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John Lamb, Published December 30 2012

32 Below looks to take next step with new lineup

FARGO – New Year’s Eve parties are supposed to be fun-filled gatherings of families and friends.

Tonight may be a little different for the Fargo-based country rock band 32 Below. The mood will be bittersweet as Fargo-Moorhead area fans bid adieu to singer/guitarist Matt Aakre at a New Year’s Eve show at the Ramada Plaza Suites.

After much consideration and discussion with his bandmates, Aakre is leaving the band he helped transform from just another bar band to a favorite in the region and beyond.

“I got tired of being on the road 46 weekends a year,” he says, explaining his decision. Aakre wants to spend more time with his family, including his two children, ages 5 and 8.

Aakre founded the group in 2001 with guitar/mandolin/fiddle player Jeb Reinhiller. Together they saw the group grow beyond just a local following and relocate to Nashville in 2004. Four years later, the quartet moved back to the area, remaining one of the top draws. They’ve been voted the Best Local Live Act in The Forum’s annual Best of the Red River Valley readers’ poll for the past five years. It wasn’t a snap decision for Aakre. While he still likes playing, Aakre grew weary of touring. He said he and the other three members talked about how he could gracefully transition out while the others carry on.

They’ll carry on with more help. Drummer Luke Nygaard says the remaining three members weren’t trying to fill Aakre’s shoes as much as fill out the sound after he left. Nygaard, Reinhiller and bassist Tyler Waslien added singer Bryan Loweree and lead guitarist David Lee for the reformed lineup.

“So many people recognize the voice of the lead singer,” Nygaard says. “We’re not going to try to replace that. We shied away from trying to find his voice.”

Nygaard says adding two accomplished musicians gives 32 Below even more options going forward.

One change will be Reinhiller adding piano and keyboards to his arsenal. Lee plays banjo and resonator guitar for a roots sound and adds another vocal element to the band.

“We’ve got some pretty powerful harmonies to separate us from other bands,” says Loweree.

Nygaard says one of the biggest gains in the lineup change is having a frontman who can work the stage side to side, whereas Aakre was anchored to his microphone stand.

“It’s neat having him able to go work the crowd,” the drummer says. “He can moon walk and stuff. That’s something we were never able to do with Matt because he was tied down. He likes getting out and shaking it for everybody. He’s a real entertainer. People automatically like him. He’s the kind of guy that goes into a room and people automatically like him and enjoy him.”

The new lineup has been rehearsing regularly to make the transition seem flawless. Fargo fans will get their first look at the reformed 32 Below in January when they play the Windbreak.

While Loweree says he’ll be at tonight’s show, he’ll be there as a fan and doesn’t plan to take the stage on Aakre’s last night.

“He’s going to have the stage to himself,” Loweree says, adding that as a fan he’ll miss Aakre’s picking the most.

“He’s a hell of a guitar player,” the singer says.

Loweree says he’s too excited to be nervous about being the new voice in a well-established band.

“I kind of think of it as a new project with a fanbase already built in,” he says.

Both he and Nygaard say the sky is the limit for the new lineup.

“We’re still trying to make it,” the drummer says. “We’ve been very successful, and we’ve worked really hard at that. But we still have the dreams of buses and a plane. And today with YouTube and everything, that’s as big a possibility as it ever was.”

Aakre wishes his band mates well, and while he doesn’t share the dream of jets and buses, he says he’ll miss performing.

“The biggest thing you miss is connecting with people with the songs you’ve written,” he says. “It really doesn’t matter how big the crowd is if there are a couple people connecting to the songs.”

While he’ll be walking away from the stage to get involved in agricultural business, he still plans to keep writing and recording music on his own.

But tonight he’ll be happy to play some more familiar tunes. The band has promised to dust off some old numbers for his final local show.

“There may be a little bit of emotions, maybe for all of us,” Aakre says. “I mostly think it will be a fun night we can enjoy every minute of and say, ‘Here’s to all of us.’ ”

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