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Set­ting up their mu­sic gear in the small am­phi­the­a­ter out­side Spring­brook Nature Center in Frid­ley — where they could pick be­tween the bea­ver pond trail or a thatch hut as a dress­ing room — Quillan Roe and Dan Gaarder got into a de­bate. The dis­a­gree­ment wasn’t all that fiery, but the set­ting sun sure was.

“I swear we’ve played here be­fore,” Gaarder in­sist­ed, pull­ing out the small am­pli­fi­er for his a­cous­tic gui­tar.

“I don’t think so,” Roe said, list­ing a string of na­ture centers where they’d per­formed.

Hold­ing his hand up to the blaz­ing sun as he looked the place over, Gaarder changed the top­ic to that night’s big­gest chal­lenge: “I think we’re going to have to play this one like long-dis­tance bik­ers do it: Each of us take turns play­ing in the oth­er’s shade.”

Not many Twin Cities bands have trou­ble keep­ing their na­ture-cen­ter gigs straight — or have stared down as many weath­er-re­lated pre­dica­ments — as the Roe Family Sing­ers.

Like­wise, few local acts go over as well play­ing to no­na­genar­ians at a seni­or home as they do to tod­dlers at a com­muni­ty cen­ter, Min­ne­ap­olis hip­sters or coun­ty fair hayseeds.

Led by ban­jo pick­er Quillan and his auto­harp-strum­ming, clog-dan­cing wife, Kim Roe, the old-timey blue­grass, folk and coun­try en­sem­ble is as ubi­qui­tous this time of year as bug spray (an item they al­ways have stashed in their gear bags, by the way).

You might see them at a farm­ers mar­ket one morn­ing, a local li­brar­y the next, a res­tau­rant pa­ti­o the fol­low­ing eve­ning, then may­be an outstate blue­grass fest over the week­end.

And come Mon­day night, you can al­ways catch them at the 331 Club in north­east Min­ne­ap­olis, a stand­ing gig that hits the 14-year mark next week — the 14th anni­ver­sa­ry of the group it­self.

“That gig has re­al­ly be­come our week­ly re­hears­al ses­sion,” Quillan Roe said.

When he and Kim were first in­vit­ed to play the 331, the club had just been re­born from a seedy dive bar in 2005, around the time Nordeast start­ed trans­form­ing.

“I had to ask, ‘Is it re­al­ly safe for me to play there with my wife?’ That’s how long ago that was.”

A­bout the most dan­ger­ous thing at a Roe Family gig now­a­days are the tod­dlers who crash the stage as if it were a Little Tikes back­yard set; or the tal­ent book­er at a small-town July 4th fes­ti­val who proved to be a terri­ble me­te­or­ol­o­gist when omi­nous clouds ap­peared be­fore show­time.

“She kept say­ing, ‘Don’t wor­ry, it’s going to blow over,’ ” re­count­ed Quillan, who’s too po­lite to name the town in ques­tion. “Sure en­ough, we bare­ly got plugged in, and it was like a zip­per op­ened up in the sky with wa­ter on the oth­er side.”

Bar to mar­ket

But the Roe Family Sing­ers will hap­pi­ly take these hor­ror stor­ies over ta­les of drunk­en bar­room scenes. Most of the mem­bers have spent am­ple time per­form­ing in clubs.

Quillan Roe was co-lead­er of the late ’90s alt-twang group Ac­ci­dent Clear­ing­house. Gaarder played Lee’s Liq­uor Lounge too many times to count as a mem­ber of honky-tonk in­sti­tu­tion Trail­er Trash. Fid­dle play­er Ric Lee and stand-up bass­ist Eric Paul­son are also vets of the scene.

On some nights, the Roe Family crew might also in­clude what Quillan calls their “cir­cus in­stru­ment” aux­ilia­ry mem­bers: jug blow­er Rob Da­vis and saw play­er Adam Wirtzfeld. (And yes, that’s “saw” as in the hand tool; he bows it as he bends it to vi­brate out notes, a rus­tic style brought to light in mod­ern times by Texas alt-coun­try pio­neers the Flatlanders.)

While they have an au­then­ti­cal­ly down-home, aw-shucks charm, Quillan and Kim Roe don’t pre­tend to be from Ap­pa­la­chia or tend to live­stock at home. They’re pret­ty stan­dard Gen X kids with a house in a first-ring sub­urb. And while they be­came great stu­dents of the Carter Family and Doc Wat­son, Quillan can talk to you at great­er length a­bout DIY punk heroes Fu­ga­zi, his all-time favorite band.

