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Holy Hootenanners bring foot-stompin’ music to Mahtowa

Jeff Gilbertson, Erin Langhorst, Eli Gilbertson, Amery Gilbertson, Alina Lekander, Caleb Anderson, Lyric Lekander end their final song, “Wagon Wheel,” with a flourish Saturday evening. Jamie Lund/Pine Journal 1 / 7
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On Saturday’s cool, overcast evening, the Holy Hootenanners prepared to play for a fundraiser they had organized to raise money to convert the old Mahtowa school into a community center.

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The crowd chatted amiably with each other as they listened to the various musicians leading up to the grand finale and local favorite, the Holy Hootenanners.

Sherri Anderson drove from Sandstone with her granddaughter, eager to see the band in person. She had received a CD for a gift and loved it.

“This is awesome … I love gospel music, it touches the soul,” she said.

The Holy Hootenanners started out about a year and a half ago when several parishioners at Salem Lutheran Church in Mahtowa discovered their shared passion of making music. Pastor Noah Johnson helped them connect in the small church.

There are 15 members in the Holy Hootenanners and they welcome newcomers to join them.

There is a wide variety of backgrounds in the music industry among the members.

Doug Soukkala played in Country Junction, a local band out of Duluth, while Colleen Myhre still continues on in her solo career.

“The majority of the music we play can be described as old time country gospel. A lot of foot-stomping, hand-clapping-type songs,” said band member Caleb Anderson. “Then also, we take some of the old familiar Lutheran hymns and put some honky tonk twang and energy into them. At community concerts (outside of church) we throw in lots of fun covers as well, songs from the Ramones, the Rolling Stones, and other quirky stuff like Prince covers.”

The youngest member of the band is 7-year-old Eli Gilbertson. He sings and is learning to play the drums.

The “Hoot Kids” as they are called are a group of elementary-aged kids who enjoy singing as well as playing a wide variety of instruments ranging from piano and guitar to the more unusual ukulele and mandolin.

The children usually play in the band at events for special music once a month or during CD-release events. They join the band at the end of the performance for the grand finale, adding a little extra youthful energy.

The enthusiastic group is comprised of Eli Gilbertson, his sister, 10-year-old Amri Gilbertson, Josie and Audrey Langhorst, 9 and 10, and 11-year-old Alina Lekander along with several other “Hoot Kids.”

They all chattered excitedly at once as they listed the reasons why they like to be in the band.

In unison they all agreed, “Because it’s super fun!”

“It’s fun singing,” said Josie and Amri.

“Singing builds confidence in front of people … it’s nerve wracking,” Alina said wisely.

The kids’ favorite songs are the “Hoots Medley,” a bunch of gospel songs (their words) as well as “Wade in the Water” and “Wagon Wheel.”

The entire Langhorst family performs in the band. Parents Zack and Erin are in the band with their children, Josie and Audrey.

The band plays a variety of country ­gospel music, from relaxed to toe-tapping fun.

The ladies took a turn singing a tune as the audience snuggled under their blankets and hoodies to enjoy the music.

Anderson is already making plans to return for next year’s event.

The next public appearance of the Holy Hootenanners starts at 11 a.m. Sunday, Aug. 31, at the Rat Rod festival at TJ's in Mahtowa.

To donate to the community center project, you can buy a digital copy of the album online at The CD can also be purchased locally at TJ's in Mahtowa, the Chickadee Coffeehouse in Barnum, or at any of the shows. A calendar of the shows is available online at­hootenanners.