My Town My Music’s Local Artist Spotlight

While some artists/bands are regulars in the local scene, Rochester is quietly overflowing with talented musicians that perhaps few people have heard of, outside of the musicians’ immediate circles. MTMM is committed to throwing the spotlight on these artists and hearing their thoughts on our music culture.

Our first spotlight features Carl Stephenson. Carl is a very active musician, and may be one of the more well-known faces within our musical community. Besides being an established, incredibly talented musician and teacher, Carl is one of the most genuine people I have the pleasure of knowing. He recently took some time to share his thoughts with us.

Tell us a bit about yourself:
I teach guitar, bass, and ukulele at Schmitt Music and play guitar for “Incognito”, “LP & The 45s”, “Can’t Let Go” (Linda Ronstadt tribute), and “Debbie Anthony and the Level Best Band”. I also play in “Cook With Honey” with Jane Foote and sometimes with “Parks and Kleist”. I also played in the recent “Crazy on You” Heart tribute at the Wicked Moose.

Carl Stephenson
Carl with his first guitar.

How has music impacted your life?
I started guitar around 10 years old and have loved music and guitar ever since. I got a BA in classical guitar performance. Fortunately I’ve been hardworking and lucky, so music and performance has been my lifelong career. It’s been satisfying, and I’m grateful to have this life!

What particular experiences have shaped you as a musician/performer?
Listening to my parent’s stereo as a child was important. My mom liked music and would sing around the house. Playing in high school bands. Studying classical music in college was a big deal for me, but then joining the Ellis Street Singers there opened my mind to playing pop music.

I toured with Stryker for 16 years, which was wonderful – playing 5 or 6 nights a week most of the time.

It’s also been great playing in Rochester area bands. There are so many talented musicians here and the community is very welcoming.

When did you realize your passion for performing live?
I think the first time I really got off on live performance was in a high school band I was in. We rented out the 4-H building and sold tickets. It got a little out of hand and seemed like a big rock concert to us. And we made some good money!

Do you have any pre-show rituals?
I actually print out a spreadsheet of all the stuff I need for whatever group I’m playing with. I also do some breathing exercises to center myself.

What’s the funniest/strangest thing that’s happened to you while performing?
We had a lot of hilarious times on the road. Working together with the same people for years, you become a bit like family. I’ll never forget playing a weeknight in North Dakota. It wasn’t busy except for one big table. We were a bit squirrely and the bartender sent us up plenty of drinks. Eventually we just got to the point that we were laughing so much that we couldn’t even sing. Later we found out the big table was the hotel board of directors. They liked our antics, fortunately!

Meeting which artist would be most intimidating?
I think meeting Prince would have been the hardest. He was so talented and had so much charisma, but he also seemed mysterious and complicated with a lot of attitude.

Carl Stephenson - Rochester MN Musician
Carl Stephenson – Photo by Mike Hardwick

What does live performance mean to you?
I love performing because I love music and making music. It also can put me into this really cool zone mentally, I think partly because of the musicians you work with and partly because you’re in front of a crowd.

Do you have any projects in the works?
I recently joined Debbie Anthony and the Level Best Band. My next big project is learning their material and having rehearsals leading up to a number of shows this summer.

What do you see as strengths of the Rochester music scene?
I think it’s the community. You have all these talents and projects going on all the time, but people seem to have a level head on their shoulders – very few ego problems.

What aspects of the local scene do you feel could use improvement/more attention?
I’d like to see more music venues. Losing the Wicked Moose and Boomer’s was tough. The economics of music are challenging, and there is a lot of competition for attention.

What is your idea of a perfect venue, as a performer and/or fan?
I really like theaters. With the Linda Ronstadt tribute we’ve played The State Theatre in Zumbrota, the Rochester Civic Theatre, and the Paradise Theatre in Faribault. This Saturday we are playing Potter Auditorium in Chatfield.
I once saw Todd Rundgren at a theatre in the Twin Cities, and it was the best sound I have ever heard at a live music event.

What is the best concert you’ve seen in Rochester?
I just saw the Choral Arts Ensemble presents Music of the Spheres concert at Gloria Dei Lutheran Church. I absolutely loved it – the music and musicianship really touched me.

What artist(s) would you love to see come to Rochester?
Favorites for me would be Bonnie Raitt, Lucinda Williams, or Cake! Especially somewhere with great acoustics.