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Local singer-songwriter returns to stage

It's been 20 years since he did a full-length, live concert, so Eric Riehle might be forgiven for having a few last-minute jitters.

Instead, the local singer-songwriter's eyes were sparkling as he talked about "An Evening With A Regular Joe," which will take place this Saturday, Feb. 10, on the stage of the Historic Holmes Theatre.

"I'm ecstatic," he said in a Monday afternoon interview. "I was nervous for the first month or so after I talked to Amy (Stoller Stearns, administrator of the Historic Holmes Theatre).

"I had to get over that hurdle of wondering whether people would like it or not. But it was pretty easy to get over that hurdle with a little encouragement and support -- and I have support from every corner."

Riehle, a Detroit Lakes native who attended Lincoln Elementary, Holmes Junior High and Detroit Lakes Senior High School, played his first original song on the same stage where he will be performing Saturday, when it was still part of Holmes Junior High School.

"I learned to play the guitar when I was 13," he said. "I can't really remember a time when I wasn't writing songs."

His interest in songwriting has waxed and waned through the years, as his teenage dreams of being a rock star gave way to dreams of hearth and home and a steady job working as a painter. (He even owned and operated a paint contracting business in Phoenix, Ariz., at one time.) But through it all, Riehle has never given up on songwriting completely.

"It wasn't until recently, however, that I began to take myself and the craft of songwriting seriously," Riehle said.

His interest was sparked after a rare appearance as part of the lineup for the first annual Holmes Spun Talent Show, which also took place at the Holmes Theatre.

He had teamed up for that performance with his lifelong friend Stacy Abrahamson, who performed a duet with him on a song he had created especially for the show, "Waitin' on a Sunnier Day."

"Stacy and I have known each other for the lion's share of our lives," Riehle said, adding that he currently works with Stacy's husband, Eric, in the local paint contracting business. "I would argue that Stacy has the voice of the angels."

After that show, Riehle's father -- who while supportive, had never been effusive in his praise for his son's musical skills -- came up to him and said, "You could sell that song!"

That proved to be a catalyst for Riehle's renewed interest in the craft. He's played a few small engagements since, including an appearance with Abrahamson at a Lions Club dinner in Vergas (an appearance arranged by Stearns).

But this Saturday's free performance will mark Riehle's official return to the concert stage. In the years since that talent show performance, he has continued to perfect his songwriting skills, and now, Riehle said, "one of my goals is to hear one of my songs performed on the WE Fest stage."

"I would like to be able to sell my songs to the major recording artists," he said.

Riehle's ability to cross genres -- "I consider myself an eclectic songwriter, from rock and country to folk and blues," he said -- should make that task easier.

As for Saturday's show, Riehle said his goal was to present his music without pretense or artifice.

"I don't want to convey an image of arrogance or untouchability -- I've never had a taste for that," he said. "I never tried to sell myself as an enigmatic performer."

Hence, the show's name.

Once upon a time, "I wanted to be a rock star," he said. But every time he seemed to be within reach of that goal, he pulled back.

"I figure there had to be a reason," he said. "I knew I was good at what I did (songwriting and performing). But something inside didn't want me to wind up in some big rock and roll act."

The last stage show he performed in was on April 15, 1989, opening for Lita Ford in Tucson, Ariz.

"The next day, I got on a plane for Denver," he said -- and left the rock and roll life behind.

After 10 years of playing in a variety of touring rock bands, he decided to settle down with the woman who would become his wife, Terrin.

The couple settled in Cheyenne, Wyo., for three years, where Riehle earned a journeyman's certificate in painting. They moved to Phoenix in 1991, where Riehle eventually started a paint contracting business.

"The terror of 9/11 and the desire to both be closer to family and give our kids (Dylan and Kaitlin) the benefit of a good Minnesota education had us moving back to the lakes area in mid-2002," he said.

"I love life in the lakes area," he said. "I've been blessed with a wonderful, healthy family... moving home was one of the best decisions we've ever made.

"I have no regrets."

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