21 July 2012

An Interview With Casey Weber of Weber's Deck at French Lake, Minnesota

Art by Christoph Mueller, of course.
@ Dot Com // Facebook // ReverbNation 

Webers Deck runs every Sunday from 1-5pm, July 18th to September 2nd. A $5 donation is kindly requested for the bands but of course you are welcome to pay more. 

There's this guy in French Lake, Minnesota (northwest of Minneapolis) by the name of Casey Weber. He runs a popular, homemade house concert series called Webers Deck off of (naturally) the deck of his house. 

I've never had the opportunity to attend, since we live some nine-hundred miles apart, but I asked around and all reports were beyond glowing.  Words like "amazing" and "hidden jewel" were used by artists and fans alike to describe the shows Weber puts on.  It's a family-oriented event and operation that features an across the board representation of up-and-coming as well as established artists from the alt-blues/singer-songwriter/Americana (whatever that is) music scenes.  
I gave Casey Weber a holler to find out more about Webers Deck.  

I think once you read about Weber's philosophy you'll understand why this gig is special, and why people are willing to go all Field Of Dreams and travel thousands of miles and down the road to sit in a lawn chair on some dudes lawn in Minnesota and listen to live music.

So just who the heck is Casey Weber and why does everyone say such nice things about him? 

Oh boy.....that is a tough question. Well, I have amazing parents. Parents that have always been encouraging towards anything, and everything that I do. I guess they raised me to hold a pretty high standard of morals, values, and respect. I guess I try to treat people well, whenever they deserve it. The way I figure it, everytime you meet someone, it is a potential lifelong friend. And who can have too many of those? I have met such fine people, from all walks of life, from all over the world. I have     also done so many things in my life, that it is usually pretty easy to connect on some level with most folks. I just dig good people, and try to surround myself with them.

What is Webers Deck? How'd this thing get started?

Weber's Deck is a privately owned "venue" that is my back yard. I bought a house in central Minnesota, about a mile from the home that I grew up in. It is in a small town called French Lake that has a population of about 22 people. It is the epitome of small town rural America. Surrounded by farms it has been a great place to grow up. My roots grew deep here, and I never had the urge to leave, or move elsewhere. 

I always wanted to raise a family here. When the opportunity about 5 years ago came up to buy a home (1 of 5 homes in the town) in the town of French Lake, I jumped at it. I purchased the house in November, and once spring started coming around, talk of a housewarming party came up amongst my family, and close friends. I had always been a big fan of seeing live music, especially of the non-cover band type. I had some friends that were musicians, and decided that we might as well have some live music at the party. 

My friend Chad Wiles, and I built a deck on the backside of my house, and we got to thinking that it would make a nice stage for the musicians that were playing at the housewarming party. We decided that the railing on the deck that faces the large part of the yard, would be built as such so that it was easily removeable. Given my very limited carpenter skills, this was a feat, but with Chad's help, we got it done, and it looked great. 

The housewarming party came, and I had Chad Wiles, Drew Peterson, and 10W40 (A Minneapolis band) play, and it went over great. Everyone had a great time, and it seemed like something that would be possible more often than just that one time. So, we talked to another friend by the name of Charlie Parr, and explained that we would like to have a "house concert" on a Sunday afternoon, and invite the locals, and friends to come enjoy it. We explained that we would just take donations from the crowd, and that would be the pay. Charlie Parr said yes, and we put Drew Peterson on the bill for the day also. We promoted it lightly to the locals, and our good friends, and the weather cooperated. The first show we ever had, drew 90 fans to the yard, and the donations given were pretty decent for a one hour set on a Sunday afternoon. So, from then on, we just decided to put word out to bands, explain the way things work, and if they would just give it a shot, and have a little faith in us that we could draw a decent crowd. 

The weather kept cooperating, tthe crowds kept coming, and the bands kept playing. The community came together at these shows it seemed. You could look out at the crowd, and see the bikers mingling with the hippies. The farmers chatting with the visiting folks from the cities. It truly showed the universal thing that we all have in common, and that was music. It was bringing people together, and it felt good to see that. 

