar 331 Club, so it is no surprise that this St. Paul space is a hub for live music. The event calendar is all filled up with food-truck nights, St. Paul Songwriter Rounds, and local artists scattered around residencies. This July, Johnny Sincerely’s Traveling Blues Orchestra is playing every Saturday from 8 to 11 p.m.
“Carnival blues” is how Johnny Sincerely describes his sound. “We kind of start with a certain type of blues foundation and then we add tangos and musical influences [like] vaudevillian theatrics. It kind of blends a lot of genres.” Sincerely’s project was started during the pandemic when he released an album in which he played each instrument and completely mixed and mastered each song himself. He has been playing music for 10 years now.
Sincerely’s sound is a tsunami of savvy blues and endless depth. With songs like “O’ Johnny, Poor Johnny” and “When I Die,” he creates a melancholic undertone but never lets it take over his companionable voice. In “I Met the Devil Yesterday,” Sincerely uses that nuance to exude a sultry playfulness that commands attention. Sincerely has a talent for creating a variety of feelings within the listener—without them being reminded of anything outside of the room he is playing in. No matter the tone of the song, the music reaches a black-and-white, early-20th-century film aesthetic.
A former burlesque producer and emcee, Sincerely created his name and persona from his past and brings the cabaret world’s “theatrical swaggering vibrato” into his music. “I hope [audience members] feel like they got to step into a different world for an hour,” he says. “We try to make it easy [for you] to forget about the rest of your life.”
His Traveling Blues Orchestra
Despite creating it entirely on his own, with Sincerely playing each instrument himself, his album is meant to be performed live with others up on stage with him. “Everything I write is to be on stage,” he says. So, when venues started opening back up after the pandemic, Sincerely gathered musicians to form the Traveling Blues Orchestra. “It was unique to work on all of these songs solo [and then] bring in talented musicians to hear their influence and input and how the music has evolved from the original project—which is now bigger and grander,” he says. There are five orchestra members, covering piano, guitar, bass, viola, and drums.
As a Minneapolis sound engineer, Sincerely has the opportunity to work closely with other local musicians, as well. He says one artist each week will join the band for the night. The first week of the band’s residency featured Lonesome Dan Kase and Daniel Rossen. Expect future appearances from Larry Wish, Elour, and the Good Time Gals.
Sincerely’s Traveling Blues Orchestra has a remarkable presence onstage, with passion behind each member’s music. The blend of genres, tones, and feelings create an entrancing experience. The performances are meant to take away reality and temporarily replace it with something unique and fun.
Johnny Sincerely’s debut album, “Yours Truly, Johnny Sincerely,” can be streamed on Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon Music, and YouTube. However, listening to how it was meant to be listened to means catching one of Johnny Sincerely’s Traveling Blues Orchestra shows. Catch the band’s July residency at the White Squirrel Bar in St. Paul.