by Jim Boyle

Star News

As it did for everyone, the pandemic changed musician Shane Martin’s life in innumerable ways. But one thing that was constant for him is he always kept his foot on the gas — literally and figuratively.

That’s why he was able to finish recording a new album in Nashville when the pandemic hit. That’s why he was able to keep his solo work going throughout COVID-19 restrictions. And that’s why he and his band will return to outdoor music by opening Bonfire Wednesdays at Rockwoods in Otsego on May, 26.

The Shane Martin Band was scheduled to kick off Bonfire Wednesdays last year, but that fell among the avalanche of cancellations. Normally, this musician and band, with its unique blend of modern country rock, routinely performs more than 200 shows per year as a solo artist and with his full band. 

Being the Top 5 finalist in the 2012 Texaco Country Showdown where he competed for “Best New Act in Country Music” at Nashville’s legendary Ryman Auditorium (hosted by LeAnn Rimes) helped him and his band make a big name for itself in the Midwest.

Martin, who grew up down the road in Albertville, also loves to play for the hometown crowd, be it a solo show inside Rockwoods or the BK Tap House and venues like the Taste of Elk River, county fairs and even the Elk River’s Independence Day celebration when it was at Lions Park in Elk River.

“It feels great to have the hometown crowd behind me and always support my music in good times and bad,” Martin said. “I have been performing at Rockwoods for a lot of years and we’ve done quite a few Bonfire Wednesdays. 

“To be able to kick it off (this year) is great. Myself and my band members are very excited about it. This is before Memorial Day weekend. I think everyone is just going stir crazy. I think we’re going to have a really good crowd. I’m crossing my fingers for some really good weather.”

Martin and the organizers realize there may still be some remnants of the restrictions, but the organizers are relying on a large space for people to socially distance as needed. 

Uncertainty seems to rule the world, but Martin’s approach calls for him to keep the foot on the gas. His solo career has moved back inside already. His band has a full concert schedule lining up for the summer. And their newest endeavor, playing as an Alabama tribute band, is still on the table and calender.

The Star News talked with Martin earlier this week and asked him about life in the pandemic and where things are heading.

Q: Where to do you see your music career coming out of the pandemic? Have any of your plans changed? 

A: For me, I am always going to be moving forward, and I am always going to be performing live — in what aspect who knows with what this is going to bring.

In the pandemic I have focused on songwriting.

I have always wanted to craft my songwriting more and actually have that a bigger part of my music career. One of my goals is to have some of my songs recorded by other bigger artists and being noted as a songwriter as well as a singer and performer.

I released a CD called “Anywhere” last year amid everything. I was hesitant not being able to get out live and support it. But people needed something, and I needed it.

Q: Did “Anywhere” get wheels and gain traction with your online and virtual presence?

A: It did. Now we can get out and support it, and I look forward to the next recording project. 

People will forget about you if you don’t keep moving. You have to keep your music alive. I am grateful to have had my solo as my bread and butter and I have been able to keep that alive.

I am uncertain about after the summer when we’re back inside; I am uncertain about what the music scene will be. Even before COVID it was kind of uncertain for the bigger club scene. It wasn’t as thriving as it had been. I know clubs are rethinking. It will be interesting to see what it will be like.

Q: Tell me about “Anywhere.” It sounds like all that music was written pre-pandemic.

A: I had half the project recorded and I was scheduled to record the second half in March, right when the pandemic hit. I had studio time booked in Nashville. I have been recording my CDs down there since 2010.

Everyone was thinking I was crazy. People said you gotta cancel it. I said I gotta finish this. If I don’t, it’s not going to happen.

I canceled my flight, rented a car and drove down to Nashville. This was right when everything was starting to get crazy. I recorded the songs. Everything turned out amazing. I had a great time. 

As I was in the studio, that’s when Minnesota went on lockdown for the first time. I had thoughts of, Am I going to get back into the state? 

I drove home. I got all the songs put together and kept moving forward and was able to release it in September. 

My thought was I can’t wait to do this. I’m not taking my foot off the gas. I’m going full throttle.

Q: When was your last solo/band concert prior to COVID-19?

A: The last show I had was just before St. Patrick’s Day at Cross Lake in Northern Minnesota. It was a big St. Patrick’s Day Parade and event.

