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Staging a comeback

PARK RAPIDS, Minn. - Seated around a campfire with her siblings, Moorhead musician Kathie Brekke asks her mother to reminisce about the country tunes they sang together.

PARK RAPIDS, Minn. - Seated around a campfire with her siblings, Moorhead musician Kathie Brekke asks her mother to reminisce about the country tunes they sang together.

Dee Johnson recalls crooners like Gene Autry, Dale Evans and Roy Rogers, and soon the family is harmonizing to "Don't Fence Me In."

It feels like an intimate family moment, perhaps at a nearby lake on a warm summer evening. But the family is on stage; the campfire is a prop.

After three decades of performing with different musical groups, the family members are combining their talents every Friday and Saturday night this summer at Jasper's Jubilee Theater, just east of Park Rapids.

"What we want to do is somewhat settle in to our own theater where we can bring in other musicians as well," says Lynette Guida, Johnson's daughter, Brekke's sister and the theater owner.


Coming together as a family took on a new importance a year and a half ago, when its matriarch was given a few days to live.

Johnson suffered a stroke and was battling cancer, among other physical ailments.

Now she's singing on stage every weekend.

"She taught us everything we know, how to love music and entertain," Brekke says.

For 14 years, the family has slowly built Jasper's, pouring cement one year and building the stage another until the 380-seat theater opened in June.

While some families bond over sporting events, for her family it's music, Guida says.

"How we act on the show is how families are," Guida says. "They lift each other up. They make each other look the best they can."

Billed as Branson-style, family entertainment, four generations of the brood perform together weekly in front of about 100 people per show.


"It's a love that forms our music," Johnson says. "We just thoroughly enjoy it."

In addition to four of Johnson's six children, her sister, three of her grandchildren and her 10-year-old great-granddaughter perform regularly in the two-hour show. Other relatives pop onto the stage when they're able.

Guests are greeted by "Farmer Don," Guida's husband, dressed in overalls, a red handkerchief in his back pocket and pitchfork in hand.

Their son, Travis Guida, master of ceremonies, banters with Don on stage, setting up his groaners.

"I got that furniture disease," Don Guida says.

"What's furniture disease?" Travis asks his father.

"That's when your chest falls into your drawers," he replies.

Between the jokes and stories, musicians with Brekke's Apostles Blues Band perform crowd favorites like "Orange Blossom Special" and "Somewhere over the Rainbow."


Reuben Mutzenberger of Fargo enjoyed the mix of comedy and music. He and his wife, Deanna Mutzenberger, came to Jasper's as they wrapped up a week at nearby Shell Lake.

They heard about the theater on the radio, and know Brekke from church.

"I thought it was great," Deanna Mutzenberger says. "It's such a talented family."

From the outside, the theater looks like a wooden barn. The smell of popcorn fills the foyer.

A sign above the concession stand advertises lutefisk popsicles, mildly warm coffee and cup of gravy with a straw.

The menu board is an example of what Brekke describes "the silliness that goes along with the shenanigans of the family."

"I think the honesty of who we are is a real draw," says Brekke, whose son, Daniel, and husband, Shawn, also perform at Jasper's.

The show's theme celebrates American music, with segments dedicated to jazz, bluegrass, Dixieland and rock 'n' roll, but family members have dubbed it their reunion show in light of Johnson's recovery.


Family members credit God for her healing.

Just before intermission, the group performs the well-known Christian song "His Eye is on the Sparrow."

To introduce the song, Travis Guida tells the audience how the family relies on faith to get through troubles and tribulations.

"We believe there's a God that loves you," he says.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Sherri Richards at (701) 241-5525

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