“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 close to thirty 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.
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. You get a teacher and an organizer and an instigator!
Traveling the Deep North via music and stories: Check out this short clip to see what it looks like!
Here Are The Programs!
Each of these programs can be tailored to meet specific needs so don’t feel constrained.
The Skally Line
The Skally Line is Fred Keller and Bill Cagley and guests if need be. This is the main combination of everything that I do. Come to a Skally Line show and we’ll time-travel together to strange corners of Minnesota and meet long lost ancestors. You might all wind up becoming voyageurs together singing a paddling song in French. You might learn to speak a few words of Ojibwe. You will all be smiling, tapping your feet, or clapping, I guarantee it. And if there’s enough room, we’ll have ourselves a little bit of dancing like people did long ago. There’s no better way to meet your neighbor.
Community Programs and School Work
Whether it’s a night of storytelling, a group class teaching music or dance, or participating in summer camps throughout the region, I believe that the old stories and the old songs can bring people together. Music will always feature in this program but it might not be the main feature. I’ve taught history to 3rd-6th grade classes up in the Roseau area, I’ve organized square dances, and I’ve taught summer camp kids how to sing rounds and play kazoo. It’s not a show; it’s a group activity and your audience will be there to participate and learn something. I can teach to Minnesota State Educational Standards and I can even develop lesson plans with enough lead time. Drop a note and I can tailor this show specifically to your topic, class, or audience.
Passing The Tradition On
I teach mandolin through Blackbird Music in Minneapolis as well as with remote learning tools. I’ve taught individuals and groups, kids and adults. I can teach mandolin, some basic guitar, as well as the ins and outs of various different traditional genres like Irish, blues, bluegrass, and old time. I can personally teach a small number of group dances and I have access to professional dance callers should you wish.
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 or events need to be more hands-on and participatory, some need to be more conversational. I respond to your group’s needs.
Check out this clip of one of my classes during that week to see how I work with young folk.
What Does It Cost?
Fees for this kind of work vary depending on circumstance. Please contact me for a firm quote that encapsulates precisely what you want and works with your budget. For example, I can often bundle shows up (i.e., do 2-3 in your neighborhood in one day) to create a savings.
I can also help you with grants. The nature of the beast is that I cannot write the grant but if you are a non-profit and have access to The Legacy Fund or other institutions, I can assist you if you like. I can offer input and suggestions to ease the process.
I made a conscious effort to hold 2023 pricing at my pre-pandemic rate. Looking forward, harsh realities have forced me to shoot for a modest increase to keep up with life’s necessities. All prices are negotiable but here’s what we shoot for:
$800 for a 1-hour program
$900-1,000 for a 2-hour program
$1,200-1,400 for a 3-hour program
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.