For more than four decades, four men from St. Michael and the nearby area have been picking and grinning, playing rock and roll and old time music for fans from ballrooms to backroom bars.
Imagine their surprise Friday, when the four men–The Blazers–take center stage at the Minnesota State Fair’s Ramberg Senior Center.
“It’s taken us 40-some years,” said Sheldon Barthel of St. Michael. “But, boys, we’re finally playing the big fair.”
The Blazers feature Barthel on guitar and lead vocal, Arlyn Koecher of Loretto on accordion and vocals, Tim Dalbec of Delano on drums and Mieny Daleiden of St. Michael on trumpet and vocal. The group has been together for 46 years, Barthel said, and just played the Wright County Fair this year, as well.
“It’s interesting. I was down at the State Fair last year, and just kind of asked a guy, ‘How do they pick the bands?’ He gave me a name, and I decided to call the guy, because I was just kind of curious.”
Barthel made the call in December. By February, he found out his band was in the lineup, after sending a requested CD down to the State Fair brass.
“I guess they must have liked it,” Koecher said.
Fans of old time music are no strangers to The Blazers. They played the St. Michael Historic Church in 2010, and recorded that session, much to everyone’s delight. The CD has now sold, literally, hundreds of copies. They’ll have some down at the State Fairgrounds for fans, as well.
“I guess the fair will get their cut,” Barthel said with a laugh. “We hope to sell some. That’d be great to get some new fans.”
The Blazers started as just a three piece band in the St. Michael area back in 1964, back when the St. Michael Ballroom, The Red Vest in Rockford and the “original” Medina Ballroom were the places to be. They were also regulars at the 1050 Club in nearby Greenfield.
Arlyn, Tim and Sheldon eventually added Mieny, who originally “played for a beer or two” when the guys would play on weekends.
“After a while, I told him we had to start paying him. He was playing with us so often,” Barthel said.
All four men, quite literally, grew up together. They would take years off, here or there, but a request would eventually come for their services, and they’d pick up their instruments and pick up the act.
“We could always throw it together,” Koecher said.
More than four decades later, they can still pull it off. In fact, Barthel said, the fact all four are semi-retired now makes it easier to schedule gigs from spring until late fall (Mieny heads south for the winters).
“I think we have more fun, now, than we did way back when we were younger. It was kind of a second job back then. Now, we keep it loose. There’s a lot of banter on stage, and you can hear that on our CD. It’s almost like A Prairie Home Companion, where you hear all the stuff that goes on during a set,” Barthel said.
“I can’t think that any of us thought it would last this long,” Koecher added. “I thought maybe a couple years.”
The Blazers (who took their name from a set of skis) will play Friday at 10:30 a.m., 11:45 a.m. and 1 p.m. Saturday, they’ll be on the Ramberg stage in the afternoon.
If you want to see them closer to home, they’ll take the stage for the ninth straight year at the 152 Club’s Oktoberfest Celebration at 2 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 1.