The four members of country-western/classic rock band Incredibly Real will take a break from their college studies to perform, but they all came up through the Park Rapids public school system. In fact, one of them hasn't graduated yet.
Bass guitarist Dan Walsh, 16, is a junior at Park Rapids Area High School. Thanks to Post-Secondary Enrollment Options, he is also taking general-education classes at Minnesota State University Moorhead.
Meantime, his 19-year-old twin brothers Jack (the band's lead singer) and Tim (lead guitarist), as well as drummer Derek Reichling, 20, are all PRAHS graduates studying construction management at North Dakota State College of Science in Wahpeton, N.D.
"That's kind of kept us busy the last year or two, so we haven't put a whole lot of focus on the band," said Jack. "We haven't been playing much."
They live together in Fargo while school is on, but they look forward to coming home and taking part in the revived Park Rapids Firemen's Ball tradition.
"This is our third year, now," said Jack. "The first year, we were the opener. Last year, we were the second act. This year, now, it sounds like we're the headliners."
The group also played last fall at the Nevis firemen's ball.
"The guys on the Park Rapids Fire Department are some of the nicest guys I've ever met," said Jack. "We know a lot of them pretty well. They're so much fun to be around, and they know how to have a good time. It's kind of the cherry on top that it's to support the fire department."
Noting that proceeds from the ball go toward purchasing new equipment that will help firefighters do their job better, he said, "that's the fun part about it."
The brothers say they have enjoyed watching the Firemen's Ball grow each year.
"They're a good crowd. They always are," said Dan.
Escape from the sax section
The band's origins go back to 2012, when the twins were 12 and played in the school band. Jack was on saxophone; Tim and Derek played percussion.
Then misfortune changed the seating arrangement.
"I got Bell's palsy," said Jack. "That's what kind of led to it all. Half my face was paralyzed when I woke up one morning. It was like that for two months."
The problem was, he couldn't close his mouth around the saxophone reed. So, he moved to the back of the band room with the percussion players.
"I have always liked playing music," he said, noting that they took piano lessons from Jody Ziemann and guitar lessons from her nephew, Alex Ziemann.
"We had all just started playing guitar," said Jack, "We were like, 'What the hell, let's go try it.' It took us a while to get any sort of real thing going."
They chose the name Incredibly Real by searching the internet for oxymorons like the name of 1980s rock band Quiet Riot.
The band played one year at the Hubbard County Fair talent contest and lost. The next year, they tried again and won the $50 prize, moving on to compete at the Minnesota State Fair.
"We lost to a couple of girls dressed like tap-dancing ducks," said Jack.
Tim said, "It was a complete joke. But it was fun."
"It was fun to have an excuse to go to the Cities and play a show," said Jack, recalling that they went on WCCO radio, where Dan got to play a banjo on the air.
After that, Jack said, "We played at the high school a lot. We played some bars."
"We've done a few private parties," Dan added. "We played 2nd Street Stage a lot."
"Yeah, we did the Night to Unite at the park," said Tim.
"Rodeos," said Jack. "A lot of Park Rapids functions."
Tim said they would play "for anything," often for free.
"For me, there's nothing better than when the crowd's into it, singing along and dancing," said Jack. "We've gone all the way out to Wisconsin and played shows, and we'll play a four-hour set, and nobody will get up and dance."
"Then you're just playing for the money," said Tim.
"Sure, they'll clap after every song, but it's a lot more fun when the crowd's having a good time," said Jack.
"I'd rather play for free and have a good crowd, than get paid pretty good and have the crappiest people," said Tim.
Besides their main roles in the band, everyone contributes some background vocals and Jack sometimes plays rhythm guitar or harmonica. He also does some songwriting, though none of his original material has made it into their act yet.
Asked to name some of the first songs they performed together, Dan said, "'Boondocks.' 'Shot through the Heart.' 'Country Girl.'"
Other favorites include Garth Brooks' "Friends in Low Places," Johnny Cash's "Folsom Prison Blues," Georgia Satellites' "Keep Your Hands to Yourself," Travis Tritt's "Trouble" (their usual encore) and Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Sweet Home Alabama," used to introduce the band.
The sometime boy band has pretty much grown up.
"Tim, Derek, and I, we graduate in May," said Jack, "so we're figuring out what kind of jobs we're going to get. Are they going to be jobs that keep us on the road and don't leave any time for the band, or do we pick some jobs that allow us to do some touring on the weekends?"
Still, the fun hasn't gone out of being Incredibly Real.
"We have a good time doing it," Jack said. "We don't get paid enough to do it as a living. So, the whole thing is just for fun, and to meet different people. We've met a lot of cool people."
Asked whether anything weird has happened during their gigs, Jack said, "You get drunk people who jump up on the stage now and again. You have to ask them kindly to get down. Sometimes they won't."
Gesturing at his brothers, he added, "These two get hit on a lot. I've always found that entertaining."
"It's kind of tough being cute teenage boys at a bar setting around older drunk women," said Dan.
"Ain't that the truth," said Tim.