How­ever, the Roe crew does take the blue­grass and folk tra­di­tions se­ri­ous­ly en­ough to have twice won the Min­ne­ap­olis Battle of the Jug Bands, and picked up the en­ter­tain­er of the year a­ward from the Blue­grass Music Association of I­o­wa in 2016. Kim has also racked up a few tro­phies for her clog­ging tal­ent.

“I call it ‘Sweat­ing to the Old­ies,’ ” she quipped, re­call­ing a swel­ter­ing per­form­ance at the Ex­cel­sior band shell where she passed out dur­ing her first dance num­ber. “I was down for the rest of the gig.”

Earn­ing a McKnight Foundation fel­low­ship in 2011 was a turn­ing point. Quillan said it not only helped them be­come full-time musi­cians — the spouses met as preschool teach­ers — but it gave them some­thing of a great­er mis­sion.

“We start­ed in­ten­tion­al­ly seek­ing out more gigs that were com­muni­ty-ori­ent­ed,” he said, “and of course a lot of those are out­doors. Folk mu­sic and old-timey mu­sic like this re­al­ly was made for bring­ing com­mu­ni­ties to­gether.”

He point­ed to “This Land Is Your Land” — a song they play at just a­bout every show — as an ex­am­ple of “how this mu­sic re­al­ly ap­peals to kids and adults alike, and cross­es po­lit­i­cal di­vides, too. That’s as im­port­ant now as it’s ever been.”

The rise of farm­ers mar­kets also re­shaped the band’s gig list. Sar­ah Woutat, mar­ket man­ag­er and a longtime ven­dor at the Kings­field, Ful­ton and Nokomis neigh­bor­hood mar­kets, re­count­ed the first time she saw the band play one of those events.

“Kids were dan­cing and shak­ing shak­ers, adults were dan­cing, and the band was en­gag­ing with them in a way that made ev­er­y­one feel in­clud­ed,” Woutat said. “Their mu­sic re­al­ly makes the day.”

Their real fam­i­ly

These fam­i­ly-friend­ly shows also proved to be prac­ti­cal once the Roes start­ed their own fam­i­ly. Many of their mid­week gigs fall dur­ing school hours for their two daugh­ters, ages 8 and 10. And the girls can come along to any of the night­time or week­end events.

Kim fa­mous­ly used to per­form with one of her girls strapped to her. Now­a­days, though, the young­er Roes are a little more choos­y a­bout join­ing their par­ents.

“They like cer­tain shows be­cause they know they’ll have friends there they can play with,” Kim said. “Other­wise, they’re kind of bored with us and would rath­er stay with a sit­ter, or Grand­ma and Grand­pa.”

The na­ture cen­ter gig in Frid­ley was one such un­ac­com­pa­nied-par­ents show, but there were plen­ty of oth­er kids dan­cing and clap­ping along to the tunes.

It was a pret­ty stan­dard, wide-rang­ing set, with such old­ies as the Carter Family’s “Lulu Walls,” Lead­belly’s “Cot­ton Fields” and Bill Mon­roe’s “Walk Soft­ly on This Heart of Mine” a­long­side fast-pick­ing or­igi­nals such as “Don’t Wor­ry A­bout the Rich Man” (which Quillan wry­ly intro­duced as “a­bout all the bad things hap­pen­ing to wealth­y white guys now­a­days”) and “Lil’ Billy Reuben,” in­spired by one daugh­ter’s bout with jaun­dice (it’s a play on the med­i­cal term “bil­i­ru­bin”).

At­tend­ing the show with her own kids, ages 8, 2 and 1, Ash­ley Mc­Kee raved a­bout their first Roe Family ex­peri­ence. “Our kids loved the mu­sic, and I loved the stor­ies they told a­bout the songs,” she said. “It looked like they were hav­ing fun them­selves, even though they had to en­dure that hot sun right in their faces the whole time.”

Quillan Roe seemed to es­pe­cial­ly en­joy the fact that the sun fi­nal­ly de­part­ed the stage a min­ute or two af­ter they un­plugged: “If we’d played just one more song, we’d have been OK,” he said.

Now they know for next time.

Chris Riemenschneider • 612-673-4658 @ChrisRstrib