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Sutter Brothers bring stories, songs to Holmes

The Sutter Brothers, Ross, left, and Barton, will perform together this Friday, July 18 at 2 p.m. in Detroit Lakes’ Historic Holmes Theatre. Tickets are on sale at the Holmes Box Office. SUBMITTED PHOTO

As young boys, Ross and Bart Sutter spent many a summer exploring the best fishing spots in the Detroit Lakes area.

“Our dad grew up in that area, so we spent our summer vacations there, first with our grandparents, and then with our aunt and uncle,” says Bart Sutter.

“There was a resort there where we’d go and rent boats, row them out and catch bluegills and sunfish. On rainy and windy days, we’d fish off of Long Bridge. I’m still astonished, to this day, to think about my parents organizing those trips with eight kids.”

Their grandparents purchased a small farm to the southeast of Detroit Lakes, “and that’s how they got through the Depression,” he added. “They raised their own vegetable gardens, and the boys would fish, literally, for their supper.

“That was a lovely spot up there,” Sutter said of his grandparents’ farm. “We have lots of early memories from there. Ross even has a painting of it on the wall of his home.”

So when the Sutter Brothers bring their show to the Historic Holmes Theatre this Friday afternoon at 2 p.m., they’ll have plenty of local color to add to their songs, storytelling and poetry.

“It will definitely be a show with a Scandinavian accent, we can’t escape that,” Sutter said, referring to his family’s heritage, which is Norwegian, Swedish and Finnish.

“I’ve also got a couple of poems based on memories taken directly from the Detroit Lakes area,” added the award-winning poet, essayist and writer.

Bart Sutter, a past winner of the Minnesota Book Award and a poet laureate in his hometown of Duluth, is the more literary half of the duo, with Ross Sutter providing the musical accompaniment.

“I love my brother’s golden voice,” Bart Sutter said. “We’ve led very busy lives and careers, as separate, individual artists so I don’t get to hear him sing enough.

“When I perform with him I get to hear him sing and play, and I think he feels the same way about my work. There was always that ongoing mutual interest in each other’s work.”

That mutual admiration society had its beginnings early in their lives, he added.

Though they had been close, growing up in a family of eight siblings, “we kind of lost touch” after graduating from high school, Sutter said.

They reconnected when they were in their 20s, and began showing each other samples of what they had been working on, and “we got pretty excited,” he said. “That was kind of the beginning of our collaboration.”

Though much of their work involves performing traditional folk songs, telling stories and readings from Bart’s poetic works, the brothers do have one original work that will be performed on Friday, which Sutter refers to as “our big hit.”

“It’s called ‘When the Smelt Buckets are Loaded, I’m Coming Home to You,” he said with a laugh. “It’s a song about Duluth.”

Though Bart Sutter has made his home in Duluth for many years, his brother calls the Twin Cities his home.

“Ross is in Minneapolis, and has been for most of his adult life, except for our touring,” Bart Sutter said. “He lives on Nicollet Island, so he’s within sight of the skyscrapers, but he lives in the midst of what might as well be a tiny town. He gets the best of both worlds, really.”

While both of them ended up settling in heavily populated areas, they have never forgotten their small-town roots, Sutter added.

“You never really get over that (small-town mindset) altogether,” he said.

So audiences at Friday afternoon’s show will more than likely recognize some of the characters that populate the brothers’ songs and stories.

“Our material is often tied to the area where we’re performing,” said Sutter. “In the beginning it was kind of a job to get enough material together, and now after three decades of doing this we have so much that it’s hard to decide what we’re going to do. We can customize it for the venue where we’re going to be playing.”

Tickets are $10 for adults, free for students, and can be purchased online at, by phone at 218-844-7469, or by stopping in at the Historic Holmes Theatre Box Office, located at 806 Summit Ave. in Detroit Lakes.

In addition to Friday afternoon’s show, Ross Sutter will also be doing a short performance and workshop with kids at the Boys & Girls Club in Detroit Lakes at 10 a.m. Friday morning.

“He’s an expert at that,” said Bart Sutter. “There will also be time after Friday afternoon’s show for a conversation with the audience. That should be fun.”

Follow Detroit Lakes Newspapers reporter Vicki Gerdes on Twitter at @VickiLGerdes.

Vicki Gerdes

Staff writer at Detroit Lakes Newspapers for the past 16 years, currently editor of the entertainment and community pages as well as covering city council and the Lake Park-Audubon School Board. Living in DL with my cat, Smokey.

(218) 844-1454