There are just some days where you take a seat, look around, and wonder how you got there. Obviously, I’m not talking about wondering how you walked across the room to your favorite chair, and I guess I’m not really wondering—questioning—so much as . . . pondering. In the ever-present, seemingly never-changing work of getting the next gig, I found myself pondering how I got to this point in my musical endeavors.
I’m living in the Brainerd Lakes Area, and, while I just started playing music in this region back in February 2017, my experience performing in public goes a bit further back to playing open stages in college; graduating to an off-campus pizza place that hired me to play in their basement that was barely big enough for a bar, a small stage, and a few tables; and leaving college to join my brother’s rock band. We created our own little circuit in north central Iowa, playing small towns and smaller bars. After a couple of years of that, and being a songwriter at heart, I formed an alternative rock/underground music band and moved to Minneapolis where we played private parties and worked our way into the high-profile underground music clubs, playing from ’82–’93.
I played in electric bands that featured some top-notch musicians up through ’87, at which point I assessed the situation and went back to my first love, acoustic guitar. I formed a trio, two acoustic guitars and an electric bass, and we continued to play in the alt-music clubs, becoming a bit of a novelty (because of the acoustic guitars) which ultimately earned us the moniker “cowpunks” in a review by the Twin Cities Reader. We recorded a 5-song release at Blackberry Way Studio, produced by two former members of Têtes Noires, and engineered by Tommy Roberts (whose name is on releases by far more popular, high-profile Minneapolis bands than mine).
Time moves on, and by ’93-’94, our bass player was accepted into law school, the rhythm guitar player wanted to front her own band, and I was 36 and feeling like I needed to assess the situation. I stepped back from being part of my rhythm guitarist’s band, though I did lay down some Dobro and banjo tracks for her CD, and started writing and practicing in a style more oriented towards cultural centers, coffee houses, and roots music festivals. This was a return to my earliest interests when I was playing back in college—country blues, bottleneck guitar, harmonica.
As it went, within a couple of years my wife’s brother, a Viet Nam vet, became terminally ill. We were the only ones in a position to help. The next 3½ years marked a turning point in our lives where, suddenly, our most important decisions were not about where we were going to eat after work on a Friday or whether we would see music or a movie on any given night. We went on with our lives as normally as you can when you know unpredictability is just over your shoulder. My music was pushed to the background as I worked as a delivery driver for the Walker Art Center, and my wife and I dealt with her brother’s declining health and, finally, his death. The one-door-closes-another-opens cliche exists for a reason. Soon after he passed away, we learned we were expecting our first child and decided to move to a smaller community, more like the places we’d each grown up. In ’02 we moved to the Brainerd area where my wife began working full-time as a marketing writer/designer for a local engineering/architecture firm and me as the stay-at-home dad, which is what I’ve been doing since we moved here in ’02.
As the kids got older, and silence during naptime was no longer worth more than my weight in gold, I started practicing my guitar again, getting the rust out. I started reading about breweries opening up, and it occurred to me that the same type of patron that would seek out a venue offering a brew that would challenge them with a complexity of tastes, might very well appreciate an environment that offered much the same type of experience: music that was complex and challenging.
Well, whether I’m right or wrong about that, I’m finding out as I go along that it’s a bit of a hit and miss proposition that any given crowd appreciates my stylistic renditions of cover tunes and original music. But this was the idea that prompted me to get serious, again, about composing sets and investing some money in my gear. That pretty much brings us up to last year when I started playing gigs in this region. I’ve been playing in Nisswa, Baxter, Brainerd, Alexandria, Perham, and Bemidji when I taped an episode of Lakeland Public Television’s Backroads program at Rail River Folk School last September.
My wife told me this was too long of an introduction to email to new venues I want to play in. Perfect, then, for an entry on a blog I rarely touch—I’m making up for all those short posts. But if you’ve made it this far, then maybe you’ll also be interested in watching the Backroads episode or listening to a short playlist on my YouTube channel. And keep an eye on my Facebook page, which I’m better about keeping up to date with my schedule.
Bruce Archer Music on Facebook