Local musicians carry on old-time tradition at Pelican Valley, senior centers

“Al Siegle and Friends” has become “Friends of Al Siegle,” since the beloved Pelican educator’s death a year ago. The gang is pictured here, playing at the Pelican Valley Senior Living nursing home Fiddler Al Bauman, foreground, Renee Fuchs, and Bruce Nelson, in western hat.
“Friends of Al Siegle” at Pelican Valley, from left, Leigh Bauman, Betty Ishaug, Richard Jenson, Al Bauman, Renee Fuchs and Bruce Nelson.
The late Al Siegle: Educator, administrator, coach, town booster –and cowboy musician.

The musical legacy of Montana “cowboy” and late Pelican Rapids school educator and coach Al Siegle continues in the Pelican Rapids area.

The country, western, old time and folk music so loved by Siegle is still presented on a regular schedule around the community–thanks to a little help from his musical friends.

“We’re keeping Al alive in spirit…he was a heckuva swell guy,” said Bruce Nelson, a veteran musician and performer who with a core of a half-dozen perform regularly as “Friends of Al Siegle.” The group’s name is a turnaround from the days when Al was bandleader: “Al Siegle and Friends.”

Siegle, who died a year ago, was a man of many hobbies and interests–which evolved from the early 1960’s when he took a coach-teacher position with the Pelican school district. Over the decades, Siegle not only became a beloved figure as an educator–he also developed sideline hobbies that included raising cows–and performing cowboy music.

“Al was a very unique guy. He played music for the love of it,” said Nelson, himself a country boy who was raised–and learned guitar–in the hardscrabble Erhard-Maplewood Hill country. “I don’t think Al ever charged a penny for playing.”

Nelson has replaced Siegle as bandleader, with Dennis Bauman on fiddle; Leigh Bauman on guitar; Richard Jenson, banjo; Renee Fuchs on Bass; and Betsy Ishaug on keyboard. Other guests often join in with the band.

“People seem to love us…they tell us all the time. I don’t think we’re terribly good, but they do–and that’s what counts,” said Nelson.

The ensemble plays on a regular schedule at:
• Pelican Valley Senior Living’s Riverfront on Main (former Good Samaritan home) on the second Wednesday of the month
• Pelican Senior Citizens Center on the third Wednesday of the month
• Pelican Valley Nursing Home, fourth Wednesday of the month

Those dates are all at 11 a.m.

In Barnesville, the band plays first Thursday, 2 p.m., at the Care Center.

The group travels, but not a lot. They’ve played senior care sites in Barnesville and Hawley, among others, as well as the Rollag Lutheran senior group and the Veterans Home in Fergus Falls.

Musically, it helps to have a pro on board–especially when you’re filling the boots of a fellow like Al Siegle.

That’s where Nelson steps in.

His career started in 1959 as a youngster, playing for classmates at the old District 145 country school on the south edge of the foothills of Maplewood State Park. Even then, Nelson took his show on the road–playing other country schools, as far as District 161 in rural Pelican Rapids.

Since then, he’s played music fests, barn dances, and juke joints from Newton, North Dakota; to downtown Fargo; to Wisconsin; to Texas. He’s one of the few local pickers who can claim he made his living playing music on the road–traveling steadily from about 1994 to 2000.

As a young man in the early 1960’s, Nelson went to Nashville with dreams of stardom.

“There were guys who looked better than me; played better than me: sang better than me –working at Nashville carwashes for a buck an hour,” laughed Nelson.

He counted out the number of bands he’s performed with over the years–and the resume is approaching 40 different units.

He’s still active in the area, as a solo and group performer at churches and events. He played Maplewood Lutheran Church on July 23; and has upcoming events with his side project: The “Erhard Opry” band.

But honky tonks are not really his preference any more–after working decades on the sundown circuit at bars, taverns and night clubs.

“I don’t want to do the dance jobs any more,” laughed Nelson.

“Day gigs” with Al Siegle’s musical friends is an ideal schedule for the gang.

After packing up the gear at Pelican Valley–there’s still adequate time for an afternoon nap.