That’s My Son
I charged at this 50s rock ‘n’ roll/rockabilly thing. HARD.
You could say I was given a vision in early 2010 that laid out the parameters of what The Holy Rocka Rollaz would become. Rocking. Authentically 50s. Bad ass. Fun. An upper midwest phenomenon that would bring joy to many.
There were wonderful moments of musical joy and ministry with drummer Matt Alexander and bassist Paul Jongeward in the South Dakota State Pen for several years. I shared with them the aforementioned vision, and soon enough, after a bit of reluctance, they bought in.
We found a cheap stand up bass online. It had, I'm not kiddin', weed whackers for strings. We learned a bunch of songs we knew would be fun to play in their original style and started rehearsing in Northeast Minneapolis with beers and the occasional bottle of whiskey. By studying the greats, a little bit of trial and error, we continued to do our best to capture the spirit of early American rock ‘n’ roll.
Apart from a couple of weird gigs in late 2010, nobody would hire us. One bar in Uptown Minneapolis did in early 2011; but they wouldn’t even list our name in the local trade ads. They thought our name was too religious.
So, here we were, a decently oiled rockin’ trio with a couple of hot sets...that nobody wanted to hire. We made a demo CD, a Youtube video and sent promo packages to places we thought might be receptive.
I finally received an email response from a very kind and enthusiastic gentleman named Bruce Fabio, who oversaw the North St. Paul History Cruzers Car Show that ran from June to September each Friday night.. He told me they’d love to have us. We were elated!
There was no pay involved, and we were told we’d be plugging into a lamp post stand for electricity. We were so hungry to get in front of people that those circumstances didn’t faze us at all.
We didn’t have a PA, so we went out and bought some powered speakers thinking they’d do the trick. The first Friday night in North St. Paul arrived. Folks, it was a steamer. Pert near 90 with tropical humidity. The evening sun shot straight at us as we unloaded our gear to set up on the side of the street.
We were excited. Nervous. Anxious to play. Sweating our butts off. After a bit of looking around we found the aforementioned lamp post and plugged in our solitary electric cord. As soon as we did, we heard an angry voice bellow out that let us know immediately this meant trouble. The voice shot out of the cheese curd stand. We turned our shocked gaze toward it and saw a man we knew was not to be messed with. He had the most piercing, grey eyes I’d ever seen. They cut right through me.
We knocked out his power. His business. He yelled at me, “If your amplifiers knock out my power tonight, there’ll be hell to pay.” I walked up to him, apologized profusely, told him we were instructed to plug into that lamp post and that we hadn’t even plugged in one amplifier yet. He didn’t care.
Thankfully, we’d only bumped a breaker switch. By pushing it back in, the cheese curd stand was instantly back in operation. But we could still feel those piercing, grey eyes burrowing in on our sweaty backs as we set up our very modest stage. With electricity now flowing and people starting to fill the streets to look at all the awesome cars, we pieced our sound system together...or so we thought.
There were old microphone cables that weren’t working, a microphone that decided to quit and another that was stolen as we set up. We didn’t even have the right adapters to hook up our newly purchased PA speakers. Here we were at our first gig that we knew somehow held extreme importance, and we couldn’t even get our sound system going.
I was shaken. My heart dropped and I had an overwhelming, sinking feeling. On top of that, I don’t do well in high heat and humidity. I was too dizzy to panic. So I went to my go to. I walked away from the stage mess, looked into the burning sun and asked God, “Lord, are you in this? I believe You told me to do this. Maybe I haven’t consulted You enough in this process.”
I turned back to the mess of our non-working equipment, ready to pack it in for the night. But, just a few minutes later a saint named Tony Braasch arrived and assessed our situation. With his expertise we started pretty much Macguveryin’ the set up enough for folks to hear some good, rough 50s rock ‘n’ roll.
It took us about two hours to set up that night, and for most of that time there was a very sweet boy with Down Syndrome who sat on Matt’s drum seat and had a blast playin’ with the drums. He loved hanging out with us while holding Matt’s drum sticks and a Mexican shaker. His smile provided a bright spot during our pandemonium.
So, with a barely put together sound system and a heartfelt prayer, we played our first set that night. If recollection serves me right, we opened with “Party Doll”, and played for a solid hour in that blazing heat. It was a joy seeing all the heads turn as we did our thing. A crowd even gathered around us.
It came time for a much needed break and I was bustin’ for some ice cold water. I saw a sign on the cheese curd stand advertising a bottle of water for one dollar. I waited my turn in line, asked for a bottle and plopped a buck down on the counter. The man with the most piercing, grey eyes you’ll ever see pushed the dollar back at me and said, “Your money is no good here.”
“Man,” I thought, “This guy is still really hot from his power goin’ out.” But then, he plopped two bottles of water onto the counter. In a very serious tone, he pointed towards Matt’s drum kit where the boy once again sat down to play, and said, “You see that boy over there on the drum set? That’s my son. I was watching you guys all night long, and I really appreciate how you have treated him and let him be with you. Any time you guys want water, pop, cheese curds or fries, they’re free for you.”
Then, he smiled. Those piercing, grey eyes also showed the window to the soul of a man who fiercely loves his boy. We shook hands, he told me his name was Ben and that his son’s name was Adam.
Sure enough, in our three summers playing next to Ben’s cheese curd stand, we never paid for any of the best cheese curds we’ve ever tasted. (My daughters, to this day, compare all cheese curds purchased in the upper midwest to Ben’s. Nobody beats ‘em.) And, there were always cold drinks offered to us from set up to tear down.
Pretty much every Friday night Adam was waiting for us as we pulled up to our spot. He’d run to our green bag to pick up his drumsticks and shaker and assume his stage position. Adam rarely left our performance area and was often right by my side as I sang and played guitar. Many times he’d put his arm between my pickin’ arm and guitar; but not once did he ever cause me to miss a note. Not that it would’ve mattered. There was just so much joy happening.
Many times I’d hear this: “That’s so sweet you let your son up there with you.” One night a lady came up to me with tears in her eyes to let me know how touched she was seeing ‘my son’ with us as we rocked. She was dismayed when I told her he was the son of the cheese curd guy. She looked around a bit, turned her gaze back at me and gave me a heart felt, “God bless you.”
And that...He has. He continues to. I often wonder if my Creator was lookin’ down on Friday nights, beaming as I wielded my Gretsch and bounced around with Adam and the Rollaz.
Maybe He was watching me like Ben watches Adam. Maybe He was cheering me on.
And maybe, He was pointing me out to His Heavenly band of angels saying, “That’s my son.”