Sound of music delights neighbors, area residents and school children
By Jennie Zeitler, Staff Writer
There was just no telling that what started out as a jam session with an instructor and two students would develop into a weekly gathering of old friends playing and singing for friends and neighbors.
In about 1996, Kelsi Olson Anderson was taking fiddle lessons from Paul Cofell, a long-time instructor at St. Francis Music Center. One night Kelsi’s dad, Keith Olson, who was taking banjo lessons from Cofell, joined them and what would eventually become the Oakstreet Redneck Rescue Band was born.
Keith’s wife, Karen, was given a string bass for Christmas, something she didn’t have a clue how to play. After working on that for a while, she joined the group.
“We met Ed Strickland through the Bluegrass Festival and then he joined us,” said Keith.
People kept coming and it wasn’t long before the group outgrew the Olsons’ basement. Then Keith built the “shed” in early 2004.
Not an average shed, it has tongue-in-groove walls and ceiling, and shiny flooring over the cement. The walls are lined with musical and Little Falls historical memorabilia. A dune buggy in the corner is guarded by three reclining stuffed lions, all wearing sunglasses.
Not a formal group, members are friends. Sheryl Johnson on guitar and husband, Brad Johnson on dobro (a resonator guitar) come from Swanville.
Rachael Cota, Little Falls science teacher, plays the stump fiddle.
Herbie D’Aigle plays the tenor banjo, guitar, harmonica and mandolin, whatever the song calls for. He is better known as “Mississippi Herbie,” and hails from Fort Ripley.
Many in the band have played in a number of different groups. Dan Wolfe on guitar has entertained hundreds in Little Falls during summer concerts at Maple Island Park. The mainstay of his performances is music from the era between the world wars.
“I’m often called on at the last minute to fill in for someone within maybe a 120-mile radius, and am pretty comfortable playing with someone I’ve never even seen before,” Wolfe said.
Strickland is a former member of the band, CC Chips. He plays at a number of venues around Little Falls.
Gary Stacken on guitar drives in from Merrifield. “It’s worth it; we have a good time,” he said.
One friend comes down from Duluth occasionally, with his son and grandson, who live in Brainerd.
Since the Olsons live at the end of Oak Street, that part of the band’s name was a natural conclusion. They see themselves as rednecks and have a lot of fun playing that role.
“It’s just fun getting together and enjoying each other,” said Strickland.
The “rescue” part of the name came about when Keith Olson found himself buying an old first responder ambulance from a friend through a silent auction.
“It is pretty handy to haul around the string bass,” said Sheryl Johnson.
After the acquisition of the ambulance, Karen Olson is credited with coming up with the name, “Oakstreet Redneck Rescue Band.”
The band jams once a week all year ‘round. There are sometimes up to 20 people joining in.
Once a year they play for the kindergartners at Swanville School. “We used to play for the 100th Day Celebration, but now we go on St. Patrick’s Day. We’ve been doing it for five years and the kids really enjoy it,” said Sheryl.
The group plays at nursing homes in Little Falls and the pig feed at Herbie’s Bar. They played at Charlie’s Pizza’s grand opening last year. They entertained the sister city group of visitors from Le Bourget, France last summer.
Most members of the band belong to a Lions club or the Dandee Lions and the ambulance is used for parades to pull the Lions float.
Everybody plays at the annual Minnesota Bluegrass Festival near Rockville in August. “We have a campsite where we set up a canopy, we jam, and ‘talk smart,’” said Karen Olson.
Several tables with chairs are set up in the shed for the neighbors and friends who wander over once the music starts. “Sometimes there are as many as 35 people listening to us,” said Keith Olson.
“This is the best thing about this neighborhood,” said neighbor, Kathy Whittington. “It’s so cool.”
“And we have Gordon Rosenmeier looking down on us,” said Keith Olson, who taught art for 34 years at Little Falls Community High School. On the ceiling is an original chalk drawing of Rosenmeier done by Little Falls native and artist Wesley Sod.
“Rosenmeier was a speaker of the Minnesota State Senate, whose father was instrumental in bringing Camp Ripley to Morrison County,” said Keith. “The drawing was made up for a campaign and was later used for Rosenmeier’s retirement celebration. It was held at the brand new Little Falls High School and the governor had to authorize the serving of alcohol.”
The drawing is nicely framed under glass, and screwed to the ceiling of the shed. “I didn’t know where else to put it,” said Keith.
“Being able to be out here with these guys from all different walks of life is a neat way to take a break from life, to be creative,” said Cota. “I’ve met a lot of neat people out here and they’re really good friends.”