All in the Family: The Downtown Music Family Tree

The Downtown Music Family Tree - illustration by Zach Kobrinsky

Pat Lenertz on brotherhood

Pat Lenertz is a Fargo-Moorhead musician. He is the lead singer and guitarist for four bands: Heavy is the Head, The Quarterly, Bad Mojo and The Legionnaires, although the Legionnaires are currently on hiatus. How can one man lead so many successful bands at a time?

According to Lenertz, “There’s a whole collective unity amongst members of different bands and even across sub-genres….

“I don’t feel as if playing a gig is directly correlated with cutting someone out of a gig. People might feel that way in a larger city, per se, but I think there is definitely a feeling… of unity and brotherhood.”

Why Fargo is better than Minneapolis

Seth Holden performing with Sovereign Sect - Photo by Nicole Hofer

“I can personally vouch for Fargo being better than Minneapolis.” This is coming from Seth Holden of Sovereign Sect, a seasoned electronica group from F-M that has gained a reputation in F-M, Minneapolis and beyond.

According to Holden, bigger cities can never appreciate music that way the F-M downtown scene does.

“When you have that much music, you’re spoiled,” he said, “and you turn your nose up at everything…. The enthusiasm in Fargo is something not found in other cities, that’s for sure.”

Getting weird with Werewolf Bar Mitzvah

Tom Johnson on stage with the Johnson Family Band (one of the many groups he performs with) - Photo by Zach Kobrinsky

In some ways the downtown music scene has a little catching up to do. Tom Johnson (whose name is particularly not weird) and his pseudo-Semitic Avant-garde group Werewolf Bar Mitzvah actually got kicked off stage for being too weird.

Also, it’s worth mentioning that the band name “Werewolf Bar Mitzvah” is a reference to an episode of NBC’s 30 Rock.


How it went down

The conflict began as a scheduling miscommunication at the VFW.

“Basically what happened was I was told we could start at 10 p.m.” Johnson said. “We get there, and we’re opening for Classical Chill, and the guy’s like ‘Bands start at 9:30.’ I told everyone we were starting at 10, so people were coming at 10. Basically we wanted to wait for the folks who had been drinking there since probably 4:30 (p.m.) to clear out so we could get the younger crowd in.”

“So we started playing probably our three most normal songs. I mean, we weren’t going as far out as we can go, and he came up and did a ‘you’re safe’ sign, but then he basically said, ‘You’re out of here, we’re losing business over you.’”

Let’s spell “irony”

Tom Johnson and Dianne Miller as "Tom and Dianne" - Photo by Zach Kobrinsky

The irony is that several groups of WBM patrons eventually showed up fashionably late to the show, (easily outnumbering the outgoing older crowd whose interest the bartender was defending) only to find that they had missed it altogether on account of a disgruntled bartender.

Perhaps even more ironic, however, is that word spread quite quickly over this little incident at the VFW, and WBM actually gained notoriety as a result. Weird.

Krueger Construction V.P. Corey Krueger in the recording studio - Photo by Zach Kobrinsky


Why don’t they get a real job?

There is an unfortunate truth about being a F-M musician: it doesn’t pay very well. This may come as a shock, but it is true, nonetheless. How do F-M musicians deal with it? Corey Krueger has the hook up.

Krueger, the drummer for Moody River Band and V.P. of Krueger Construction, has seen to the employ of countless F-M musicians. Corey’s father and employer, Greg Krueger the president of Krueger Construction, also happens to be a drummer. And so they share a mutual respect for the duality of a musician’s life.

According to Corey, Krueger Construction is happy to hire musicians, as long as they show up and work hard, and for the most part, they do just that.

Here is a list of some of the musicians who have worked for Krueger Construction:

- Guy Nelson (Age of Consent, Your Lord and the Infinite Soul Tribe)

- Mike Murphy (FUP, Crapbarf)

- A.J. Anderson (Necktie Suicide)

- Cody Conner (Bad Mojo, Legionnaires, Moody River, runs open mic night at  Dempsey’s)

- Tom Peckskamp (Moody River, Leaving the City)

- Charlie Young (Moody River)

- Matt Monson (Ancient Protector, Moody River)

- Pat Lenertz (Heavy is the Head, The Quarterly, Bad Mojo, Legionnaires)

Is it incestuous?

Some might call the network of F-M musicians nepotistic or even incestuous. Is this the case? From a certain point of view, one might say so, and here’s an example of why. The Fargo VFW is one of downtown’s primary music venues for locals. Nathan Pitcher, who is the lead singer of Inside Out Strings handles band booking on Thursdays at the VFW.

Oddly enough, a lot of bands that some might consider buddies to Pitcher tend to get booked (including his own group). Is this playing favorites? Does it really matter? Nepotism in a small entertainment scene is good for the gander. Besides, the F-M music roster is not nearly expansive enough to avoid it, ultimately.

Speaking of incestuous…

For the sake of full disclosure, I would be remiss if I failed to mention that aside from being a journalist, I am a freelance saxophonist. I’ve sat in with a number of aforementioned groups. Should this ethically ban me from covering these bands? The best I can do is try to stay as objective as possible.

Me not writing about bands I’ve played with would be like telling the editor of a small town paper he/she can’t write about any of his/her acquaintances. In some scenarios it is simply unavoidable. Besides, I avoid writing about groups that I am an “official member” of. Writing about groups I’ve only sat in with is a little more ethically sound, in my humble opinion.

When F-M bands don’t play well with others

In the simplest terms, one might say that F-M bands must work well with others to be able to survive. An example comes to mind of how a talented band can fail when it refuses to work well with others.

Carl Clinton and the Great Divide was once a band that embodied community among musicians. When it began, it was an amalgam of 14 prominent local musicians from groups like Sovereign Sect, Johnson Family Band, Inside Out Strings, Mindfunk Allstars and WBPN.

It had a lot of promise, but over time members of the group would wax and wane. Band members would inevitably get fed up with the leadership, peter out, and new members would come in to fill the gaps, only to inevitably quit or get fired. In the end it was a failure, because the band’s leader did not play well with others.

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