Galactic Cowboy Orchestra comes to DL
Are you ready for some rock? How about art-rock? Or newgrass art-rock?
The Historic Holmes Theatre’s 2013-14 season officially gets underway this Thursday, Sept. 26 with a performance by the Galactic Cowboy Orchestra.
“I’m thrilled to kick off the season with GCO!” says Amy Stoller Stearns, executive director of the Historic Holmes Theatre. “I’ve admired this band for quite some time. They are extremely talented musicians and their style of mixing and fusing various genres of music together makes for an enticing concert.”
As part of their visit to the lakes area, the musicians of GCO will be making a stop at Lake Park-Audubon High School in Lake Park to spend the morning working with members of the school’s concert band.
“Of course, we love when musicians come to our region and share their talents with kids, and I’m sure it’ll be a great experience for those students,” Stearns said.
Elisa (“Lisi”) Wright, who serves as GCO’s publicist when she isn’t playing violin with the band, said they will be working with the LP-A students on taking a familiar pop song and putting their own unique spin on it.
“We’ll be bringing in a pop song and learning it with the students, then changing it up a little bit, seeing if we can make it even cooler, by changing the groove or the time signature, making it minor instead of major (key), and just messing around with some different arrangement options,” said Lisi.
She added that the experience will hopefully expose the students to a form of musical expression beyond the typical high school band experience.
“I was in both high school band and orchestra, and that (re-arranging a popular song) was not anything I ever thought of doing,” said Lisi. “Whatever was on the page, I would play, and that was it.
“We just want to have some fun with them, messing around with the song,” she added.
Then, at 7:30 p.m., the four members of GCO will take the stage at the Historic Holmes Theatre to kick off their Arts Tour Minnesota, which will visit seven communities across the state over the course of the next year.
“We have an Arts Tour Minnesota grant that we were awarded back in March, from the Arts & Cultural Heritage Fund,” Lisi said. “We did some outreach in Moorhead during the summer, but this will be the first concert we’re performing for the tour.”
Besides Detroit Lakes and Moorhead, other stops on the tour will include International Falls, Red Wing, Albert Lea, Dassell-Cokato and Fairmont.
Lisi’s husband John Wright, who plays bass with GCO, said the band came together about four years ago, when the four of them were working as backup musicians for Mick Sterling in a country music review.
Both Lisi and John were also in Detroit Lakes last year with Mick Sterling’s “At Christmas” show, Lisi noted, adding, “That was a fun show.”
She also performs with the Fabulous Armadilloes when they need a fiddle player.
The musicians started getting together to play music that had nothing to do with the show. “I had a desire to start playing challenging instrumental music again,” John said of his reasons for starting to work with them outside of regular band rehearsals.
It didn’t take long before he, along with guitarist Dan Neale and drummer Mark O’Day, started playing and writing music together on a regular basis.
“Four months later, Lisi was in the band, and it morphed into GCO from there,” John said.
Though the band plays a mixture of cover songs and original music that they’ve written themselves, even the cover songs are given the unique spin that is GCO’s signature style.
“The cover songs that we choose are blues and country and bluegrass, which is sort of indicative of the versatility of the band,” John said. “The original compositions we put together are definitely more art-rock, jazz fusion pieces.”
But John feels that because the band’s sound is also grounded in country and bluegrass, their original music “doesn’t tend to get too ethereal or shoot over people’s heads. For some reason we have still been able to connect with audiences with the complex instrumental music and vocals we’ve been writing.”
Speaking of writing, the band has been doing a lot of that this year, in preparation for the release of their latest album, “Zombie Mouth,” in November.
“It’s half instrumental, half vocal,” said John. “We’ve always done vocals, we just didn’t write our own until maybe the last year and a half, when we decided we wanted to write our own vocals as opposed to just singing somebody else’s words.”
Though writing vocals didn’t come quite as naturally as the instrumental aspect, “we’ve got some good singers in this band and we realized that was where things were heading,” he added.
“It was a two-year process, creating this new record,” said John. “We will be doing a number of compositions from it on Thursday.”
John, Lisi and Dan Neale all share vocal duties for the band, both on the record and in their concerts. “Our drummer doesn’t sing,” John said.
But writing the group’s songs has always been a four-way collaboration, and that hasn’t changed, he added.
“Ninety percent of what we play is music we’ve written,” said John. “We all contribute. It’s a four-way collaboration whenever we’re in the same room … which is what makes up a good band, I think. Everybody has something to say or something to bring to the table.
“We’re definitely a band in the best definition of that term.”
Local audiences will have a chance to hear GCO’s unique sound this Thursday. Tickets for the show are $18 for adults, $9 for students.
The show is sponsored by Papa Murphy’s and is made possible in part by a grant provided by the Minnesota State Arts Board through an appropriation by the Minnesota State Legislature from the state’s Arts & Cultural Heritage Fund.
Tickets can be purchased online at www.dlccc.org, by calling 218-844-7469 or at the Box Office, 806 Summit Ave., Detroit Lakes (hours are 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Monday through Friday, and two hours prior to every show).
Follow Detroit Lakes Newspapers reporter Vicki Gerdes on Twitter at @VickiLGerdes.