Pickin' partners Justin Lansing and Joe Mailander really know how to keep their audience on its toes.
You'll never guess which Minnesota band has earned a slot performing alongside Phish, the Strokes and M.I.A. at the Austin City Limits Festival in October.
The Okee Dokee Brothers, that's who -- and their ACL gig might be less to brag about than the scene they produced at 11 a.m. one day last week at the Rosalie E. Wahl Public Library in Lake Elmo.
"Who's got the tippiest toes?!" singing-and-picking partners Joe Mailander and Justin Lansing asked their attentive crowd. Fans proceeded to rise in unison to answer their question, as if preschool music had finally found its version of hip-hop's "Throw your hands in the air!"
Two bearded, hippie-ish bluegrass/folk musicians who transplanted to the Twin Cities from Denver, Mailander and Lansing originally set out to be regular old misery-loving singer/songwriters like so many other college dudes with guitars. But they took a sidetrack into the kids' music realm after they formed a 501(c) nonprofit side to their "adult" bluegrass quartet, Medicinal Strings, which brought them to day-care centers and family shelters.
"We had to narrow down our act for the kids, starting with taking any and all vulgarity out," Lansing recalled with a smirk. "Somehow, though, working in that narrower niche really opened up a whole other level of creativity."
Modeling their music after children's songs by Jerry Garcia and Woody Guthrie, the two childhood friends (ages 24 and 25) stepped out two years ago as the Okee Dokee Brothers, a harmonizing, yokel-ish, semi-slapstick string-picking duo -- the kind that has a song called "The Naked Truth" and it's not about a relationship gone awry. It's actually about a guy who likes to run around nude. You can just imagine the tee-hee-hee value.
It might not be the music career Lansing and Mailander imagined for themselves, but Okee Dokee really has become a career. The duo quickly found out just how full-time a kids' music act can be.
"We can't really have day jobs because we have to be able to perform during the day, seven days of the week," said Mailander, the blue-eyed, sandy-haired Brother (a sharp contrast to Lansing's brown eyes and dark, bushy head).
"The schedule for kids' music, done to the full extent, is like adult music on steroids. Instead of the typical musician who can only get gigs on Friday or Saturday nights in seven or eight clubs around town, we can play on a Thursday morning or a Monday afternoon at any library, kids' store, day care, school."
On Saturday morning, the Okee Dokees will perform at the Electric Fetus record store in Minneapolis to promote "Take It Outside," the more polished follow-up to their scraggly debut, "Kids With Beards." Other gigs include stints at the Minnesota Bluegrass & Old-Time Music Festival (Aug. 13-14), the State Fair (Sept. 4-5), a West Coast tour, plus many, many more public libraries (including ones in Richfield on Monday, Waconia on Wednesday and Stillwater on Thursday).
A noble ode to kids turning off the TV and video games and heading outdoors, "Take It Outside" was produced by Tor Hyams, a veteran songwriter and producer from Los Angeles who has helmed kids' music albums for Disney. Hyams also now books the kids' stages at both the ACL Fest and Lollapalooza, aka Austin Kiddie Limits and Kidzapalooza. In addition to the aforementioned "Tippy Toes" and "Naked Truth," highlights from "Take It Outside" that have been worked into the duo's live set include the Yoda- and Frodo-referencing ditty "Hero" and the counting number "Auctioneer." The latter song also gets played at their "adult" gigs, the couple times a month they still play them. ("Except instead of auctioning off a CD like we do at the kids' shows, we auction off Justin at the adult shows," Mailander cracked.)
Hilariously, the guys have also tried to adapt some of their "adult" songs into the kids' show but failed, including one called "Munchies." Said Mailander, "Parents might get a little too suspicious of how that one came about."
As silly as they can get on and off stage, the Brothers are serious about taking their new act as far as they can.
"With kids' acts, you can explore a lot of other creative outlets beyond just writing and recording songs," Lansing said, pointing to music videos as well as other filmmaking plans and skits/comedy. "We have a lot of fun ideas."
At least it all sounds like a lot more fun than that miserable songwriter idea.Red on the green
St. Paul's roots music label Red House Records is following up last year's well-received Blues at the Barn concert in Red Wing with its Red House Barnfest on Saturday (1-7:30 p.m., $25-$30, free for kids under 10). The festival is being staged outside a green barn -- alas, spoiling the all-red theme -- located at 920 Hwy. 19, also the home of harpmakers Hobgoblin Music.
It will still feature a couple of Red House's bluesy acts, Spider John Koerner and Cliff Eberhardt, but the lineup also spotlights its roster of folk and alt-twang acts, including Pieta Brown (with Bo Ramsey), Storyhill, Wailin' Jennys singer Ruth Moody and Texas newbie Danny Schmidt. Also cool is a "songwriters spotlight" with up-and-comers Erik Koskinen and Brianna Lane.Random mix
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After rejoining Mason Jennings' band for last weekend's Lowertown Music Fest (just an occasional thing), Rob Skoro is focusing his attention on the Nordeast Music Fest, happening Aug. 20-22 in the 331 Club/Ritz Theater area with Haley Bonar, the Hopefuls, Dark Dark Dark, Zoo Animal and many more. ... The ever-nomadic Sound Unseen festival -- showcasing movies about music -- will land at the Southern Theater for its 11th annual run Oct. 7-9. ...
Probably through no fault of their own, members of the Hold Steady pulled a Prince on a half-full crowd at the Turf Club on Saturday night, making people wait until 2 a.m. before it was finally all too obvious they were not going to take the stage. The band was back in town celebrating guitar tech Dusty Miller's marriage to Jessica Treft. Rumor had it (and a Turf Club ad promising "very special guests" certainly suggested) the post-wedding party would be a surprise HS gig. Instead, Craig Finn & Co. watched from the sidelines as Miller's own band, Voitek, and the Blind Shake played blissful sets, as did the Dynamiters, whose Dave Gardner performed the wedding ceremony that afternoon -- the only surprise, in the end.
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