As March roared out like a lion, a small but enthusiastic audience gathered at Backus Auditorium in International Falls to listen to the heart-warming “small town stories” of Neal Hagberg.
Members of the Border Concert Association who braved the elements to attend the concert were treated to a touching presentation in words and song of some of the memories Hagberg has of growing up in small-town Minnesota.
Hagberg, who obviously loves the town he grew up in, opened the first section of his concert—entitled “Who Brought Us Here?”—with the song “Small Town” by John Cougar Mellencamp.
He continued on, through story and song, to introduce the audience to some of the characters who lived in his home town of Montevideo, Mn.
People like “Oscar Sorby, Helga Paulson, and Happy Marbles” not only helped establish the town, and contributed to its development, but also assisted in raising a generation of small-town kids.
Hagberg sang several poignant songs he wrote himself. One, entitled “A Gambler’s Life,” spoke about the risks of farming and how a bad year affected not only the farmer but the entire town.
These personal accounts of life in a small town painted a remarkable tale of growing up in southern Minnesota and demonstrated Hagberg’s strength as a songwriter and a modern troubadour.
The audience hung on each note and every word as Hagberg regaled those present with stories from his youth.
When he got to the well-known songs such as “I’ve Been Working on The Railroad” and “Amazing Grace/ How Great Thou Art,” he encouraged the enthusiastic audience to sing along.
The second section of the concert, entitled “How We Grew Up: Or Dogs, Bikes and Swimming Holes,” continued on with happy stories about best friends, brothers, and getting into the kind of trouble that only small-town kids get to experience.
The songs from this section included “Stars,” a story of watching shooting stars while sitting on the roof with his brother, “First Best Friend” about his first and closest friend, Marty, and “Sam,” the tale of the love and companionship of a very special dog.
Those who grew up in a small town had no trouble relating to Hagberg’s experiences.
The title of the final section of the concert was “Where Do We Go From Here: Or The Staying, The Leaving and Coming Back Home.”
During this set, Hagberg’s passion for his music, and love for his family and friends, shone forth brilliantly in songs such as “Father Like You,” which he wrote for his father, “The Eyes of Your Family,” and “Old Love,” which he dedicated to his wife, Leandre.
Hagberg finished the evening with a well-known song, “I’ve Been Everywhere” by Woody Guthrie. Not only did he do a remarkable job presenting his own version of the song, but also added an additional verse which highlighted many of the small towns of Minnesota.
Hagberg didn’t stop there, however. He also stunned the audience with verses of towns in Spain, Sweden, and even Japan.
“Small Town Stories” was a remarkable evening presented by an insightful story-teller and a brilliant musician.
Hagberg’s heartfelt reflections of life in a small town will stay with the members of the Border Concert Association for years to come.