Get to Know the Local Music: Johnny Sincerely’s Traveling Blues Orchestra

Photo by Tom Smouse

The White Squirrel Bar is one of the latest additions on the Twin Cities live music scene, which opened just a year ago. Located on West Seventh Street in St. Paul, the bar is intimate and warm with a touch of rustic charm found in lakeside cabins. It’s not only decorated with white squirrels inside, but a large representation of the namesake also climbs the side of the building, waving friendly greetings to those passing by.

The owner of White Squirrel Bar is also co-owner of Minneapolis’ popular 331 bar. It’s no surprise, then, that this St. Paul space is a hub for live music. The calendar of events is filled with food truck nights, St. Paul Songwriter Rounds, and local artists scattered throughout the residences. In July, Johnny Sincerely’s Traveling Blues Orchestra plays every Saturday from 8 p.m. to 11 p.m.

Johnny Sincerely

“Carnival blues” is how Johnny Sincerely describes his sound. “We sort of start with some basic type of blues and then we add tangos and musical influences [like] vaudeville theater. It kind of mixes up a lot of genres. Sincerely’s project kicked off during the pandemic when he released an album in which he played every instrument and completely mixed and mastered every song himself. He has been practicing music for 10 years now.

Photo by Bud Ingram-Lile

Sincerely’s sound is a shrewd blues tsunami of endless depth. With songs like “O’ Johnny, Poor Johnny” and “When I Die”, he creates a melancholic undertone but never lets it get the better of his friendly vocals. In “I Met the Devil Yesterday,” Sincerely uses this nuance to exude a sultry playfulness that commands attention. Sincerely has a knack for creating a variety of feelings in the listener, without them remembering anything outside of the piece they’re performing in. No matter the tone of the song, the music achieves a black and white, early 20th century cinematic aesthetic.

A former burlesque producer and emcee, Sincerely has created his name and personality from his past and brings the “theatrical swaggering vibrato” of the cabaret world into his music. “I hope [audience members] it felt like they were able to step into a different world for an hour,” he says. “We try to facilitate [for you] forget the rest of your life.

His traveling blues orchestra

Although he created it entirely by himself, with Sincerely playing every instrument himself, his album is meant to be performed live with others on stage with him. “Everything I write is to be on stage,” he says. So when venues began to reopen after the pandemic, Sincerely brought together musicians to form the Traveling Blues Orchestra. “It was unique to work on all these songs solo [and then] bring in talented musicians to hear their influence and input and how the music has evolved since the original project, which is now bigger and grander,” he says. There are five orchestra members, spanning piano, guitar, bass, viola and drums.

Photo provided

As a Minneapolis sound engineer, Sincerely also has the opportunity to work closely with other local musicians. He says that one artist each week will join the group for the night. The band’s first week of 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 stage presence, with a passion behind each member’s music. The mixture of genres, tones and feelings creates a spellbinding experience. Performances are meant to remove 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, hearing how it was meant to be heard means attending one of Johnny Sincerely’s Traveling Blues Orchestra performances. Attend the band’s July residency at White Squirrel Bar in St. Paul.