It gave me this sense of a 1920's style social. When the brass bands used to gather in the town square, and the community would come out. I think much of that is lost nowadays, with technology, and the fast paced life that so many folks lead. Many people don't get out to meet their neighbor anymore. To shake hands, share stories. It also felt good, that so many people were coming to see bands, that traveled here from all over the country. Not knowing their names, or their songs. Just coming, because we had put so many great bands up, that they had faith that no mattter who the band was for that day, they were going to be amazing. Bands that folks rarely had the opportunity to see, because of the huge amount of cover bands that played the local venues every single weekend. There was rarely a band around here that wrote, or played their own songs. There are so many amazing original bands that travel the country, that I want to expose to people. In doing such, I am convinced, that many of these bands, have lifelong fans that originated at Weber's Deck.

Do you pick and book all the bands yourself? 
This has to be a big undertaking for one dude. Do you have a day job? 

I do have a day job. I work for an insurance company. My day consists of driving all over central, and western Minnesota, looking at damaged vehicles. It involves a lot of driving, which also gives me a lot of time to be able to turn the radio up as loud as I want, and listen to whatever I want. 

I pick, and book the bands. Many are suggested to me by friends. Many, are fans that have suggested Weber's Deck to the bands, and they have contacted me about playing here. I listen to a lot of "genres" of music, so there is a mix out here. I listen to everything from blues, deep blues, folk, Americana, rock, country, punk country, punk bluegrass, bluegrass, etc. 

The nice thing about the bands that play out at Weber's Deck, is that many of them cross these "genres", and have so many elements of several of them in their music. One band last year, Left Lane Cruiser, crossed from R.L. Burnside, and went into Ted Nugent, and they do it so well, with their own style thrown in there, that people dig it. We don't do "cover bands" at Weber's Deck. Sure, there might be a cover played here and there by a band, but it is usually obscure cover songs, that much of the crowd wouldn't know it was a cover anyway. 

The bands that play here, have spent their time pouring their heart into writing songs, touring, being away from family for their music. Many, going broke along the way, yet, still decide to push on, and play every little bar, festival, or deck with a backyard along the way. It has gotten tough over the past few years. I recieve hundreds of requests every year to play out here, from bands from all over the country. I have an available 42 slots each summer to fill, so many have to be turned down, or told that we are booked up. It is hard having to tell folks year after year, that we are unable to put them up on the deck. Folks that arre taking the time to e-mail me, and offer to play. I wish I could have a spot for all of them. I wish I could give them all an opportunity to play in front of the hundreds of fine fans that venture to French Lake every Sunday in the summertime. Because, these truly, are the best fans I have ever come across. 

Many folks ask me why it is, that we start the shows in July, and not earlier. The reason for that, is because there is a balance that I have to try and keep. A balance between music, Weber's Deck, family, and work. Often times, this is very tough. I have a wonderful woman in my life, that I will be marrying in August of 2013, and she has two kids. Kids that like to go camping, and go to the lake, and enjoy the things that everyone esle gets to enjoy in the summertime. I reserve the first half of the summer, to provide that to them, without having to worry about my obligations to the shows. Summertime is also our "busy" time at work, as we get many hail storms, and tornadoes that damages vehicles. I tend to work a lot of overtime, especially in the first half of the summer. It is a challenge, and sometimes overwhelming to just try and balance family life, and work, without having shows. I think anyone can understand this. Especially anyone with a family.

Absolutely.  So, when considering bands for Webers Deck what are you looking for?  Is your decision simply based on your personal taste or are their other requirements? 

There is not really any sort of requirement, other than it having to be a band that does mostly original music. Really, if I dig the band, and I think that the crowd that we draw will dig the band, that is usually all it takes. One requirement of the bands, is that they respect the fact that this has been built into a family friendly show, and that profanity is kept to an absolute minimum. Also, the band must be respectful of our fans, and us as well. I don't deal well with primadonna's either. Thankfully, we haven't had any. 

