As a kid, Jonathan Krentz probably wouldn’t have predicted that one day he’d end up starting and playing lead guitar in one of the Midwest’s most well-known country bands.
That’s not to say that Krentz wasn’t musically inclined as a youngster, or that he didn’t have dreams of playing in his own band. It’s just that country music was never really his thing.
Growing up in Watertown, it was always all about classic rock for Krentz. His love of bands like Led Zeppelin is what ultimately led him to enlist in the National Guard band after high school, and eventually, to a surprising year-long deployment to Iraq.
Krentz spent his year-long tour in Iraq playing guitar in the Red Devils, the National Guard’s seven-piece rock band that traveled from base to base playing hits by artists like Stevie Wonder, Aerosmith and Van Morrison.
But a funny thing happened during that year overseas. Country music, the stuff his dad had always tried to sell him on as a youth, suddenly started to provide a measure of comfort.
“Overseas, one of the releases or escapes over there was music,” said Krentz, the son of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church Pastor Paul Krentz. “People were always buying CDs and sharing the music they found. I remember getting a Brad Paisley CD, and as a musician, falling in love with his playing. I guess the songs really hit me, too. That’s what country music is all about. Being in a place over there where it’s kind of stressful, and not sure what’s going to happen from day to day, I guess there was a comfort in some of those songs.”
When he returned stateside in 2010, the first thing Krentz wanted to do was something he probably never would have guessed when he left: join a country band. Krentz joined a Twin Cities cover band called Six Wheel Drive, and soon recruited his friend from the National Guard Band, Drew Sherman, to fill the band’s need for a new bass player.
A year later, though, Six Wheel Drive disbanded, but Krentz and Sherman weren’t ready to call it quits.
“We wanted to keep going, keep gigging,” Krentz said. “We wanted to put our own group together.”
The result was a new country band in 2011 called Maiden Dixie. Krentz and Sherman recruited five more members to form a seven-piece band, which quickly became one of the Twin Cities’ top country cover bands. In 2013, the band also released it’s first original album, Little Black Dress.
Since forming just three years ago, Maiden Dixie has played in just about all the top clubs in Minnesota, at most of the top country festivals throughout Minnesota and Wisconsin, and has tour dates planned in six different states over the next six months.
“I’m definitely a believer that a lot of the music scene is luck, and you have to be in the right place at the right time,” Krentz said. “But my mentality is also that you kind of create your own luck. You have to keep trying and trying, and the more darts you throw, the better chance you have of hitting the bullseye. I’m not saying we’re at that point yet, but we’re a very ambitious group.”
Maiden Dixie was originally formed as a cover band, and quickly built a large following. But Krentz and female lead singer Channing Himes -— Jesse Becker sings the male lead vocals for the band — were both very interested in song writing. It wasn’t long before they decided to give it a shot.
“We started writing songs and said, ‘Let’s see how people react,’” Krentz said. “Let’s see if we can write something people will want to listen to. The first CD was exactly that. The year leading up to the release was us sitting down, us doing a lot of writing, and diving into the deep end head first, not having a clue how the Nashville format worked.”
Krentz said the band spent a good deal of time in Nashville during the process of recording their first album, trying to soak in all they could about the recording process.
“We really wanted to make sure we were hanging out and surrounding ourselves with people to make sure we understood how it worked, people who have been there and done that kind of thing,” Krentz said.
The challenge now for Maiden Dixie is to build a growing fan base and to cast a wider net. Part of that challenge is making people aware that the band, which was formed as a cover band and gained its initial popularity that way, is now venturing out with its own music and moving more and more in that direction. Krentz said the band is in the process of writing songs for its second album.
“Right now, the main thing is expanding our market,” he said. “We do a lot of the Midwest stuff, in Wisconsin, North and South Dakota, but we’re looking to keep slowly furthering that out into Indiana, Ohio, that sort of thing. We’re also starting to work with more people out of Nashville on management things.”
For Krentz, music is his full-time job. Maiden Dixie plays more than 200 shows a year, and Krentz often plays on his own, or with Himes, at bars or restaurants on Sunday nights or for weekday happy hours.
“We’ll go play whatever we want,” Krentz said. “It’s kind of a cool release outside of the country scene.”
Krentz’s music career began a long way from country music. He got started in high school, playing in the Waconia community jazz band. It was there that a fellow member encouraged him to try out for the National Guard band, which was looking for a guitar player at the time.
Krentz auditioned during his senior year at Mayer Lutheran, and ended up getting the gig. Though members of the band have to go through boot camp just like all other new recruits, Krentz said he wasn’t overly worried about being deployed, because the 34th Infantry Division Red Bull Band had never before been deployed.
“It was a long shot — I never would have imagined that,” Krentz said of his deployment. “But that ultimately shaped me as a person and helped me grow as a musician. I don’t think I would choose to do it again, but I also wouldn’t trade that experience for anything.”
The 45-member band was split into smaller groups like a country band, two rock bands, and various other ensembles. Krentz said the band’s main purpose was to entertain the troops and boost morale. While big name acts like Toby Keith famously travel overseas to perform at some of the bigger bases, Krentz said one of the most rewarding parts for him was getting to play at some of the small bases very few people get to see. Some of them, he said, didn’t even have running water.
“It was really cool because sometimes it was the first time they’d had live entertainment in months, or over a year,” Krentz said. “That was one of the most fulfilling things for me, being able to do something I love and bring a smile to people’s faces over there that hadn’t had that in a long time.”
This week, Krentz’s whirlwind tour around the Midwest and around the world will bring him and his band to Watertown. Maiden Dixie will be playing at the Performing Arts Center at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 1. It won’t be the first time Krentz and his band have played in the area -— they’ve previously played events like Winstock and the Carver County Fair — but he said it’s always special to play close to home.
“People that have known me for a long time have known this is what I wanted to do,” Krentz said. “It’s cool to be able to come back and do that.”
Post a comment as anonymous
Watch this discussion.
Welcome to the discussion.
Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.