"It was tough, the first few gigs, saying, 'We are Raccoon Antlers,'" said Joe Christensen of Park Rapids. "I felt like a silly, little kid saying it, but after a while it grew on me."
Christensen let his sons John, 12, and Jack, 9, choose the name of their classic country/southern rock cover band, which first played together at the New Year.
Joe, guitar and vocals, has been playing since the late 1980s, when he was around John's age. He played with the band Colt 45 throughout its existence and has "filled in" with numerous other bands in the area, besides jamming with other local musicians and running the sound board for the Northern Lights Opera Company. He said he has always had a passion for music.
"I've wanted to have another band since the last band that I was in, and nothing has worked out," said Joe. "When it started, John was going to drum and my brother-in-law was going to play bass. Jack showed an interest in it, and I showed him a couple of things, and within a month, he was just pshew! Jack is just crazy! He learns so fast!"
John said he has been touching drums since he was about 6, but his dad said John "realistically" started playing at age 9. He is mostly self-taught. Jack, meantime, only started learning bass guitar last December. Their brief first appearance together in January was a sign of swift progress.
"He is amazing," Joe said of his younger son. "He can listen to a song and he just starts playing it. Last night he grabbed my guitar and he's playing six-string, and within minutes Jack had 'Long-haired Country Boy,' the intro. He had it down."
As for his older son, Joe said, "I've played with a lot of musicians, and I will put this drummer with any of them that I've played with. He's great, and his attitude is awesome."
Joe recalled that the first song the three of them played in public was "Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way" by Waylon Jennings.
"That was a pretty cool night," he said, "because I'd never dreamed that I would play with both my kids, doing that. That was pretty awesome."
The first time they played a full night together was in March at One More Club. Later in March, they performed at the Firemen's Ball in Park Rapids, where Nate Luetgers painted a picture of them that now hangs in the family's living room.
"The night that we realized that we had a full night's worth of songs, you were speechless," John reminded his dad.
"We've got, like, five hours of material," Joe said, adding that they work on new material all the time.
Some of their songs have bombed, such as "Good" by Better Than Ezra, which Joe said "did not work. Nope. It doesn't fit us. We're not that style of music."
On the other hand, their audience demanded an encore the first time they played AC/DC's "You Shook Me All Night Long."
All three band members agreed that their favorite song is "Purple Rain" by Prince.
"The solo can be so moving," said John.
"It's just a great song," said Joe. "Who doesn't like Prince?"
Good on stage
During their first three months as a group, Raccoon Antlers practiced an hour a day.
"Now we've got my grandbabies that have moved in with us," said Joe, "so practice has become really tough. We've got to drive 10 miles to another place to practice. We kind of lost our practice place."
"But we got good on stage," John said.
Supporting them at home is the boys' stepmom Candy Christensen, who runs their Facebook page. Their mom, Erin Rhoads of Nevis, has actually sung with them. Joe called her "very supportive" of the boys.
The trio has made regular appearances at One More Club and Foxy's Bar & Grill. They played at Akeley's Paul Bunyan Days. They're booked almost every weekend for the rest of the summer, too. Upcoming gigs include Nevis Muskie Days and the Wolf Lake Harvest Festival.
John said he and Jack start each gig feeling nervous, and it takes them their first set of songs to warm to the crowd.
Nevertheless, John said his favorite thing about performing is "watching other people have fun."
Jack said his favorite was "free drinks."
Joe laughed at this, explaining, "He's not allowed to have pop at home. So, when we go out and play, he gets one caffeinated pop and then a bunch of Sprite. He just loves it."
Once he gets over his nerves, Jack likes to tell jokes between songs.
"He is always funny — just a little ham," said Joe.
Playing for fun
The venue at each gig pays them a little money. Joe said half of the boys' share goes into a savings account, and they get to spend the other half. Jack spent some of his cash to get a wireless guitar unit so he can walk around freely while he plays. Both boys splurged on scooters.
Meantime, Joe noted, 100 percent of their tips go into their college fund. John has already halfway decided what he wants to major in.
"I've been kind of switching back and forth from being a biochemist or a surgeon," he said.
Jack hopes for a musical career. Assuming his brother continues to play drums, Jack said, "We're going to be the next AC/DC," recalling the band centered around brothers Malcolm and Angus Young.
Joe, who does plumbing and HVAC work, doesn't seem worried about their interest in music affecting his sons' future.
"It's worth it for everybody, no matter who you are," he said. "If you have a passion for it, follow it."