Marshalltown native clocks 175 plus shows a year

TR Photos by Austin Chadderdon — Severio Mancieri plays for a packed room at Tannin wine bar on Sept. 24. Mancieri is a Marshalltown native who left his job as a CNA in 2020 to become a full time musician and has since traveled the Midwest, playing nearly 200 shows a year.

Over the last week, Severio Mancieri traveled 1,600 miles between Wednesday and Saturday. Along the way, he made a stop to play for a welcoming hometown crowd in Marshalltown, where he spent the majority of his childhood.

After playing a two hour set at Tannin, Mancieri packed up his self contained stage set up: a guitar, amp and microphone. A necessarily minimal collection of gear fits in his gold 2012 Dodge Caravan, while leaving enough room for a small bed where he often sleeps.

That night, he crashed at his parents’ house in town to get some much needed rest. In the morning, he hopped behind the wheel to make the five hour journey to his next gig.

“Around 185,” Mancieri said as he estimated his 2021 show count. “Probably something similar this year. I’m constantly traveling. I’m on the road all the time.”

At this rate, he’s looking at 85,000 miles a year, which is six times the amount of the average driver. Whereas a long haul trucker generally clocks 125,000 miles a year, Mancieri has become a road worn solo musician who’s in it for the long run.

He can’t imagine a future without music, but he’ll probably have to imagine it with a different van. In a recent Facebook post, he joked “I’m gonna drive the wheels off this thing.”

In 50 years, Mancieri hopes he’s still playing music and touring — but not driving himself.

“It’s hard on my body even now, so I can’t imagine it at 70,” he said.

Mancieri imagines he’ll someday retire in Duluth, the northern Minnesota city of 87,000 he was born in and has been living in for the last five years. It has a downtown lined with shops, restaurants and breweries, and Mancieri plays at local spots like Sir Ben’s, a tavern style bar that is a musical institution in town.

Duluth holds a significant place in music history as a whole — it’s the birthplace of Bob Dylan. It was a coal town when Dylan was growing up: the Port of Duluth-Superior saw 12.6 million tons passing through at its peak. Coal doesn’t land in Duluth anymore, and it has become a place for Mancieri to find refuge in nature.

“The surrounding wilderness is amazing. Lots of trees, hiking trails, rivers and streams. It’s paradise,” he said. “I hike at a place called Lester River. It’s a funky little four or five mile loop to the northeast of town… It’s a beautiful spot.”

Nature and music have always been tangible parallels for Mancieri. Thirty years ago, his dad was in a band there called The Herd in Duluth. Both of his parents play instruments, and music wasn’t always just playing in their house — it was being played.

After a few days’ rest in Duluth, Mancieri throws his guitar and a few changes of clothes in his van, and once again, he’s rolling down I-35 out of town.

The five seats in back are laid down for his gear, merch, necessities and a bed. The back bumper is banged up, and the front fender is entirely smashed in. She runs well, though, which is all Mancieri cares about in the end.

“These days, I’m hoteling it more and more. It’s rough to car camp. The sleep is never great, and it’s hard to get comfortable,” he said. “I wouldn’t trade it though. I love the nomad thing.”

Mancieri finds himself at breweries in places like Rapid City, S.D., where no one knows who he is. Playing for a dozen or so people, he thinks things are going pretty well, but slowly he’s drowned out by conversation and wonders if it really is.

At the end of his two hour set, he plops down at the bar to collect his payment before turning in to sleep in the van or find a motel. The man next to him starts up a conversation, and Mancieri offers general ramblings about his 12 hour drive from Duluth and seeing Mount Rushmore.

When Mancieri asks him what he does for a living, the man replies that he’s a preacher. They share a beer together as the previous night becomes the next morning and go their separate ways after shaking hands.

Small moments like these stick out to Mancieri when he thinks about life on the road. He reflects on his journey and his own spiritually, which is essentially encompassed by the Golden Rule.

For three years before touring, Mancieri worked a day job as a CNA. He said it was rewarding, but he was fatigued by being overworked and underpaid. COVID was the kick in the pants he needed to pursue music full time.

The nature of his job as a CNA also caused issues with existing respiratory issues caused from being born three months prematurely.

“I was only two pounds. There were children born later than me that did not survive,” he said.

Asthma and muscle tightness have followed him into adulthood, but he still likes to get a workout in at Anytime Fitness centers during his tours, most recently on Devon Avenue in Chicago.

