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Music and hospitality warm a snowy night at Michael Monroe’s log cabin

Jane Howard

Musician Michael Monroe and his wife and manager, Deb Mueller, have been hosting a log cabin concert series in their home on the Pike Lake Road. They combine food, companionship, and beautiful music in the restful setting of the North Woods. Guests range from neighbors to people who come from far away to enjoy an evening of warm hospitality. Above: These are some of Michael Monroe’s guitars, handcrafted by Dave Seaton of the GunflintTrail. It’s amazing to realize that North Woods trees can produce these beautiful tiger stripe and birds’ eye patterns. Musician Michael Monroe and his wife and manager, Deb Mueller, have been hosting a log cabin concert series in their home on the Pike Lake Road. They combine food, companionship, and beautiful music in the restful setting of the North Woods. Guests range from neighbors to people who come from far away to enjoy an evening of warm hospitality. Above: These are some of Michael Monroe’s guitars, handcrafted by Dave Seaton of the GunflintTrail. It’s amazing to realize that North Woods trees can produce these beautiful tiger stripe and birds’ eye patterns. You drive through the woods on a starry night until you find a log home spilling light onto the snow outside. You are greeted warmly at the door and follow your host up the stairs where you see a few people you know, a few you don’t, conversing over crackers and cheese, homemade bread, olives, chocolates, and their beverages of choice.

Staff photos/Brian Larsen Staff photos/Brian Larsen After an hour or so, you are invited to find a comfortable seat where you settle in for the soul-soothing music of Michael Monroe. Behind him are his Dave Seaton guitars, with tiger stripes and birds’ eyes you didn’t know Cook County wood could produce. He smiles and talks about his music, his instruments, his technology, and then he begins.

Layering rhythm upon rhythm, chord upon chord, Monroe builds his songs by recording live one sound after another. Each song has its own feeling – sometimes restful, sometimes playful. His lyrics ask big questions about life and how we spend it. Many of his songs are original, but even the ones that are not are performed so uniquely that they become his own.

So began Michael Monroe’s 2010 log cabin concert series, hosted in the home he shares with his wife and manager, Deb Mueller, on Pike Lake Road west of Grand Marais. Monroe and Mueller are often on the road for performances around the country and sometimes outside the country, but this is where they find rest and inspiration.

Monroe and Mueller have lived in Cook County since 1994 and had a cabin in Hovland until several years ago. “The getaway now is going down to the Cities to do gigs,” Monroe said.

In an interview after the performance, Monroe was asked what song tells the most about him at this time in his life.

“As It Should Be,” Monroe answered. “It’s about taking hints from nature about how to enjoy life.” He learns a lot from trees, which he considers a perfect example of “just enjoying being.” How do your surroundings affect your music?

Monroe recorded his “Winter Song” album since moving here. He often skis up to Bally Creek and back in the morning. Melodies and rhythms often start to float around in his brain while he skis. Winter is his creative time, he said. “I love winter.”

What part of your personality most enjoys performing?

The part that can be “totally ‘in the song,’” he said, when he’s not worried about a difficult passage. The bonus is when he knows the people feel the same way.

What part of your personality is most challenged by performing music for a living?

“I grew up very insecure,” Monroe stated, and he believes performing is the best way to overcome insecurity with people. He has learned that people all have similar needs and emotions. “Music is the connector,” he said. When you lose yourself in a performance, the audience can hardly keep from doing the same thing. “Part of the challenge is to stay with my confidence in how I love what I do.”

What is the contrast between performing in a city and working on music in Cook County like for you?

“I need both,” he said. “I need the solitude to be in tune with myself, and I need people to be in tune with myself.” People are mirrors for each other. Nature is also a mirror. “Both are important.”

Monroe spent two years living in the Virgin Islands, where he was required to sing songs he didn’t like and where he eventually hooked up with (believe it or not) a clown in order to pay the bills. He has also enjoyed vacationing in Hawaii and hopes to head to the coast of South Carolina this winter. How would you compare life in the North with life in Hawaii or the Caribbean?

Monroe said he loved sitting outside on warm nights, hearing the water, feeling moist breezes, smelling the ocean. “It was so much to fall in love with. …The contrast is huge.”

By the second summer in the Virgin Islands, however, the heat became unbearable. He started thinking, “Give me Minnesota.”

“You need both, I think,” Monroe said. “I need both.” He loves cross-country skiing, but “the whole winter thing” is starting to be too much for him. “I’m totally okay with the snowbird thing!”

How long have you been performing with Dave Seaton guitars? (Seaton is an outfitter on the Gunflint Trail.)

Monroe bought his first Seaton guitar in 2003 and first performed with it at the Guthrie. He does not take them onto planes.

What is your favorite venue?

The Lake Harriet band shell, blocks from where he once lived. “It’s homey,” he said, even with crowds of 2-3,000. He ends every summer with a performance there. It’s where he and Deb got married in 2008.

How has your music changed over time?

“I used to write about relationships, and then I wrote about more global things, sort of spiritual, and then it was nature most recently. And now, I’m not so sure.”

Do people ever sing along with you, and if so, how do you like that?

“I love it. It happens all the time.”

What is the greatest compliment someone could make about your music?

Meaningful to Monroe is “any way in which it has touched them personally or helped them get in touch with themselves.” One man once told him, “You helped me get in touch with my spirit.”

The evening grew very late, and Michael excused himself to go to bed while Deb stayed up to talk. She has also lived an interesting life. She became a professional figure skater at age 14, teaching and performing. She went all over Europe with International Holiday on Ice and later moved to Florida, where she performed on plastic “ice.”

Mueller became an RN, and her first nursing job was at Camp Menogyn on the Gunflint Trail.

As a young adult, she took up longdistance running. She has run at least 20 marathons, with a personal best of 3:04.

Mueller has also been a certified life coach for 11 years. She enjoys giving inspirational presentations to groups of businesswomen, who often continue to work with her individually. She expressed great satisfaction with people who have reached their goals and are doing what they want to do with their lives.

What are Mueller’s dreams? “I have visions of snow birding and traveling and lots of warm weather and being able to run again. I want to be around an ice rink more. …Thenext place I live, there’s going to be a rink.” She would like to donate an ice rink to Grand Marais.

On their refrigerator, Mueller has posted a collage of dreams. Envisioning what you wish and speaking aloud what you dream is vital to getting where you want to go.

An easier thing to do after an evening of music and musing at the log cabin.

Log cabin concert series and other information can be accessed by writing mm@michaelmonroe.info, accessing www.michaelmonroe.info or www. myspace.com/michaelmonroemusic, or by calling (218)287-2919 or (612)789- 2255.


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