I am trying to figure out how I can make the Alive After Five event tonight night because the crazy-talented Erik Koskinen Band is playing. If you haven’t seen Koskinen or his band play, I highly recommend taking this opportunity to do so.

When I lived in Minneapolis, I wasn’t afraid to venture out to shows on my own. There was a night I drove over to Saint Paul to catch Erik’s set at the Turf Club. I had always heard great things about him, but never witnessed it for myself. I remember finding a good spot in the audience. For once the tallest man was on stage and not directly in front of me.

Folks, I was blown away! This guy plays a mean guitar. And not only a mean guitar, but a mean country guitar. When a person can make anything look that easy you know they’ve been working at it a long time.

“If you’re one of those who say, ‘I like all music but country,’ then you haven’t heard Erik Koskinen and his band!”

When I was touring with the Johnny Holm Band, now long ago, I was a pretty green musician. It was in this band that I got my education, as it’s called, in “The School of Hard Knocks.” Nick “Chewy” Baca was Johnny’s guitar player and it was Chewy who started schooling me on what’s what with guitars.

Chewy was a pretty serious 80’s rocker and had years of guitar on him before wearing shimmery vests and dangling earrings became his thing. He introduced me to the term chicken pickin’ and chicken pickin’ is really cool. I am certain Mr. Koskinen knows his fair share about that!

The Turf Club wasn’t the only time I saw Koskinen play. He had a residency at Icehouse in Minneapolis and I would come on by after a full day of teaching lessons.

For good and for bad I had already quit the sauce, so I would just hang out and really pay attention to what was happening on stage. There were shows where he would sit on a wooden chair and play, almost as if we were hanging out on the back porch. He would play with that easy, laid back, back-porchy kind of vibe too.

I’m not sure if he gets nervous or not, but if he does, it never shows. He seems like a guy who really knows and loves to play music.

There were times when he would be with a full band. I enjoy watching a band hit the stage when they have a chemistry that can’t be fabricated. I remember those times in some of my past bands – the guys cheesing out over certain rhythms or notes and then making weird faces at each other. It cracks me up!

Anyway, Koskinen with a full band digs real nice. When they get swampy, its real swampy and part of the listener wants them to run wild (musically) all night. But they play with restraint and then let loose, that’s what gets the crowd going. Smart.

The band comes across as controlled-spontaneity. Smarts and instinct mixed with education and life experience makes for a pretty darn good musician. It’s country music, so go hear a good story backed by some swamp or if we get lucky, some chicken pickin’! And if you’re one of those who say, “I like all music but country,” then you haven’t heard Erik Koskinen and his band!

My vote is for Thursday evening at Alive After Five  at the Civic Center Plaza.