“I probably creak a bit more than the normal 27 year old, but I mitigate it with exercise and yoga,” he said.

After surviving the premature birth, Mancieri was able to live a normal childhood hanging out with friends outside and playing video games. At that point in early adolescence, most kids have dreams of being in the major leagues, orbiting space as an astronaut or being a heroic firefighter. Mancieri may have had those visions, but they were quickly overshadowed when he first laid hands on a cheap yellow Yamaha.

“I was probably in fifth grade. I remember that I started playing that guitar, and it nearly consumed me day and night when I wasn’t in school. It felt like the most natural thing in the world,” he said.

Virtuosity is a word that’s been used to describe Mancieri. While a prodigious natural musicianship emerged quickly, one can’t discount his dedication to the craft. In 1992, Jerry Garcia put it simply — “As far as I know, that’s the only way to get good.”

Mancieri was putting in six to eight hours a day at 10 years old.

“I didn’t have an Xbox. I had a guitar. It was like my best friend or something. I don’t know man, I just got really really hooked from a super young age, which is probably why I have the ability I have now,” he said.

He was in jazz band freshman through senior year while playing in multiple bands outside of school. The high school experience has a varying degree of cringiness and trauma for anyone, and Mancieri was glad when it was over.

“Teenage years suck in general I think. I didn’t get bullied and had a lot of friends,” he said. “I got into ‘extracurricular’ activities a bit too early, and that’s something I regret. But I can’t change that now and seem to still have all my faculties.”

Fifteen years later, his passion and practice have led to a full-time job. He’s not in it to become rich — which is a good thing, because the money reserved for stadium touring bands isn’t reaching him on the bar, brewery and coffee shop circuit.

“I’m getting by, man. I’m definitely a working musician, and I don’t do it for the money. I love music. I love connecting with people. It’s the emotional quotient that I’m most interested in,” he said. “But the money is alright. I’m not starving. That wasn’t the case the first year, but things are going well now.”

Mancieri has a “pack a cooler” rule to help keep cash in his pocket, but he sometimes breaks it when he’s unable to resist the sign of a Mexican restaurant beckoning him through its front door.

His decision to push music into high gear coincided with COVID, which meant he was playing mostly outdoor shows in 2020. Things picked up in 2021 and have continued on an upward trajectory this year.

There have been significant milestones along the way: the release of his first studio album “Can I” on Thanksgiving 2020, recording a set for PBS’s series “Backroads” and performing with Minnesota country blues artist Charlie Parr, who kicked off his career in Duluth 20 odd years ago. Parr has about 60,000 followers between Instagram and Facebook and is on Mancieri’s short list of north star musical influences alongside Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin and Dylan.

“He’s a super humble, down to earth guy. We did a fundraiser for the Two Harbors Food Shelf. It was awesome. We jammed some 12 bar blues,” Mancieri said about playing with Parr. “I’ve been a fan ever since being in Duluth. I love his songs. They’re timeless and classic. He’s a great storyteller and wordsmith.”

Mancieri is 40 years younger than Parr with just as many years less experience, but playing together side-by-side, the up and comer not only held his own and seemed like he belonged — he excelled.

Like Parr, Mancieri is a musician’s musician, not writing flash in a pan hits or putting great thought into shiny shoes and sequined shirts. Anything besides the music and the moment is a distraction.

Mancieri’s biggest aspiration is “notoriety from world class musicians.”

“That’s my dream,” he said.

Even for someone unacquainted or generally uninterested in Blues, Folk or Americana music, his fast picking prowess is undeniable and hard not to pay attention to.

He shot the PBS “Backroads” episode in April of 2022, which was new territory and a big step forward in his career. He’s had plenty of experience playing live — and for more people than the handful of crewmembers on the set that day — but this was the first time his moving image would be broadcast and archived.

“That was one of the bigger things I’ve done. I was a bit nervous when I got there. I’d like to think I perform well under pressure though,” Mancieri said.

Four months after the Backroads recording, he was invited to be a guest on Duluth’s local Fox station for a “Coffee Conversations” segment. Pregaming with coffee was a prerequisite because the show was much earlier in the morning than Mancieri, and his voice, had been accustomed to.

The TV appearance presented a different level of intimidation than his PBS spot. It was a one-on-one interview that would turn into a performance where he would play to a single interviewer on camera when the host suddenly said “Alright, Severio. How about a song?”

