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The Okee Dokee Brothers share their adventures
April 08, 2016 Frank Marquez   

Read more by Frank Marquez

Courtesy photo Lifelong friends Justin Lansing, left, and Joe Mailander make up the Grammy award-winning duo The Okee Dokee Brothers, a Folk Music act slated to play fun, family friendly tunes next week at the Midwest Theater.

To natives of Denver, Colorado, Joe Mailander, 30, and Justin Lansing, 31, family is everything.

Due to perform at the Midwest Theater in Scottsbluff on April 14 (Thursday), the Grammy Award winning American Folk Music duo, The Okee Dokee Brothers, first met when they were 3 years old. Forming close knit relationships, they base their inspiration for music on family and nature.

Though they are not actually brothers, not even blood brothers, they came up with the name because one of their influences, Woody Guthrie, hailed from Oklahoma, thus explaining “Okee.” The rest of the musical act’s name plays on having a good time, emphasizing family. “We wanted to make it fun and family friendly, so we refer to ourselves as brothers,” Mailander said.

Even though they’re brand of music targets children, they also play to a larger sphere, families, because of course children are central to families – and for good reason.

“We like to call it family music for all ages. Part of our childhood memories inspire the songs,” Mailander said. “It’s about gaining respect for the natural world, which not only ensures respect for the environment but also ensures respect for the community and for yourself. We believe that’s a good family value to promote.”

Aside from winning a Grammy in 2013 for Best Children’s Album, “Can You Canoe?,” they have also received Parents Choice awards in 2010, 2012, and 2014. The Parents Choice Foundation sets strict requirements for what’s appropriate for kids, and family learning.

In 2014, they continued to receive notice and accolades, receiving the Joe Raposo Award for their song “Out of Tune.” Raposo, an accomplished composer, wrote songs for Sesame Street.

The Minneapolis-based pair will play at venues coast to coast this year. Scottsbluff and Gering is one of about 70 stops they’ll make. This will be the first trip to the Midwest Theater, convenient for a chance to see their families, who still reside in Denver.

Both learned music at an early age, Mailander, in the second grade, took piano lessons, which he still plays, along with the Mandolin on occasion. In high school, both learned to play guitar, and Lansing the banjo. Both were influenced by such folk artists as Pete Seeger, Gillian Welch, David Rawlings, Bob Dylan, Jerry Garcia and David Grisman. They formed a band called “Medicinal Strings,” and toured homeless shelters as a non-profit, to raise money for the homeless and play for free at local community bookstores, libraries, park events, and schools throughout the Midwest.

After playing folk with bigger bands to grownup audiences, they eventually found their niche in writing and performing American Folk music that appealed to children. The Okee Dokee Brothers’ first ever performance was at Arise Bookstore in Minneapolis, Minnesota in 2008, a venue which has since closed. Mailander recalled they had played to about 20 or so book fiends and folk music fans. “It was a learning experience,” Mailander said. “Bookstores are different than bars. We worked on getting participation and interaction with the audience to break down barriers with call and response songs to get the kids moving. The first show was focused on traditional folk songs, which we still do today, but more from our original repertoire.”

Since forming their act, they have recorded three adventure albums and a few CDS, producing about 45 songs, and 90-100 songs overall. Following their first album “Can You Canoe?”, “Through the Woods” is their latest album on shelves and was inspired by a month-long trek along the Appalachian Trail. A third album, “Saddle Up,” is due out on May 13 this year. According to their press release, the album is filled with playful and thoughtful songs crafted with the warmth and storytelling of traditional folk and mountain music. It was the result of the duo’s trip to the Grand Canyon, while riding horseback along the continental divide.

Through thought-provoking and inspirational lyrics, the duo aims to encourage families to get outside and get creative. As childhood friends growing up in Denver, Mailander and Lansing always appreciated the outdoors. If they weren’t rafting down a neighborhood creek, the born adventurers were taking long bike rides into the country or exploring the nearby Rocky Mountains via hiking trails.

“Justin and I shared childhood together,” Mailander said. “We draw from memories, camping with our families, bike rides, and hiking – a rich well of material. We believe kids should be outdoors; it inspires creativity and is good for health of families these days.”

Mainlander added that their first album idea “came from travelling down the Great River Road along the Mississippi River. We asked if someone could take a canoe onto the river. We wanted to write songs as we did it, and just focus on the songs. Then, we kept looking for different regions, geography, and the type of music that comes from those areas.”

Their inspiration for “Saddle Up” was “a coming-home moment for us,” Mailander said. “It reminded us of growing up in the west.”

“Saddle Up” features a diverse collective of musicians – John Sebastian (The Lovin’ Spoonful), Jim Campilongo (The Little Willies), Cindy Cashdollar (Asleep at The Wheel), Carlos Medina and The Benally Family. Acoustic Guitar Magazine raved the album is filled with “striking harmonies and spot-on picking,” with stories inspired by exploration through five national parks and camping along the Continental Divide.

Some songs are about Navajo tales, Southwest-style Spanglish, the issue of guns in western lore, and friendships.

As for what’s next for the duo? “We’ve been tossing around a few ideas,” Mailander said. “We might focus on winter as a theme. So far, we have written a few songs, and since a lot of our songs are about summer, we thought winter was an important season as well.”

Show time at the Midwest Theater on April 14 is at 7:30 p.m., and tickets, on sale now, range from $18 to $20 with discounts for theater members and students. For advance tickets, visit MidwestTheater.com or call 308-632-4311.

The Okee Dokee Brothers music is available for purchase on their website, iTunes, and major retail outlets.
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