DL police chief moonlights as rocker off duty
By day, Tim Eggebraaten keeps the peace here as the chief of police.
But don’t accuse the 47-year-old of being a member of the fun police after hours, when he dresses down, picks up an acoustic guitar and microphone and entertains crowds at private parties, conferences and bars across the region as one-man band Off Duty, a name he thought up during one of his first gigs.
“They’d looked at me funny because they’d been talking about me as a police officer,” he said. “So I said, ‘Hold on, I’m Tim Eggebraaten. Relax – I’m off duty.’ I thought, ‘That has a nice ring to it.’ ”
His dual roles in Detroit Lakes have proven to be a local “asset,” according to G.L. Tucker, a City Council member who was at The Bridge Marina, Bar & Grill for an Off Duty performance last Friday.
“It fits in with the culture of the community,” he said.
Eggebraaten is a professional at work, Tucker said. But his unique performing gig also gives residents a more casual and relatable view of their police chief, he said.
It all comes down to the power of the songs he covers, Eggebraaten said, whether it’s “House of the Rising Sun” or “Margaritaville.”
“One of the nice side effects that I’ve really been seeing is the music drops boundaries between people,” he said. “I can be up playing a song and people will come up and talk to me … if I was in uniform, there’s no way they would come up and talk to me.”
On his own
The Fisher, Minn., native and lifelong singer first pursued music in high school, when a group of friends got together for a vocal contest. They cut a tape and played in a band for a while, and he taught himself to play guitar while at Minnesota State University Moorhead. Along the way, he honed his skills on the harmonica.
But Eggebraaten’s dreams of being a full-fledged performer were put on hold when he started a career. After working for a couple of years as a security guard at Concordia College and a jail officer for the Clay County Sheriff’s Office, he joined the Detroit Lakes Police Department in 1992, and was promoted to chief in 2011.
In the early 2000s, he saw local one-man performer Dan Holt at a neighborhood block party and decided he could do it on his own, too.
Eggebraaten started buying equipment, and even if it was difficult to find time because he was working night shifts, he started getting jobs at birthday parties and anniversaries in 2003. He upgraded to a better drum machine, and when he switched to day shifts six years ago, started to book more performances.
He also got backing audio tracks for a dozen popular songs that he says add a nice touch to his covers – but he doesn’t use any “vocal tricks,” and said he doesn’t do “glorified karaoke” on the stage.
Off Duty’s popularity has soared in recent years, and Eggebraaten’s on track to play 100 shows this year. Still, he said it’s unlikely he’ll team up with other musicians because he likes going solo, which means he can find time to spend with his three sons and wife.
“If they’ve got a football game or something, or if there’s a family event, I can completely schedule around that,” he said. “I’m not obligated to do whatever the drummer’s girlfriend’s parents are doing.”
After more than a decade of gigs at retirement homes, kids’ programs and everything in between, Eggebraaten said he’s been pleasantly surprised one of his early fears about performing hasn’t been a problem. To date, he hasn’t yet had to switch from Tim-the-musician to Tim-the-authority during a show.
Some locals don’t like him because of his day job, but he said they typically don’t show up to his gigs, while others have changed their minds.
“I have arrested people before (who) have come up to me and said, ‘Dude, I love that song, can you do this one?’ ” he said. “Then we can start talking about music, and it really breaks down those social barriers because music is so powerful.”
Still, he can’t resist one visible nod to his day job while on the stage. During his recent show at The Bridge, Eggebraaten boasted a bright yellow guitar strap with the words “Police Line – Do Not Cross.”
A reason to sing
Eggebraaten’s high school sweetheart and wife of 25 years, Denise, said his background in law enforcement has helped him be a successful performer. He was already used to late nights from many years working night shifts at the police department, she said, and he’s good at carving out time for his family.
A busy schedule means the locals often see him at their favorite hangouts, and she said he’s recognized more as a performer than a police chief. In some ways, she prefers her husband when he’s the fun-loving singer more while serving as a straight-laced authority.
“He’s pretty serious when he’s the police chief,” she said. “He almost needs to be.”
Dale Sattler said he got an interesting introduction to Eggebraaten after moving to Detroit Lakes last summer, watching him sing in church, perform at Zorbaz and drive the streets on patrol – all in one week.
“It was kind of a unique scenario,” he said.
The increasingly busy performance schedule is profitable, but Eggebraaten said the money he makes is a nice bonus, not the reason he does it.
“Police work is stressful, and this is a great opportunity to release that stress in a healthy way,” he said.
Every gig is his favorite gig, Eggebraaten said. The crowd is going to have fun with or without him, and he sees it as his job to provide the soundtrack to whatever event he’s at.
“Whether it’s a fun song or a sad song or a reflective song, if I’m doing something that I love to do and it’s having an impact on that group or that person, it’s moments like that that really kick me in the butt and get me motivated to do more,” he said.
When he thinks back on his music career, Eggebraaten doesn’t reflect on “big, grandiose” moments. Instead, he remembers the time he played a few years ago at an assisted living facility in Oklee, Minn., where a small crowd watched him pluck the strings of his guitar.
One of the residents, a dying man who was unable to join the others, let Eggebraaten play his custom guitar in his room. After getting through some old country songs – the kind of songs that man used to play on that guitar – Eggebraaten started to play “Amazing Grace,” and was told later the old man was brought to tears by his performance.
“Something that I was able to do that I love doing touched this guy, and he touched me,” he said. “That definitely stands out.”
He’ll be eligible to retire from the police department in a few years when he turns 50, and said he’s now considering ramping up his involvement in Off Duty in the hopes of making it a full-time gig after retirement, if he decides to leave the force.
But the Eggebraatens plan to stay put in Detroit Lakes, even if he steps down from police work, and he said he’s keeping his options open. For now, he’ll keep busy, both on the job and off duty.
“Part of the challenge is as a police officer, I kind of like to keep my life private, but as the musician side of me, I want to keep that public,” he said. “It’s been a real good challenge of balancing that, and so far, it’s worked out really well.”