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John Lamb, Published August 13 2009

Blenders returning to Trollwood

When the Blenders take the stage tonight at the new Trollwood Performing Arts School in south Moorhead, it will be a kind of homecoming for the quartet.

Nineteen years ago the vocal group got its start at the former Trollwood School location in north Fargo, performing as the barbershop group in “The Music Man” and warming up the crowd before shows.

Tonight the Blenders will be the first concert at the new site.

“I’m very excited for this, the first of hopefully many concerts here,” said Vicki Chepulis, executive director at Trollwood Performing Arts School. She said the group was picked as the first act at the new site because of their long history with Trollwood.

Members Tim Kasper and Ryan Lance (Myrold) spent their formative years in classes there, then moved on to the stage as performers. By the time he was a senior, Lance was even teaching dance to other students.

“I’m really glad they found a new place and a new facility,” Lance said Monday from Minneapolis, where the group was rehearsing for tonight’s performance. “It’s not going to be the same to me. I have so many great memories attached to that park. But it feels cool to know I was in the beginning at the old place.”

Lance saw the very first production of “The Wizard of Oz” in 1978. Five years later he starred as the Cowardly Lion in the second production.

For its first show at the new site earlier this summer, the school produced an updated telling of “Oz” with “The Wiz.”

In 1986 both singers would have roles in the musical “Guys and Dolls.”

“I’m sure we’ll reference some of the memories we have, but I don’t think we’ll be doing any show tunes,” Lance said, when asked if they would break out any numbers they learned from Trollwood shows.

“We owe a lot to Trollwood, and we appreciate our upbringing there,” Kasper said Monday. “We’re excited to perform in this new venue.”

The group not only got its start at the former site, crowds for that production of “The Music Man” served as financial backers for the quartet’s first disc, 1992’s “Totally Whipped.”

“We financed making that record by pre-selling it,” Kasper recalled. “The people were our record label. They gave us the money that financed the recording, then we gave the CD when it was done. It was certainly a place we cut our teeth and got our feet on the ground.”

Since then, the group has gone from totally a cappella, to a vocal band with backing tracks, to its most popular incarnation as a touring Christmas act, releasing four albums of holiday songs, two best-of collections and a live DVD.

“We’ve kind of had to reinvent ourselves a lot over the years,” Kasper said.

One of the reinventions is the group’s sound and song selections for tonight’s show.

This will be the Blenders’ first show free of holiday music in the F-M area for about a decade.

Instead, the foursome, rounded out by brothers Darren and Allan Rust, will focus on soul tunes from their 2006 disc, “Songs From the Soul” and its 2008 follow-up, “Songs From the Soul II.”

To aid in this transformation, the group hired a four-piece backup band – guitar, bass, drum and keys – to round out the sound.

Fans of the seasonal jingles won’t have to wait too long to hear their favorite Yule-tide tunes. Tickets for the group’s annual shows, running this year over the Thanksgiving weekend at the Fargo Theatre, go on sale Sept. 14.

And while there’s no snow forecast for tonight’s show, there will be a special guest to make things jolly: Minneapolis comedian Scott Novotny opens the show.

“If the weather is great, I can’t imagine a better thing than to go sit under the stars and take in some comedy and some harmonies,” Kasper said.

If you go


Readers can reach Forum reporter John Lamb at (701) 241-5533