Up in the northwest corner of Minnesota’s Kittson County, near the sand ridges in Poppleton Township, is perhaps one of the best kept secrets of all time.
No one was keeping it from me, I was just unaware until now, that there’s a fabulous band in those parts that has two keyboardists, a couple of fiddlers, and pickers of banjos, mandolins, dobroes and guitars. Where have I been the dozen years they’ve been together?
One night last week, I drove to Drayton, N.D., met up with Roger Weinlaeder who then took us the rest of the way to Lancaster, Minn. Now I testify that I have seen the light and I’m fully aware of the Popple Ridge Pickers and their fun-loving, faith-filled bluegrass Gospel music.
Dear goodness do I love it.
For two hours they rehearsed the music they’ll do for a 4 p.m. concert on Sunday, March 4, in All Faiths Chapel at the Life Skills and Transition Center in Grafton, N.D.
Popple Ridge Pickers have a pact. They never charge for a concert. Only free-will offerings are received so that others may reap the benefits. With about 120 concerts under their belts, the band has helped with such things as raising money to replace windows at a Bible camp.
“We love projects,” said Galen Nordin, Popple Ridge Pickers guitarist, singer and pastor of Lancaster’s Evangelical Covenant Church.
The Grafton concert is a fund-raiser for Project 24’s Child Care Program. Because of his involvement with Project 24, Roger has made several trips to Kenya, Africa. He and I talked about that from Drayton to Lancaster and back to Drayton again.
Project 24’s mission is to build 24 rescue centers for vulnerable children in Kenya. Five centers have been completed, the sixth is under construction. It’s Child Care Program, for which this concert is being given, allows vulnerable Kenyan children the opportunity to successfully complete school while living in a rescue center. Along with the daily needs of life, the goal is to prepare these children to be Christ centered resourceful citizens of Kenya in the future.
Pastor Bernie Seter, of Grafton’s All Faiths Chapel, also has made several trips to Kenya and is very involved with Project 24. A guitarist as well as a prolific song writer, Bernie will be a member of the band at Sunday’s concert. They will do two songs he’s written, “Five Smooth Stones,” and “Children of No One,” plus many of everyone’s all-time good ole Gospel favorites.
Eight of the Popple Ridge Pickers are from the Evangelical Covenant Church in Lancaster. Two are from the Covenant Church in Kennedy, Minn.
Besides Galen, there’s: Lyndon Johnson, banjo and mandolin; Van Pankratz, mandolin and fiddle; Kenny Hultgren, vocals; Dan Vagle, bass and dobro; Janelle Hostrup, keyboard; Bruce Steen, guitar and piano; Matt Voeltz, bass; Ray Housker, guitar and fiddle, and Erik Finney, who happens to be a cousin of East Grand Forks’ very own Maury Finney.
Back a dozen years or so, many around Lancaster knew all this people were musicians. “I had always done music and Bruce had always done music,” Galen said, “But never together.”
Someone asked them to get together to do songs country music singer Alan Jackson had recorded on his “Precious Memories,” record.
Soon they gained more musicians and were asked to do a concert to kick-off the church’s building project. “God blessed that in so many ways,” Galen says.
Then out of the blue they realized there was no turning back. After 12 years, “We are semi-pro,” I heard one of them say. “Mostly semi.”
I’m sure you’ll want to attend the concert in Grafton to see and hear for yourself, what blessed me the other night in Lancaster – that every lyric and guitar, mandolin, banjo and dobro lick, comes from deep within the soul of each musician.
Among their songs: “In The Sweet By and By;” “God of the Mountain,” “Why Me Lord;” “I Saw the Light,” “Give Me Jesus,” “Down to the River to Pray,” “Shall We Gather at the River,” “What a Friend,” “How Great Thou Art,” “By the Mark (Where the Nails Had Been);” “I Believe,” “Old Rugged Cross,” “He Touched Me.” And then there’s “Amazing Grace,” which doesn’t get any better than bluegrass style.
Dan said the music “is a good way to outreach (to others) while getting outreached yourself. There’s something that happens between our instruments and people’s ears.”
Janelle added, “We are a family and it’s wonderful. It’s a mission and I love it.”
“You think you are blessing others but you end up being blessed yourself,” Erik said. “It isn’t boring to be a Christian.”
Van adds, “We’ve gotten to play for people who are totally against God’s Word. Something happens and it’s wonderful to be a part of it.”
And then there’s Bruce. “I don’t really like these guys at all,” he says with a straight face. “I just love playing for the Lord.”
So there you have it. The secret is out. Don’t keep it to yourself.