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Friday, Apr. 29, 2016

Bluegrass fever hits Storm Lake

Tuesday, March 12, 2002

Sioux Central quintet picks out niche as local country, bluegrass band in Storm Lake area.

Slowly but surely, the chairs in Abner Bell's Coffeehouse began to fill up Wednesday night around 6:30, as those in the audience buzzed about the sound of the band which was getting ready to perform in one hour.

Slowly but surely, the available space became full, and employees soon had to bring out more chairs for the overflow crowd to sit on.

Slowly but surely, the classmates, parents and supporters of the band came to cheer the members of the local band All Strung Out, who took in the entire process before their concert with looks of excitement and anticipation on their faces.

Made up of four Sioux Central High School students and one Sioux Central teacher, All Strung Out is a quintet specializing in country and bluegrass music, and the tunes in their sets range from John Denver's "Take me Home, Country Roads," to the theme song of the University of Tennessee, "Rocky Top."

Sioux Central High School vocal instructor Heidi Thies, who formed the stringed instrument group in February of 2001, said working with sophomore Deb Christiansen, juniors Jordan Christy and Lindsay Pierce and senior Nikki McKibben has been one of the most enjoyable experiences she has been a part of in her four years as a member of the Sioux Central school district.

"Working with them is just a blast," Thies said. "The hardest part has been finding time to practice together, because these girls are so involved in so many other things. But they've been really willing to fit this into their busy schedules, and it's been a fun experience for all of us."

"It's been something that's really been able to broaden my musical experiences," Pierce, who plays trumpet in the high school band, said. "It's been a lot of fun to be able to sing and learn to play other instruments with friends."

Thies, who attended Charter Oak-Ute High School, began to teach herself how to play the guitar as a teenager after watching a performance from the Dutton Band, which now has its own show in Branson, Mo.

Her mother, who plays the violin, supported her daughter's new interest, and Thies slowly began to acquire more stringed instruments, buying a banjo from a retired Methodist minister for $100, getting a violin and receiving a new mandolin as a Christmas gift from her parents during her senior year at Charter Oak-Ute.

"As I got more instruments, I just learned to play them on my own," Thies said. "I never had formal training on any of them, but I practiced a lot and it's paid off now."

After following in her mother's footsteps and earning a degree in music from Wayne State University in Wayne, Neb., Thies came to Sioux Central, and began wondering how she could put the variety of instruments she accumulated over the past few years to good use in the high school setting.

"I looked around, and I thought it was just a shame that all of these instruments weren't being used," Thies said. "I thought it would be a great idea to see if some of my students would be willing to try to learn these and form a band, and that's exactly what happened."

Thies recruited Christy, who was already an accomplished guitar player, and three other Sioux Central students to join the band, and All Strung Out was born 13 months ago.

Three of the pupils then graduated from high school in the spring, forcing Thies to recruit McKibben, Pierce and Christiansen, who all enthusiastically volunteered to be in the quintet even though none of the three new members had any experience with stringed instruments of any shape or size before accepting Thies' offer.

However, they all had a solid background in both instrumental and vocal music, and McKibben, who played the role of Dorothy in the school's theater production of "The Wizard of Oz" last fall, said that background played a significant role in allowing herself and the others to pick up instruments such as the string bass and banjo fairly quickly.

"It's fun to play these instruments, and being involved in music beforehand really helped me, and I think the others too," McKibben said. "I've always enjoyed being in music, and when I was asked to do this, I thought it was another great way to be involved."

"It was tough, but it was worth it," Christiansen, who learned to play the banjo in three days before her first performance, told the Abner Bell's crowd. "It was a new experience trying to learn the banjo in such a short time, but I'm glad I did it."

The five members of All Strung Out each play a variety of instruments, including guitar, string bass, violin, mandolin and banjo, and Thies and the four high school students decided to adopt a country and bluegrass theme for their band.

Thies said the group chose the country and bluegrass genre of music both because it fit in well with the instruments they had available and because it was an enjoyable type of music to practice and perform for others.

"I think country and bluegrass music is really fun, and it's something that I think is fun for people to listen to too," Thies said. "I asked the kids before we got started if they thought they would want to play this style of music, and they were all enthusiastic about it. They were really willing to learn about it and to have fun with it, and that has made the whole experience even more enjoyable, because they have just as much fun playing this as I do."

"I think it's a fun style to play," Pierce said. "The songs are fun to play for others, and it's fun to be able to practice this kind of music with everyone too."

After mastering close to 10 songs, All Strung Out began performing for a number of spectators around the Sioux Rapids area, including residents attending local business meetings, members of civic groups and those attending Sioux Central music concerts.

The appearance at Abner Bell's was one of the largest non-school audiences for the teens.

"We hope to get out and get more gigs as we go on," Thies said. "It's been a lot of fun playing for crowds like this and that's what we're hoping to do as we go on."

As the five plucked at their banjos and played their violins Wednesday night, the crowd was obviously pleased. All Strung Out was creating not anxiety, but a sense of satisfaction in the coffeehouse.