 We try to treat the bands that come to perform for us well. We try to provide good food (thanks to Whiskey Pete, our local BBQ chef), provide drink, and if they need it, a place to crash. We try to treat the bands that come to visit more like friends, and family than just performers coming to play.

You've had Left Lane Cruiser, Black Diamond Heavies, Charlie Parr, Tom Vandenavond, Scissormen, Ten Foot Polecats, Smokestack and The Foothill Fury, Shilo Brown. Who else? 

Wow. The list is pretty huge. We have had bands from all over the country. Along with those that you already mentioned, we have had Bob Wootton (Johnny Cash's longtime lead guitarist), Joe & Vicki Price, Peewee Moore, Possessed By Paul James (Konrad Wert), Larry And His Flask, The Calamity Cubes, Willy Tea, The Good Luck Thrift Store Outfit, Cletus Got Shot, Bernie King & The Guilty Pleasures, Chad Wiles, Drew Peterson, 40 Watt Bulb, Six Mile Grove, Mississippi Gabe Carter, Go Long Mule, Crankshaft, Brian Cagle, and many other great, amazing bands that have traveled from near and far.

All shows are no-guarantee, donation only ($5 suggested).  How does that work out?  Are you able to break even?  I understand all proceeds go to the bands? 

So far, it has seemed to work out OK. We suggest a $5 donation, and of those donations, it all get's split up at the end of the day, and ALL of the money is given to the musicians. It has never equaled out to be $5 per person though, given our count. It usually averages out to right around $3 per person. We never want to obligate folks to have to put money in the bucket. 

 One of the goals out here, is to understand that times are tough. The economy truly sucks, and many folks do not go out anymore, especially to see music, because of the costs that are involved. A typical night going out consists of gas money to get there, a cover charge, dinner, drinks, babysitter costs, etc. A couple could easily spend over $100 in just one night to go out and see a live band. We would just like to see $5 per person, and allow folks to bring their own drinks. 

 Kids are always free, and we strongly encourage folks to bring their kids out to spend the day. I think it is important for kids to be exposed to music, especially original music. On any given Sunday, there are 30-50 kids running around the yard. Some throwing water baloons, some playing with toys, some sitting in front of the stage watching the music. Once in awhile, a kid will jump up and start dancing in front of the band. As far as breaking even- that has never happened. We try, and strive to provide a venue where folk won't go broke to be able to go out. For 4 hours on a Sunday, folks can spend a relatively small amount of money, and really enjoy themselves. As well as be able to meet like minded, kind folks to socialize with. 

 There are costs involved, that I have taken on as basically a "cost of doing business". I have invested roughly $10,000 in a PA system over the past few years, purchased a porta-potty, upkeep, electric bills, etc. These are all things that I pull out of my pocket to buy for the sake of being able to have these shows. I have to put additional insurance on the property, due to the amount of people that come out. This is a cost that I take the brunt of, but over the past few years, many of the fans have stepped up, and donated money to help pay for the insurance costs. On average, the fans have paid for over half of the insurance costs each year, and it really helps. That bill is a pretty big nut to crack on my own, and I am so grateful for those that help by donating just to make these shows possible. It shows me that the shows are important to many folks. They take ownership in a sense, and really help to keep the shows going. I have many fine folks come out each Sunday for no pay, to volunteer to help. Help set up, put garbages out, get coolers set up for the musicians with drinks, clean up after the show etc. People like Chad Wiles, Tyler Martin, my family, Jerry Raabi, Whiskey Pete. These people come out every Sunday, to help set up for the show. They stay late to help clean up, and put everything away. Without these folks, these shows would not be possible. I am so grateful for these people, and it would be nearly impossible to be able to pay them back for all that they do.

How have your (few) neighbors and the town responded to having this influx of people? I know Chris Johnson had a heck of a time putting together the first couple Deep Blues Festivals because of concerns from locals worried about noise and attracting the notorious "bad element" that comes with outdoor music concerts.

