[Featured Photo by Betty Ann @happybettyann]
There is a man who calls the Mankato region home named Ocho who has a heart that beats to the rhythm of every up-and-coming musician who is willing to try something new and put themselves out there.
“My quest for making a living has brought me to the place where I’m bringing people to the stage, people who haven’t done it before,” Ocho said. “Most of us have something that we can do to show people that’s valuable. You don’t need to be on TV and you don’t need to be validated by some professional judges. You don’t need to be a star to be a performer for a minute and do it well and impress people. You have something inside of you that’s good and worth showing off. It turns out that helping people discover this is very gratifying. People have told me that it has improved the quality of their lives.”
“You have something inside of you that’s good and worth showing off”
“I love getting new people on stage. I get excited for them. I met my friend Leigha doing karaoke,” he explained. “She got on stage singing and I was playing guitar. We had rehearsed a couple of times but she had never gotten on stage with a live instrument. She was awesome at it! I know she is going to be great. I was excited for her but for myself too!”
Building A Home
In addition to a passion for building individuals, at the core of his being, Ocho is working on building community. Community in the sense of the family of local musicians, but also the community that consists of Mankato, North Mankato, St. Peter, New Ulm, and the nearby towns.
He started his musical career as a singer-songwriter but the required lifestyle pushed him in another direction, “I actually toured for a year-and-a-half straight. I lived out of my van, booked shows, played shows. I did find a lot of cool communities but I knew where I wanted to be. I didn’t grow up in Mankato, just went to college here, but this town stands out!” He continued, “Paying for gas, finding lodging and all that other business. I don’t need that. I didn’t want to have to do that. I wanted my life to be simpler.”
He concluded that, “I would just rather be here. I would just rather be in this community that I like. I wanted to do more community building stuff. I think I’m making it a better place.” That choice has been informing his decisions ever since.
Pushing On Walls
When asked about opportunities for artists in the region Ocho offered a story.
“A couple of years ago I did a reunion show with my high school band,” he recalled. “We were from Pierre, South Dakota. The reunion brought back memories of how very hard it was for us to get anything done! We were in demand so we could generate money but it was hard for us to find a venue because we were kids and because we were a punk rock band.”
Ocho continued, “Later, there was an anthology published about that music scene. I wrote a piece called How to Push on A Wall. It was about us trying to do what we wanted to do when we were outside of the cultural norm. It wasn’t sports. It wasn’t academic. People just didn’t understand. I spent a lot of my time in high school trying to push this wall and trying to negotiate with people who were older than me and didn’t trust me. All I wanted was to find somewhere I could do my thing. There is still a bit of that in me now.”
“So,” he says to those who aren’t finding things as easy as they’d like, “If you want a place to do something go get it. Life’s too short to wait for someone else.”
The very first thing Ocho says about himself is, “I’m a generalist.” It would be just as accurate to say that he has an extremely broad skill set. His decision not to seek fame and fortune as a singer-songwriter makes that skill set a very useful thing.
“I find out what Mankato needs and then I do that”
“I do most of my own stuff. I hang up posters and that involves learning some graphic design and some marketing. I do my own promotion on social media,” he explained. “If I’m the open mic host, I’m running sound, I’m a stage manager getting people on and off. I’m also booking. I can play guitar and I can play drums and sing. I can also write music. I play bass a little sometimes too. I studied psychology and got a master’s in counseling. I think that helps me kind of figure out how to listen to people. If my goal is to not move around I find out what Mankato needs and then I do that.”
When asked how many bands he currently plays with, Ocho just shook his head and couldn’t come up with a number. It was a little easier for him to enumerate his more concrete roles.
“I also do an Acoustic Showcase at Buster’s on the second Friday of every month and an open mic in New Ulm on the fourth Friday. I’m DJing a lot of weddings lately. People just started asking me if I could do it and I said yes. That’s how a lot of stuff I’ve done has come about.”
Betty and Ocho
Perhaps closest to his heart is his group Betty and Ocho. “We were friends when we started,” he remembered. “She was taking guitar lessons and getting up at open mic. I saw the reaction she was getting from people. They’re like, ‘Oh she’s good! She’s got a great voice! Her songs are good too!’ So, I suggested we learn some songs together outside of lessons.
“So we’re learning some stuff together and she’s playing a show by herself and gets offered a gig that’s three hours long and she can’t play three. That was at The Grand Center for Arts & Culture in New Ulm. She’s smart so she said yes. Then she asked me if we could do it together. So, we did! That was eight years ago last month. A lot of stuff happened and now we’re married!”
“I would like people to know there’s stuff to do and see and absorb and experience here. And that it’s always worth coming”
Is it worth it?
“I like to think that what I do is make it look easy. I’m the guy you can see who can get you on stage. I keep all of it moving without running around pulling my hair out,” he said, doffing his cap, laughing, revealing very close-cropped hair and what may have been a shiny pate!
But is it worth it? “There’s some bands that have done the community thing with me and go on to produce their own stuff,” he said. “The best examples are probably The Last Revel and Kind Country. They’re both Twin Cities based bands now. Last Revel played at Mankato Brewery last year and Kind Country was at Red Rocks just a few months ago. The guy I wanted to talk to in the band made a beeline for me. I know I wasn’t the only person he wanted to talk to. I was very flattered!”
What does Ocho dream about? “I would like to get to the place that people can come to town any night of the week and be entertained. It’s already true most nights. I would like people to know there’s stuff to do and see and absorb and experience here. And that it’s always worth coming.”
Finally, he offers an invitation, “If you see me walking or riding my bike, just honk and yell ‘Ocho’ out the window! I love that!”
Ocho’s Facebook Page
Betty and Ocho
Red Rocks Open Mic
Pub 500 Open Mic
Mankato Acoustic Showcase
Open Mic Night at the Grand Kabaret
It Came From The 80s
The Full Setup
Every Tuesday Night