By Jennifer Kotila
WRIGHT COUNTY, MN For fans of Weber’s Deck in French Lake, or for those who have always wanted to check it out, the Simple Folk Songwriter’s Festival Saturday, May 30 is the place to be.
The Simple Folk Songwriter’s Festival will feature artists such as Willy Tea Taylor, Tom VandenAvond, Brady Perl, Ryan Joseph Anderson, Brian Johannesen, Gregg Hall, Soda Gardocki, and Ray Vietti.
Following the official show, an after-party jam session will take place around the bonfire, led by Minnesota songwriters Matt Ray and Jake Ilika.
So far, this is the only show planned for Weber’s Deck this year.
“I have a two-year-old daughter who is the light of my life,” said Weber’s Deck owner Casey Weber. “She is the number one reason that I am slowing down, and having fewer shows than I have in the past.”
When Weber first launched Weber’s Deck seven years ago, shows took place every Sunday July 4 through Labor Day from 1 to 5 p.m.
It became what Weber calls “the most successful, house concert series in the country.”
On any typical summer Sunday in the last seven years, between three and five musicians or bands would take the stage for about an hour each at Weber’s Deck.
The bands that perform range from small, local bands, to bands touring nationally at festivals and on other large stages.
“We have even had a musician from Scotland come and play here,” Weber said.
Last year, due to Weber’s growing family, only five shows took place.
“When I started having shows, I was a bachelor with my own home,” Weber said, noting he had more time to dedicate to booking and promoting. “Now, I try to prioritize the time with my daughter and my family.”
Weber, who married his wife, Lissa about two years ago, also has two stepchildren Ben, 13, and Hayley, 16.
“Both go to Annandale schools, and are amazing, smart, and awesome kids,” Weber said, adding that they help with every show. “I couldn’t do it without my family.”
A place for family, friends, and good music
Although family is the reason Weber is slowing down and having fewer shows on his deck, family is also the reason he started the free shows.
“The original thought that went through my head when I started all this was to have a place for folks to bring their families, where they could listen to live original music the way they did back in the old days,” Weber said.
He waxed nostalgic over the days when there would be a brass band at the town square or park, ice cream socials where everyone gathered, the kids played together, and neighbors talked about the news and gossip from the week.
“People seem to have lost that,” Weber said. “Maybe that went away with technology or just time; I guess I don’t know. It is something that needs a boost to come back.”
He wanted Weber’s Deck to be a place where people could spend a nice, mellow Sunday listening to original, live music with their family, without the worry of not being able to afford a night out, he said.
He noted that cover charges, expensive dinners and drinks, babysitters, and everything else that typically entails seeing live music can really add up.
“I didn’t think that money should be the end-all decision on whether or not folks would be able to get out to see live music. So, we started having it here, inviting the public, and asking them to bring their family to enjoy the day,” Weber said.
He added that he had the ability to facilitate something that brings people together for something that everyone enjoys music.
“My only intent is for people to enjoy themselves. Enjoy time spent with their family, their neighbors, their friends. Spend time relaxing,” Weber said. “Forget about the monotony of the 40-hour work week. Take a couple hours to just enjoy.”
Weber, 35, has lived in the French Lake area since about 1990, when he moved there with his parents, Ted and Judy, and his brothers, Blaine and Cory.
He graduated from Annandale High School in 1998, and from St. Cloud Technical College in 2000.
For his day job, Weber has been an auto damage appraiser for an insurance company for 14 years, handling claims after people get in an automobile accident.
“My roots grew real deep here throughout school, and I am very close with my family,” Weber said. “I never really had the desire to leave the area. Everything I ever needed, or wanted was right here.”
In 2008, intent on living in the area, Weber won the bid he made on the house he lives in when it went up for auction.
“I was very excited, as I had always wanted a place this close to my folks and the area I grew up in,” Weber said.
The following summer, Weber and one of his friends tore the old, small deck off the house, and decided to build a nice large deck.
His friend and musician, Chad Wiles, suggested they engineer a removable end railing that faces the yard so it could be taken off to allow a band or musician to play for friends coming to the upcoming housewarming party.
“Thus started what would become one of the largest, and most successful, house concert series in the country,” Weber said.
Bringing original, live music from all over the world to French Lake
Weber, who has been promoting live music for 11 years, was inspired to create Weber’s Deck because of the lack of venues that offered original live music.
“Every place I went, the only thing I really heard often were cover bands,” Weber said. “This was fun; however, I like to listen to original music, and I know a lot of original musicians around Minnesota.”
Weber chooses most of the bands, and gets suggestions from friends and fans of Weber’s Deck.
“I have always been a big fan of folk and songwriter type music,” Weber said, noting this has branched into Delta Blues-, Americana-, and bluegrass-type music. “I think you could probably call it ‘roots’-type music. It is a pretty wide variety of music here.”
In the beginning, many of the musicians who were booked were friends Weber had gained being a fan of and going to local, original live music shows in Minnesota.
