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A taste of old-time Nashville -- Area man brings his hit show to Fargo Theatre

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A man of many trades when it comes to the entertainment business, Pelican Rapids graduate Bruce Arntson is bringing his hit Nashville show to Fargo next month.

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Arntson, who has written screenplays, composed music for movies, produced pieces written for television -- "Just kind of an entertainment whore" -- grew up outside Pelican Rapids on Pelican Lake, and is returning to the area April 19 to bring his show The Doyle & Debbie Show to the Fargo Theatre.

Graduating from high school in 1973, Arntson played in rock bands throughout high school and then onto the Fargo-Moorhead area, and eventually Oregon and Lake Tahoe areas before settling in Minneapolis for a period of time.

He played piano and saxophone alongside several band members including Johnny Holmes, Imagine That's Dave Prentice -- who was from the Unbelievable Uglies, "who I had grown up idolizing" -- and Skunk Hollow, where he met Merrill Piepkorn.

Piepkorn, who has kept in touch with Arntson since playing the Midwest circuit in Skunk Hollow, is the man behind the Doyle & Debbie Show coming to Fargo.

Two college friends went to see the Doyle & Debbie Show and raved to Piepkorn that he needed to see it as well.

"They were so impressed with it, it got me going. Well, I'd like to go too, but I thought I'd spend like four times as much money as it would take to go see it in Nashville to just bring the show here," Piepkorn said with a laugh.

During their days together in Skunk Hollow, "Bruce always brought new, refreshing energy to our group. We already had a good band, but Bruce introduced swing to the band, and comedy, with the introduction of a couple Spike Jones songs. Spike Jones was a famous musical comedian, kind of like Bruce."

Arntson and his girlfriend at the time, Paulette Carlson, a singer from Hawley, moved to Nashville around 1980. He had been playing rock music up until then, but Nashville is where his girlfriend, who had been singing country, wanted to try her luck. Turned out to be a good move for Arntson as well.

"At that point, I had been playing in bands all those years and decided to go for it and see what I could do in Nashville, even though I wasn't playing so much country music as R&B, rock and roll," he said.

"I played in bands here for a bit, but then slowly gravitated toward working in film and television somewhere around 15-20 years ago, and that's mainly how I've made my living."

He had also been doing some work at Country Music Television (CMT), writing and producing biography shows.

"So I was pouring over old video and doing a lot of research for those biographies and I just started collecting more and more little anecdotes that were begging to be parodied."

He spent years collecting material and took a year writing the Doyle & Debbie Show. He wrote the female part around his friend Jenny Littleton, whom he had met working together on a film.

"There is a sort of an odd, old-time showbiz formality that the Grand Ole Opry still kind of has, and that it definitely had back in the days that I was listening to the archives, and there's an old hillbilly vaudeville aspect to it that is very enduring and at the same time hilarious to me."

That was the basis for his character, Doyle.

"Then there's the tradition of the girl singer who's sort of treated like a pet. The whole culture is very sexist, but old-timey sexist, not mean sexist. It's just a part of the culture, part of that generation that produced that, but nonetheless, we play up that sexism and rah, rah patriotism a lot in our show."

The quaintness of the material is fun, but when put into today's culture and entertainment world, it comes off as silly, he said.

"The old southern soap opera gothic aspect to the things that they sang about and then their tabloid private lives, all of that was just great fodder for satirization."

He and Littleton started performing the Doyle & Debbie Show nearly two years ago, and have seen more success than they expected, he said. Based in Station Inn in Nashville, the performance will be one of a handful done outside of Music City.

"His whole career has kind of led up to this. It's all kind of a big melting pot, an idea pot, he's just been building and building and adding material. I think it all culminated to this," Piepkorn said.

Arntson said he used to say writing is what he loved most throughout his variety of jobs, but since being back on stage with the Doyle & Debbie Show after 15 years of being behind the scenes, he said, "this is the most fun I've ever had," so performing has taken a front seat to writing.

Coming back to the Pelican Rapids-Detroit Lakes-Fargo area is nothing new to Arntson. He said he usually visits a couple times a year since his friends and family still live in the area. Therefore, it was an easy decision to bring the show to Fargo. Especially since it was an old band mate asking him.

"He sort of turned into a promoter for this show, thinking he could hopefully fill the place with enough folks that remembered the old bands," Arntson said of Piepkorn.

"He's a great guy, and he loves his mom a lot," Piepkorn said with a laugh.

The April 19 show is at the Fargo Theatre, and tickets go on sale Monday, March 24. They are $22 for general admission, and there are also a limited number of VIP tickets available, which include a post-show meet and greet. They are $45. Tickets are available at www.fargostuff.com or by calling 701-235-4152.

Doors open at 7 p.m. with pre-show music by Piepkorn's Radio Stars Trio, and the Doyle & Debbie Show begins at 8 p.m.

For more information on the show, visit www.doyleanddebbie.com.

"It's kind of got a country music, Rocky Horror Show cult aspect to it where people just come back a dozen times or more. We weren't expecting that at all. It's just been fun," Arntson said.

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