Another studio, another set of cameras and a batch of stage lights — and another opportunity for a young musician trying to gain traction as he makes his way down an often challenging and unyielding road.

“I broke down after a show in Wisconsin last November at two in the morning. I was on my way to Iowa the next morning. A buddy came and got me and had the van hauled to a repair shop In Marshalltown the next day. Huge pain in the a**,” Mancieri said about the setbacks between shows.

Back behind the wheel of his revived van, he was thinking about the next gig, listening to podcasts, calling friends and sometimes talking to himself when there was no one left to talk to on the phone.

Looking out the window taking in the passing seasons of nature, his mind is seemingly filled with good vibes. A post on Facebook, among many others, communicates a sincere sense of gratitude.

“I love my job. The fact that I can touch people’s emotions through my guitar and voice, man, it’s the greatest gift in the world,” he wrote.

But not everything has been roses and sunshine. A few negative interactions with audience members have forced him to wonder if he’d made the right decision chasing his dream.

“Someone yelled out, “You f***ng suck! Get off the stage!” Mancieri winced. “It was early enough where I questioned whether or not I should be doing this.”

What kept him going was a passion for music and to prove his ridiculer wrong.

“You can’t let one person ruin your career,” he said. “You won’t have one then.”

The solitude of the road can help clear the mind and create a momentary sense of peace, but humans are herd animals. It gets lonely.

Although that aspect isn’t something Mancieri communicates through conversation or online, it shows up in his songs from time to time. In a rich baritone voice thick with the blues and devoid of ostentation, his music tells a profound story of interiority.

“A million miles across the sea, and land so free to be. I took off from port with my hat on my head, the crow in the sky and the sun shining red…”

“About six days out, a wave came crashing down. It broke my heart when half the crew drowned. The captain said to me ‘Boy, you gotta learn how to sail before you can go to the land we must prevail’…”

“I been trying to be the light, I been trying to set things right. I been trying to figure out what this life is all about.”

He’s 27 years old. It’s a time of transition, stagnation and uncertainty, especially in today’s culture, climate and economy. Other people his age might be settling into their first career, trading one dead end job for another, getting married for the first time, getting divorced for the first time, moving out of their parent’s basement or moving back into their parent’s basement.

Mancieri’s path isn’t unbeaten, but it’s less traveled. He’s not surrounded by his peers constantly, but he’s not completely disconnected from what it means to be a young man in modern America — disillusioned, precarious, vulnerable and hungry.

Like the beatniks from the 60s and 70s, when much of his favorite music was conceived, he’s dissecting the geography of the Midwest and the significance of his life.

“I love The Dead and Garcia. Free spirited musicians in the truest sense,” Mancieri said of the band who at one time appeared in the Guiness Book of World Records for the most rock concerts ever performed.

The Grateful Dead toured relentlessly and incidentally recorded a few songs that reached the top Billboard charts along the way. In 1987, “Touch of Grey” landed on the charts as their only Top 40 song 22 years after the band’s formation and just eight years prior to Garcia’s death.

Mancieri relates to the music and ethos of Garcia, who once said, “I think The Grateful Dead kind of represents the spirit of being able to go out and have an adventure in America at large.”

The road and his van might look like where he lives by the numbers on his odometer and the tread of his tires, but when he lands in Duluth or Marshalltown, he recognizes that warm familiar feeling of home. He can’t imagine ever leaving Duluth and said the best shows he’s played in his recollection were here in Marshalltown.

“There have been a few that stand out. Probably a hometown one where the whole crowd was engaged at Tannin Wine Bar In Marshalltown,” he said. “The place was packed. Probably 75 people were there. I had the whole crowd singing along to ‘Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door.’ It was nothing short of amazing.”

He’ll return to Marshalltown in mid-October to play at the Old Timer, where he’ll see those familiar faces and hope for another great night that fuels his soul (and van) when he hops back on the road.

Between tracking down gigs himself and his booking agent, it’s likely Mancieri will surpass 200 shows in 2023. He’s constantly sending out emails and making calls to new venues, where he might receive one yes for every nine nos. It’s a life that requires persistent optimism and thick skin.

Thomas Edison confirmed Confucius’s tattered 1400 year old adage when he said, “I never worked a day in my life.”

That’s a bumper sticker Severio might slap on his van cruising around Duluth 50 years from now when he finally retires. Time will tell. But there’s no denying he’s putting in the work — even if he doesn’t call it that.


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