I was scheduled to perform solo at Manhattan Beach. They canceled the parade but they still went ahead with the music at the event. That was kind of the start of “oh-oh.” This is not going to be good. That was my last live show.

I had shows scheduled for St. Patrick’s Day on Tuesday and that was canceled. Everything just started to cancel after that. It kept getting worse.

What has been the hardest part of the pandemic?

A: For me, it was the uncertainty. The immediate cancellations were a little stressful, but what’s this going to look like through the summer and when are we going to somewhat get back to normal.

I can weather the storm financially, and thankfully I started to do some online streaming shows. That was an interesting learning curve. I was somewhat forced into it, but it was a good thing for me to experience and to reach out to the fans and friends. Everyone was apart and it was a great way to bring people together even though it was virtual.

I still get people to this day that thank me for doing that. There’s a lot of other musicians that were doing the same thing to bring people together in this time of uncertainty.

A lot of it was through Facebook Live. It was fun. It was just me my guitar stripped down and just play songs that people like and enjoy. I could never get used to after I get done with a song to not see people’s faces and hear the cheers. It was a different thing, but it was still fun to do. People were very gracious in tipping and helping out, which was great.

Q: What was rewarding about it? 

A: People commenting. Although couldn’t see their faces, I could hear their joy and the thank yous. I had some frustrations with internet connections. I’m always trying to do the best job sound-wise, and when I can’t get that it’s pretty frustrating. People understood. It was rewarding to have people thank me and encourage me to keep doing it. It fed the fire for me to keep doing it. It helped to have that fan interaction.

Honestly, I think (the virtual setting) helped me. It made me sit down with the song and work the song. In a loud bar setting it’s one thing. When it’s just me, I have to feed off myself. If I were to perform virtually again I would want to get a better set up to have a better camera and better audio to make it better quality.

Q: What was your first solo event back? 

A: It could have been BK Tap House in St. Michael.

But things would open up a bit and shut down again.

Q: What will be your first band concert?

A: We have performed, but it has been pretty sparse though.

The venues are still restricted, so a lot of them can’t justify a full band. They’re not open that late. To have a full band it just doesn’t work. We’ve done a couple casinos. We have a full schedule through the summer. Once we can start getting outside all the fairs and festivals will be in full swing — at least right now anyway.

Q: When did you sense you might see a return to some normalcy this summer?

A: I saw when my hometown of Albertville announced they were having the Friendly City Days June 9-13. Everyone was kind of looking who’s going to be the first festival that’s going to go through with it. Once I saw that, I was like, “Yes, somebody stepped up and said we were going to have it.” Winstock in Winstead. They moved their festival to August. That was disheartening. There are some others that are going through with it. I’m not sure what capacity, because June is just around the corner.

Q: Did you play at a Brooklyn Park venue recently near the protesting going on in Brooklyn Center, and, if so, what was that like? 

A: I did. We actually moved the show earlier. I spoke with the owner and we decided to move it to a Happy Hour time from 5 to 7 rather than a 7:30 to 10:30 time slot, which was a good call. It was a good crowd, and I was packed up and out of there before the sun went down. My mom was saying, “You better cancel that show.” I gotta work, Mom.

Q: What did you miss most? 

The crowds. People singing along and dancing. Even when I started performing solo again, the people were there, but you still had to be apart. People were kind of stagnant, but at least we were together.

Q: When did your frustration peak?

A: The dead of summer, when I’m typically playing four, sometimes five days a week. I really missed performing with my band. We weren’t able to perform at the fairs and festivals. That’s what we live for. We always enjoy playing the indoor clubs and those types of shows, but the outdoor summer stuff is such a good time.

Q: Where does performing outdoors rank? What’s the best part of it?

A: On a scale of 1 to 10 it’s an 11. Being in Minnesota you get three, maybe four good months of playing outside. You can push it in October, but even then we’re outside. That’s where the bigger fair festivals happen. We have a really good lineup this summer — TC Summer Jam We Fest, Country Fest, Lakes Jam, a really good lineup of those bigger festival that we all missed last summer.

Q: What are you looking forward to with the Bonfire Wednesdays show on May 26?

A: I think, for one, just getting outside on the stage with my band. I think that will be the first outdoor show since I don’t know when it was. It has been a long time. Seeing the fans and the smiling faces and kind of getting back to what normal was.

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