Songs of Pine County’s Irish Lumberjacks

St. Paul, MN — March 22nd, 2013:  When itinerant lumberjack Michael Dean arrived in the newly incorporated village of Hinckley in 1885 he must have felt right at home. Like Dean, many of the town’s businessmen and civic leaders were Irish-Americans who had followed lumbering jobs west to Minnesota. Soon, Dean made a life as a well-loved saloon-keeper and farmer who went fishing with Irish mill owner James J. Brennan and Irish lumber baron William O’Brien and lived in Pine County for 32 years (he moved to Pine City in 1907). Dean was also an avid singer who had a large repertoire of songs, from the old Irish folk tradition and from the unique musical tradition that flourished in northwoods lumbercamp bunkhouses in those years.

Bemidji-native Brian Miller has spent the past five years researching Dean’s life and, along with musical partner Randy Gosa, reviving Dean’s songs and the music of other Irish lumberjacks from the Upper Midwest. The duo presents these fascinating songs and stories in concert on Friday, April 12 at 7:30 PM at the North West Company Fur Post, 12551 Voyageur Lane, Pine City.  The show is presented by the Pine Center for the Arts and has been made possible by a grant through the East Central Regional Arts Council.  Tickets are available for a reduced cost of just $10 and can be purchased at the Pine Center for the Arts, Chris’ Food Center and the North West Company Fur Post.

Brian Miller and Randy Gosa have been featured on TPT TV’sMinnesota Original and MPR’sDaily Circuit and they have toured nationally to festivals including The University of Chicago Folk Fest, Milwaukee Irish Fest and the Arizona Highland Celtic Fest. Brian Miller is a two-time recipient of a Minnesota State Arts Board grant for his work with the music of Irish lumberjacks. In concert, Miller and Gosa mix old world music with colorful local lore and creative arrangements, using voice, guitar and a variety of unusual folk instruments.

Their Pine Center for the Arts concert will feature stories about Mike Dean’s life in Pine County drawn from Brian’s forthcoming Dean biography (including how Dean’s was the only farmhouse to survive the Hinckley fire). The duo will also perform several songs from Dean’s repertoire and others, including the rousing bunkhouse song “Kettle River” which recalls the daily lives of men who worked in Johnny O’Brien’s lumbercamp on the Kettle River. The performance draws on recently discovered unpublished transcriptions and lost audio recordings of Mike Dean’s singing and the duo is excited to bring these songs back to the place they were sung over 100 years ago.

This activity is funded, in part, with a grant from the East Central Regional Arts Council through an appropriation from the Minnesota State Legislature with money from the State’s general fund.

The Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund came into being as part of the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment to the Minnesota Constitution that Minnesota voters overwhelmingly passed in 2008.  Because of the work the State Legislature has done to direct this funding to the Minnesota State Arts Board and Regional Arts Council System, it has ensured that this money is bringing access to the arts in every corner of the state.  The Pine Center for the Arts is grateful and proud to have received this funding.