It’s not often you get to play music and explore life with your best friend. But that’s exactly what happened for the Okee Dokee Brothers, aka Joe Mailander and Justin Lansing.
Their sound, a tuneful blend of bluegrass and Americana, is firmly rooted in American folk music but they sing about topics kids can relate to, like the fun of eating flapjacks, working a lemonade stand, and enjoying the great outdoors. But don’t be fooled by the subject matter. Their's is a sophisticated, well-crafted sound, with songs informed by tight harmonies, clever lyrics, and impressive musicianship.
Since 2005, their music has taken them on some pretty cool adventures: Paddling down the Mississippi River, hiking along the Appalachian and Colorado Divide trails, even winging out to Hollywood, where the duo accepted a Grammy in 2013 for Best Children’s Album. Can You Canoe, is a collection of songs inspired by their 30-day trek down the Mississippi River. We found out more during a recent phone interview.
The duo performs Friday, October 23rd at 6:30 p.m. at the Germantown Performing Arts Center. Tickets are $15. Purchase them online or call the box office at 751-7500.
Okay, so you’re not really brothers, right? How did you start playing music together?
Well, we’re almost brothers, we’ve known each other since we were 3. We grew up in Denver, Colorado and gradually discovered music together. Denver was experiencing a bluegrass revival during the 1990s, so we heard a lot of bluegrass acts, which influenced our music. By high school, we were playing string instruments (guitar and banjo), learning folk songs, and playing in bands.
What musicians have influenced you?
Early folk singer/songwriters like Woody Guthrie & Pete Seeger, Paul Simon, John Prine, Joni Mitchell & the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band; along with contemporary singers like Justin Towns Earle, Gillian Welch, & Dave Rawlings.
Tell me about your 30-day adventures. What was the idea behind them?
We wanted to just get out and experience the world and write about those experiences. So we spent 30 days paddling the Mississippi River, from Minneapolis to St. Louis. And we also researched some of the music from that region. As a result, it’s gotten a lot of kids interested in canoeing.
And the second album took you hiking on the Appalachian Trail?
Yes, we dug into Appalachian music and met some mountain musicians. We even played at the Floyd Country Store in Floyd, Virginia, where they have a regular jam session, the Friday Night Jamboree. We wanted to pick the musical minds of people we met about how Appalachian music came to be. We try to delve into each region and do a couple of traditional songs. We’re into preservation but we like doing a new take on old tunes.
What do you enjoy about performing in front of a live audience?
We like to do things that break down the barrier between the audience and performer by encouraging the audience to clap or sing along. We also like to encourage people to explore the natural world — it’s something we do in hopes of encouraging parents to follow suit with their kids.
To get a feel for their music, check out their YouTube videos. In addition to their music, kids will enjoy some of the silly things they shoot, like the two filling their mouths with marshmallows around the campfire and trying to say Chubby Bunnies while cracking up with each mouthful (trust me, it’s funnier than it sounds).
It's music that makes you smile and who knows, you might want to get out there and have an adventure of your own.