Vinnie Donatelle of Friend Dog talks about opening for John Mayer, gigging with his new band, and The Last Revel's life-changing resurgence
Flip Rushmore is celebrating the release of their new EP, Choose Your Villains Wisely, at the 7th St Entry on Wed., Aug. 10. Friend Dog, comprised of Vinnie Donatelle, Lauren Anderson, and Nate LeBrun, is a featured guest on the bill. Vinnie, who spoke with us in 2021, got on the phone with Flip's Alex Smith for a follow-up interview as he balances between Friend Dog and his much more high-profile Americana trio, The Last Revel.
Alex: Alright, we need to talk about the John Mayer thing. The Last Revel is opening for him [Aug. 21] in Wyoming? I know you have a big following out there. How did the booking come together?
Vinnie: That was out of the blue. There’s a venue in Paradise Valley called Pine Creek Lodge, where the show is happening, that’s pretty near and dear to our hearts. We’ve hosted a couple mini music festivals out there. And Ryan [Acker, of The Last Revel] actually met his now-wife at Pine Creek.
The day after we played there this summer, there was some massive flooding along the Yellowstone River that destroyed a lot of property and basically closed West Yellowstone for the season, which really throws a wrench in the economy out there. All the folks who depend on that tourism are kinda SOL for the season again after getting beat up by COVID, too.
So John Mayer, who has a ranch out there, decided to put together this show and hit up our friend, Chip, who owns Pine Creek Lodge, and asked if he could set up a couple shows there to fundraise. Chip, of course, said, “of course,” [laughs] and that led to John Mayer’s team to say, “Ask two of of your favorite bands to play,” so Chip called Ryan.
Alex: I assume you knew you weren’t getting pranked because it was Chip calling you, but what was your reaction to the news?
Vinnie: Well, he tried to call us at like 2 in the morning, when we were driving home from a festival. And we were, like, dude, slow your role. We don’t know what this is about, but it can wait until tomorrow. So when Ryan talked to him the next day, we all just kind of froze and said, “that’s insane. There’s no way that’s actually happening.” But sure enough…
Alex: What kind of venue are we talking about? What’s the cap on that place?
I think it’s 1,000.
Alex: So pretty intimate for something like that.
Vinnie: Yeah, and 1,000 is a lot of people in that space. We played to 500 or 600 people before. That felt really packed. It’s basically a small little resort with a nice kitchen that has a bunch of storage container rooms surrounding a stage. People rent out these cabins if they want, or just drive up to the shows. That’s the gist of it.
Vinnie Donatelle aka Friend Dog discusses his debut EP, moving to Portland (and back), The Last Revel, and late friend Max Graham
Vinnie Donatelle is a Minneapolis-based musician known primarily for his work as a multi-instrumentalist in The Last Revel. His first solo EP--Tending a Timid Flame, under the name Friend Dog—will be available in the coming months.
He took a phone call from Alex to discuss the EP, The Last Revel hiatus, and several other topics, including what he learned during a short-lived move to Portland, how "impermanence" shapes his musical vision, and the love he has for his late friend, Max Graham. (Please note: Max's family is in need of support. Please visit this link to see how you might be able to assist his wife and children.)
Alex: So … Friend Dog. What was the spark to start a new project with its own name? I feel like when you name something, it becomes important. What led you to that step?
Vinnie: For a long time, I thought it would be an important step in my music career to take on a solo project I can float on my own without having to go through as many logistics and creative negotiations to both produce music and play live shows. But much more on the creative content end of things. At the same time, I never really liked the idea of just putting effort into music as “Vinnie Donatelle.” Something didn’t feel right about that. Maybe it’s too egotistical for my humble Minnesotan roots.
The Last Revel was kinda taking a bit of a step back, professionally. I thought it was a nice opportunity for me to establish a new project and see where it goes.