“Songsters were entertainers, providing music for every kind of social occasion in the decades before phonographs and radio. They were receptive to a wide variety of songs and music; priding themselves on their range, versatility, and capacity to pick up a tune.” (Songsters and Saints, Paul Oliver, p221)
Here’s What I Do
You’ve heard of the Deep South. Well, I play mandolin, sing, and tell stories about the Deep North, past and present.
I’m a historian with a passion for Minnesota history and local stories. I’m also a professional musician with over twenty years of experience, steeped in the traditions of Irish, Early American, blues, Tin Pan Alley and ragtime music. I’ve played all over the Upper Midwest and Saskatchewan; you can check out my bio here. I also belong to The Minnesota Field Trip Library and you can find me on their website here.
Combine these two passions and you get a performer who loves writing songs about history. You get a performer who soaks up local stories—interviews, museums, books—and connects you to a Minnesota long past but not entirely lost. You get a performer who guides you through the Deep North: The old pineries, the trading posts, the portages, the camps and the settlements.
My travels enabled me to learn a wide variety of traditional music. I get into the stories behind the songs, the roots of the roots music. So much old lore lies embedded in America’s old songs and before I play them, I love to tell you why “Leather Breeches” isn’t about pants or that “Shove The Pig’s Foot A Little Further Into The Fire” has nothing to do with pork.
Oh, and let’s not forget that music was not traditionally a spectator sport. At my show, no matter the theme, you might just be dancing or participating in a Play Party song, clapping to provide the rhythm or playing the mouth trumpet. We turn the way-back machine to a time when you cleared the cabin out, put the rug outside, and got all the guests kicking up the dust.
Traveling the Deep North via music and stories: Check out this short clip to see what it looks like!
Here’s How I Do It
Very few people do what I love to do: Play a varied, engaging, foot-stomping solo music show and at the same time tell stories about the songs, tell stories about the ground beneath your feet and the people who once walked it. Call it info-tainment, call it a musical history symposium…I guarantee you will not call it “boring.”
Whether I play with a class of elementary kids, a creative writing group, a library gathering, or a senior organization, I perform a unique show every time, tailored to that audience. I have shows in one-, two-, and even three-hour lengths. I offer themed shows or variety shows, your choice. I can spend a whole evening talking about lumber camps, The Civil War, The Metis or the Red River Carts. I can mix it up and move things around based on what your audience might enjoy.
Feel free to suggest a topic! I know a great deal of music and I learn—and write—new songs all the time.
Once you choose a theme for your event, I do the rest. I bring a professional sound system where necessary, I come in costume (I started at the Renaissance Festival and I enjoy setting the mood that way), and I bring the energy. Check out the themes I offer:
Fred’s Choice: A medley of eras, songs, stories…the sampler plate!
Civil War: A popular theme, I cover Minnesota’s participation and general Civil War stories.
Fur Trade: From the Voyageurs to the Metis, from Grand Portage to Pembina, this show brings you back to the days before Minnesota truly existed as such
The Pineries: Learn what it was like to be a lumberjack, a river hog, or a raftsman. From wood-butchers to logger’s pox, it was a rough business!
Settlers: They came by cart, stage, conestoga, steamboat, and railroad and they built what we know as Minnesota today. But between the locust plagues, bank crashes, and culture clashes our forebears paid a heavy price for their new lives.
Native American: This theme brings to bear all of the other themes with an especial focus on the impact to the various Native American tribes that live in Minnesota.
African American: Like the blues? Ragtime? Tin Pan Alley, hokum, and jug band music? I do too and I can talk and sing about the roots of the music and the connection with our area all night.
Critters, Creepies, and Countryside: I sing all my animal, bug, and landscape songs!
Who Is This For?
Everyone! As one of my best friends mentioned recently, “I never thought I liked history until I heard you play and talk about it.”
I perform for pre-K, to senior groups, and everyone in between. Some shows need to be more hands-on and participatory, some need to be more conversational. I respond to your group’s needs.
Recently I received an Art In The Schools Grant through the East Central Regional Art Council to do an Artist In Residency at East Central Schools north of Sandstone. I spent a week teaching kids in grades K-6 (over 450 by the end of the week) about old Minnesota by singing and telling stories. We sang together, rowed an imaginary voyageur canoe together, wrote our own blues songs, and danced together.
Check out this clip of one of my classes during that week to see how I work with young folk.
What Does It Cost?
I like to keep things simple and up front. Here are my fees based on length of show:
$400 for a one-hour show
$500 for a two-hour show
$600 for three-hour show
Should your show—due to distance or lateness—require me to make overnight accommodations I will require either a $100 fee (for meals and hotel) or we can negotiate other lodging as appropriate.