Wide, open spaces

The Huckleberrys are still performing after more than 50 years.

SAGINAW — The thought of The Huckleberrys fading from the local music scene seems incomprehensible to some. But unless things change pretty quickly, that’s exactly what’s going to happen to the band with local roots going back more than 50 years.

“We’re not gonna be inside anymore,” lead guitarist Larry Barkemeyer said after Friday evening’s outdoor show at Saginaw Vineyard. “At this point in time, almost all of us have underlying conditions, but we feel pretty safe playing out in the open air.”

It’s wonderful to have live music again, but most clubs around town aren’t even scheduling any events during the pandemic. The Brewstation’s music scene is reopening on Friday, July 3 at 7 p.m. with The Huckleberrys. PublicHouse in Springfield has open-air seating and will resume its Wednesday concert lineup on July 8 with Gumbo Groove.

Many musicians, obviously, are scraping to get by during these tough times.

“For people who do this full-time, it has to be a real struggle,” bass player Neil Isaacson said. “You have to get more creative. Look at Garth Brooks, he’s doing a drive-in movie concert and charging a hundred bucks a head. But he’s Garth Brooks.” That concert on Saturday, June 27 played at 300 theaters nationwide. 

Anyone who has lived in these parts since the Nixon administration has probably seen Barkemeyer play guitar … and if you haven’t, you probably should make a point of seeing him if you enjoy a cowboy country musician who can play virtually any style. 

Barkemeyer moved to Cottage Grove as an eighth-grader in 1965. After graduating from Cottage Grove High School, he became a road musician for several years before settling down and playing local gigs with his good buddy Jeff Boyle. A bass player, Boyle was always a central figure in the band until he had a serious accident in 2016. Tragically, he died two years ago. 

“Our band (Blue Light Special) played the B&B Lounge in Creswell for 30 years or so,” Barkemeyer said. “We were a rockin’ blues band … very loud! The kind of band that I go out of my way to NOT listen to now.” 

In 2005, Barkemeyer befriended husband-and-wife team Tom and Colleen Ellis, and soon after, they formed The Huckleberrys. Colleen’s Celtic-Irish sound was like the peanut butter that Barkemeyer’s cowboy country chocolate needed — the perfect blend. Colleen stole the stage Friday on such songs as “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right” by Bob Dylan and “The Rose Tattoo,” the title track from their new CD. 

Tom has enjoyed quite a life. He learned how to play the drums from the Grateful Dead’s Bill Kreutzmann as the legendary band was forming. 

He played in a group that often warmed up for the Dead, the Byrds and other top acts. Later, he was in the regular warmup band for Jesse Colin Young. 

Colleen and Tom got together in 1970, then moved to Hawaii four years later, and got immersed into the bluegrass and country scene there.

“Colleen and I have been playing bluegrass and country for many years now,” Tom wrote in an email, “and the old hippy days and music are fun to talk about, but not really our roots any more … (we’re) much more bound to Johnny Cash than Jerry Garcia.”

Those Huckleberry roots go deep and wide. They’re as much of a Southern Lane County tradition as marionberry pie. 

Let’s hope we get a vaccine so they’ll still have a lot more music to dish out.



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