Main Street with its familiar sites such as the proud town square, nothing-fancy downtown bar and the just-a-trim barber shop will be celebrated Saturday when “I Like This Town” is performed by Jon Vezner, a Grammy Award-winning songwriter; Kevin Kling, an author, playwright and internationally recognized storyteller; and Pat Fredericks, musician, vocalist and the fiddle founder of the Daisy Dillman Band.
The show, which is a fundraiser for Historic Hutchinson, features original songs by Vezner and stories by Kling, with Frederick providing additional vocals and instrumentation. The event is taking place at Art’s Place, a fitting venue, since the former paint factory has deep roots in the community having served customers for more than 100 years.
“I Like Our Town,” which honors America’s small towns was sparked by Vezner’s own childhood. Although he grew up in Brooklyn Center, he spent his summers visiting his grandparents in Paynesville. This family connection was also at the heart of his hit song, “Where’ve You Been,” which was co-written by Don Henry and performed by Kathy Mattea. It went on to be honored with a Grammy for “Best Country Song.” It also was named “Song of the Year” in 1990 by the Nashville Songwriters Association, the Country Music Association and the Academy of Country Music.
When Vezner penned his songs about small towns, he wasn’t sure of their appeal, thinking they may only be understood by local folks, but after performing “I Like This Town,” he recognized the universal appeal of the music.
In thinking about it, he wasn’t really surprised. “... here’s my experience,” Vezner said. “The way I look at it is if you do something real, to you, chances are it’s real to somebody else. My career has been built on that — songs that are real for me. Early on I never thought that would be true, but it is.”
Kling, best known for his commentaries on National Public Radio’s “All Things Considered” and his storytelling stage shows, grew up just outside Osseo.
“... It was a great childhood,” Kling remembered. “The best friend I had in the second grade is still my best friend. I met the amazing singer/songwriter Jon Vezner a couple years back after a benefit concert for the North House Folk School in Grand Marais. Jon spent summers in Paynesville. We got talking about our childhoods and how grateful we are that they were spent in small towns. We were both out the door every summer morning and didn’t come back until we were called in for supper. We agreed the way we view life was formed a great deal by the pace and heartbeat of those years.”
Recognizing their small town common roots, a show started to emerge.
“Jon said he had songs that would be perfect and I have all kinds of stories going way back,” Kling shared. “We put a CD together, were thrilled about it, and thought it would make a great live show. And then we really lucked out when Pat Frederick joined us, he passed the big test because he’s from Excelsior, another small town kid. We performed a couple times at the 318 bar in Excelsior, at Crooners in Fridley, and also again up at North House. We really enjoy doing this show, it’s an homage to people and places we truly love.”
Kling’s stories aren’t the figment of an overactive imagination, but come from true life adventures.
“When you grow up in a town like Osseo you really don’t have to make anything up,” he grinned. “I was surrounded by town characters, myself included, and no end of great ideas brimming with tragic potential. The songs are stories as well, each one reveals another recognizable town figure or family member. There is humor and heart. We are telling our stories but the idea is to conjure the memories of home for the folks in the audience.”
Pat Frederick, who augments Vezner’s instrumentation and vocals, considers Hutchinson his adopted home.
“My wife, Beth Kost, and her entire family is from Hutch,” Frederick said. “Her father was mayor. My son and his family live in Hutchinson and our cabin is on Lake Washington.”
During performances of “I Like This Town,” Frederick plays violin, mandolin and guitar.
“I love it,” he said. “It goes from snapshot to snapshot, from song to story, story to song. I love that about it. It has a little bit of theater and it’s not a concert. It’s a hybrid that takes you through little vignettes musically and stories. It’s magical. It’s very cool.”
Frederick said it was the last year or two that he got involved with the project.
“I’ve known Jon Vezner for years and years,” he said. “We’ve kept in touch. As this thing came up, batting it back and forth with Kevin, he asked me if I would be interested? It’s continuing and it’s a work in progress for sure.”
SCHEDULING A SHOW
When Vezner had plans to visit Minnesota, he reached out to Kling and Frederick to rekindle their collaboration.
How did this weekend’s gig in Hutchinson come about? Rich Westlund, a Hutchinson native, and a mutual friend of Vezner and Frederick.
When the trio was originally performing “I Like This Town” a couple of years ago, Westlund took a group of friends to see it in Excelsior. Among them were Jim and Linda Fahey, founders of Historic Hutchinson.
“We all looked at each other and said this is a perfect show for Hutchinson,” Fahey remembered. “Everyone who grew up in rural Minnesota can relate to it and it’s so well done.”
Discussions were started about bringing the show to town. Westlund kept in contact, but it got put off due to the COVID-19 pandemic. And then out of the blue, Vezner reached out — the night before the January Historic Hutchinson meeting — with a possible date.
“I had pitched it to Historic Hutchinson as a possible fundraiser,” Fahey said. “We had a fundraiser planned to celebrate the reinstallation of the clock downtown, but some of the parts are on back order, so we didn’t get a chance to do that last fall around Thanksgiving. When this came up, it was a good opportunity to get together and keep the focus on Historic Hutchinson. It’s a quick fundraiser — connect with community and most of all to bring this production to the community. It’s really cute and well done. ... There are only 50 tickets available. We have conservative fundraising goal — every dollar helps.”
For Vezner, he plans to continue fine-tuning “I Like This Town.” He’s also a professional songwriter working with Don Henry. The two have been touring with Tom Paxton, an iconic folk singer, who received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.
“He was in Greenwich Village when Dylan came there,” Vezner said. “We’ve been touring with him for five years. I think he’s going to start backing off some, he just turned 85. He’s absolutely stunningly amazing.”
Looking ahead, Venzer said he’s at the point in his life and age where he wants to do the stuff he enjoys doing.
“... luckily I can do that,” he said. “I want to keep it about the music.”
For Kevin Kling, it’s about upcoming personal appearances. His play, “The Ice Fishing Play” is being performed this month at the Lafayette Theatre in LaGrange, Georgia. In February, he’s performing with others at “The Love Show: Hearts on Fire” at O’Shaughnessey Auditorium in St. Paul. From there it’s a workshop and performance at the White Winter Winery at Iron River, Wisconsin.
“I still get to perform in small towns around Minnesota,” Kling said. “I love the audiences, the warm receptions we are given. I can feel my blood pressure drop. There’s a pace that I appreciate, people know each other, or even if they don’t, they say, ‘Hi,’ or as Jon says, ‘I like this town.’”
Frederick is probably best known as the fiddle founder of the well-known Midwest rock group — The Daisy Dillman Band. After 46 years, the band retired in 2022.
These days you can find him working at his small studio in Excelsior where he records and writes. He also performs in a number of things including a project of his own — Pat Frederick and Low Company.
“I’m having a ball with it,” he said. “I’ve been a full-time musician my whole life. It’s been nice. I get to play the fiddle, which is really great.”
And for the local preservation group? It’s about reinstalling the clock this spring in front of Hager Jewelry in downtown Hutchinson. After that, restoration work will begin on the original barn at the Harrington-Merrill House property at 225 Washington Ave. For more information about their work, visit the nonprofit’s Facebook page.