Living in such a small town, you would think that it might be an issue. In our little town, we have wonderful neighbors. The Lantto's. They also own the one small convenience store/gas station that is directly across the street from us. I know, that the influx of hundreds of people each Sunday, helps their business by bringing more people in the door. Be it to fill their gas tanks, buy ice, snacks, pop, etc. The Lantto's have been gracious enough to allow us the use of a 5 acre field for parking. They come out every Sunday to enjoy the music, and truly are wonderful neighbors. I guess I have never recieved a complaint yet. It is a pretty mellow, laid back community. 

It seems on most Sundays, I can look back at the crowd, and usually see most of my neighbors sitting out there in a lawnchair enjoying the music. This really makes me feel good, as I see it as a support system from those that are closest to me. These folks are embracing something that is bringing recognition to a town that normally is just driven through. A town that literally if you blink, you would never know you drove through it. I find it VERY important to shop, and support local businesses. We have several surrounding our little community. Lantto's Store, French Lake Butcher Shop, Charlie Kaskinen septic, the Bajari's that own Windy Hill Auto Parts, Oak Realty of Annandale, French Lake Auto Parts, Russell's Bar in Annandale. All of these businesses give us a huge support system, and have all helped immensly in making these shows possible. Be it through support, donations, help. I try to promote, and support the businesses that show us support.

The stage is just the deck on your house.  Seems like I heard mention of a barn you were working on?

Yes, the stage is just the deck on the back of my home, out the patio door. The end railing has been removed, and placed in my garage for safe keeping. It usually goes right back on the deck after the shows, before the snow flies. We had a friend with a barn near my home. He had mentioned that we could use it to have a show in, so Chad Wiles wired it, our friend Josh Stanley built a stage, and we invited some friends. We had The Calamity Cubes (Brook, Kody, and Joey), Shilo Brown (Bloody Ol' Mule), Brian Cagle, Willy Tea, Tom VandenAvond, Drew Peterson, Chad Wiles, Bernie King and his wife Julie, Chris Laumb, Brady Perl, and Rachael Resist come out and play tunes for us all night. It was more of an "Invite only, songwriters session in the barn". We had some good friends travel quite a ways for it. Our friends the Petermans came down from Winnipeg, and Carry May came in from Vancouver to spend the week with us. It turned into one of those nights. One of those shows. The kind that you could probably never replicate, no matter how hard you try. Just a "magical" air surrounding the place, and the people. The finest musicians (in my opinion) all gathered in one place, brought back to what it used to be. Songs in a barn. It was also a stop on the way for Willy Tea & Tom VandenAvond's tour project called "Searching For Guy Clark's Kitchen". They filmed the show, and our friend Tommy The Beard recorded it. 

 Turns out, that someone, at some point in the night, stole something out of the landowners home. I found out about it that next Monday, and decided that we would no longer have shows there. I have an obligation of responsibility whenever I have shows, and this really shocked me that someone would have stolen something. The landowner was very forgiving, and we have yet to find out what was stolen, or who may have done it, but it really destroyed me for quite some time. I was ready to say "screw it", and just stop having shows of any sort. If I couldn't trust the people that I invited to this show, then who could I trust? How could I possibly trust hundreds of people at my home for Weber's Deck? After losing sleep for weeks over the whole ordeal, I guess I just kind of decided that it was an isolated incident, and that I just need to be wary of folks, yet, still hold the faith that the people that come to my shows are honest. I have also made a decision to not organize and put together shows where I don't have total responsibility over whatever may happen. Again, I have an inherent obligation of responsibility towards anything that might happen, and I don't want anyone to have to carry that burden on their shoulders. 

 My goal in the future is to eventually build, or move an old barn on to a piece of property. Make it so that it can be heated in the winter time, so that we can carry on these shows throughout the winter each year. That would be my dream.

Do you offer any beverages or food concession? Bayport BBQ needs a mobile unit. 

 Bayport DOES need a mobile unit!! Chris Johnson does one HELL of a job there with his food. Man, now you got my mouth watering, and me hankering for a trip down there!! 