Bands are told in advance that Weber’s Deck shows are donation-based, with the crowd donating the money each Sunday. Musicians who perform each Sunday split the donations evenly.
Weber’s Deck’s first show drew a crowd of about 90 family, friends, and neighbors, with each show thereafter gaining about 30 to 40 people, Weber said.
After Weber began using social media to find the type of music he liked, he found a “group” of people with similar music interests, leading him to hundreds of bands that he loves, he said.
Each summer, Weber found bands that he liked that were planning to be in Minnesota during the summer months, and “ask them to come and play here for a great crowd.”
“I have tried over the years to book many of my favorite bands, and have been able to do that on many occasions,” Weber said.
On average, 200 to 400 people stop by each show that takes place throughout the summer.
The largest show was one of the Labor Day finale shows, where nearly 1,500 people stopped at Weber’s Deck through the course of the day.
“Many of our fans come from the surrounding area,” Weber said.
However, people from all over the state and country travel to enjoy the shows, Weber added.
“French Lake is the quintessential rural Americana small town,” he commented. “One important thing that makes Weber’s Deck so unique is that there isn’t any sort of certain ‘demographic’ that comes here.”
People from bikers to business professionals, hippies to yuppies, farmers to city dwellers, and babies to elderly come out to the show.
“We have had [fans] from a couple days old, to 100-plus years old never, ever having a problem out here,” Weber said. “It is truly a big melting pot, with folks of all backgrounds that . . . mutually can agree something they all love is music.”
“Music pulls people together,” he added. “Gets neighbors talking again. Helps others find friends, partners, lovers. Future husbands and wives. Old friends. New friends. It is truly wonderful seeing folks that have united out here.”
Getting bands to play with no guarantee of pay
How is Weber able to book bands with no guarantee of pay? “Integrity,” he said.
“Being able to be straight up with a musician or band, and not leave any expectation on the table,” he added. “Let them know from the very beginning, that we would not be able to guarantee them a certain amount of money, but that I could guarantee one of the greatest crowds that they have ever played in front of.”
Many bands say that Minnesota has the greatest crowds, Weber commented, saying “The ‘Minnesota nice’ surely shines through out here at Weber’s Deck.”
The crowds at Weber’s Deck are always receptive to the music, take the time to thank the bands and musicians, and purchase merchandise, shirts, stickers, and CDs from them, Weber noted.
“Though band promotion should never take the place for monetary gain on their part, it certainly helps the bands knowing that, out of all the people here, there is a good chance they would leave with most of our crowd now being new fans,” he added.
Also assisting in booking bands is offering musicians a place to stay.
“Bands and musicians touring with a very small budget, often have to think of creative ways to save money,” Weber said, noting that means sleeping in the tour van or bus, and not being able to shower, do laundry, or have a warm, home-cooked meal.
“These are all things that we offer to these bands. Some of them will stay for several days, just to take a break and relax,” Weber added.
Finally, but certainly not least, the friendships made with the musicians continues to keep them coming.
“So many of the musicians and bands that have passed through here have left wonderful friends of ours, friends that we have actually flown all over the country to see elsewhere other than Weber’s Deck,” Weber said.
He noted some musicians became such good friends they flew in to be at Weber’s wedding.
Working together as a community
“We are able to work with many local businesses that help ease the overhead (costs) of these shows,” Weber said.
CK Septic in French Lake donates portable toilets for each show, and Helmbrecht Sanitation donates dumpsters for all the garbage generated.
Fans and musicians enjoy bottled water donated by Oak Realty of Annandale.
“We get monetary donations from quite a few individuals and (area) businesses,” Weber said. “Many of them are private donations from fans that understand that these musicians cannot do this for free, and that there will always be overhead items like toilet paper, hand sanitizer, garbage bags, paper towels, etcetera.”
Booking the bands on the days leading up to the Sunday shows is Russell’s Bar of Annandale.
“Rich Guerre at Russell’s is an avid fan of original live music, and helps to give these musicians a live music venue to better reach the folks that love seeing music that way,” Weber said.
Weber has purchased PA equipment and taught himself how to run it in order to not have to hire that out, allowing all donations each week to go to the musicians.
The Lantto family, which owns Lantto’s Store, has been very supportive through the years, offering gas cards and brownies to the musicians, and providing a field directly across the street from Weber’s Deck for parking.
Change of venue for Simple Folk Songwriter’s Festival
The Simple Folk Songwriter’s Festival will take place at Camp Chi-Rho, rather than at Weber’s Deck.
The field normally used for parking has been planted with crops this year. Due to the number of people anticipated to attend the show, the Webers did not feel it would be safe to have fans parking along the side of Wright County Road 3.
Those who attend the festival should bring chairs or blankets to sit on, as well as snacks and beverages. A swimming beach and playground are also available at Camp Chi-Rho.
Where: Camp Chi-Rho, 5750 Porter Avenue Northwest, Annandale
When: Saturday, May 30 at 1 p.m.
More information: Visit the Weber’s Deck Facebook page, or contact Casey Weber at (320) 224-9409.