 Due to insurance reasons, I cannot offer food or beer for sale at Weber's Deck. Usually on the first show, and last show of the season, I pick up a whole hog, and my buddy Whiskey Pete, who has kind of become the "king of the hogroast", comes over, and smokes a hog in his hogroaster. He donates all of his time. He always does a real nice job. We just put some tables out by the hog, invite folks to bring something to share on a "potluck" type basis, and take donations to help pay for the hog, charcoal, paper plates, forks, etc. People seem to love it. I think home done BBQ always goes well with a show like this. 

 Schell's Brewery that brews the finest beer on earth (Grain Belt) sponsors, and donates beer to the musicians each year. We try to make the musicians comfortable, and do whatever we can to make their experience out here enjoyable as well. Sometimes, this means sitting back, and having a few beers while they listen to the other bands either before, or after their set. This can easily add up to an additional $40 a week in expenses out of my pocket. So, I e-mailed the folks at Schell's, and they offered to provide free Grain Belt to the musicians for the year. It really took a financial weight off my shoulders, as it was easily $160 a month for us to cover. Schell's is also a local Minnesota brewery, and we like to keep things local out here. Local realtor Steve Bruggeman, who owns Oak Realty of Annandale also donates all the cases of water, ice, and a big cooler that we need throughout the summer. Oak Realty has really been very supportive of us, and they truly appreciate the "small town feel" that Weber's Deck seems to capture.

Where is Webers Deck located in relation to Minneapolis? 

Weber's Deck is in French Lake, MN. Right in the center of the state. It is about 50 miles west of Minneapolis, and about 30 miles South of St. Cloud.

Who do you have scheduled for this summer's round of shows? 

So far, in no particular order: Tom VandenAvond, 4 On The Floor, The Calamity Cubes, Crankshaft & The Gear Grinders, The Harmed Brothers, Husky Burnette, Mississippi Gabe Carter, Chris Laumb, Charlie Roth, Peewee Moore, Teague Alexy, The Hobo Nephews of Uncle Frank, Drew Landry, Westbound, Joe & Vicki Price, The Scissormen, Bernie King & The Guilty Pleasures, Davis Coen, Jeff Ray & Hurricane Harold, Jay Lang, No Man String Band, Bloody Ol' Mule (Shilo Brown), Rusted Revolver, Chad Wiles, Go Long Mule, Matt Ray & Those Damn Horses. There are some others that I am just awaiting confirmation on as well. So, this list will have some folks added to it. That is just a tentative list so far for the year. 

Anything anybody else needs to know about Webers Deck? 

We truly try our hardest to put together shows, that not only the crowd can enjoy, but hopefully the musicians can enjoy as well. I have no interest whatsoever to see any profit out of this. Heck, one of these days it would be nice to just break even!! I can honestly say, that I just love seeing folks bring their kids out. Their parents, and grandparents. People of all kinds. Hippies, bikers, farm folks. 
 It feels good to be able to see people come together for this. And to be able to put the bands that I love in front of these people, and maybe, just maybe, turn a couple more folks into fans. There are a lot of people that put a lot of their time into this to help out. People that I will likely never be able to pay back what I owe them of their time, and effort. People that are more than happy just being told thanks. I have met so many good people while doing this. People that have turned into friends. Hell, people that have turned into family. It isn't me that makes this happen. It is the volunteers, the musicians, the fans. The people willing to donate, and support. These are the people that make Weber's Deck work. 

 I feel privelaged to just be able to put my name on this. Who knows when, why, or how it will all end. I don't think I will ever let go of my love of the music. The love of putting on a great show will never go away either. Hopefully I will be able to help put together shows when I am an old fart. Hopefully people keep coming. Until then, I will just keep doing what I can. That is all anyone can ask, right?

Damn straight. Thanks for doing this Q n' A, Casey. 
I hope y'all have a nice summer! 
 Thanks man!! I appreciate the "interview", and being able to possibly open some folks' eyes to what we are trying to do. Hopefully be a model for other folks throughout the country.

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