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John Lamb, Published March 30 2014

Making a Scene: The voice of North Dakota

FARGO – Merrill Piepkorn may just be the voice of North Dakota.

He’s not a politician, but he is a professional talker and a popular singer.

Piepkorn is the man behind the mic of the daily North Dakota Public Radio segment, “Dakota Datebook.” Until 2012, he hosted the station’s talk show, “Hear it Now,” but stepped aside to make time for his monthly traveling radio variety program “Dakota Air,” where his old-time country act, the Radio Stars, serves as the house band.

“Dakota Air” has gone on hiatus, but the Radio Stars (Piepkorn on guitar and vocals, guitarist Gregg Temple, bassist R.P. Sell and fiddler Loy Larson) are keeping busy with three Fargo shows this weekend; an acoustic set at Studio 222 Thursday night, the annual Country Gospel Concert and Chili Feed at Messiah Lutheran Church on Friday and a dance Saturday at the Ever-Green Events Center.

Piepkorn talked last week about what’s keeping him busy.

What are the differences in the three shows coming up? Why an acoustic show for what’s mostly a string band?

There’s a lot of great music we can’t do electric. We’re hearkening back to the roots, Skunk Hollow, the band we started at Concordia 42 years ago.

We’ll play Bob Dylan’s “I’ll be Your Baby Tonight” and “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere” and John Prine’s “Hello in There.” And the gospel show is a lot of fun for the family.

We’ll play songs from our gospel album “Coming Home” and tunes like “People Get ready.” Saturday is more of a honky-tonk, playing Merle Haggard and Ernest Tubb. I like blowing my brains out on harmonica. That’s what I do first and foremost.

You were in a band named Skunk Hollow. Was that a good name for a band in the 1970s?

I didn’t like it, but it has historical roots. It’s what Woodlawn Park was called when we lived there as Concordia students.

What’s the state of “Dakota Air?”

We have one show this summer, the North Dakota quasquicentennial, August 16th on the Capital Grounds in Bismarck. The traveling got to be such a burden, packing up and moving out.

It’s hard to travel. We’d stay in people’s homes if we had to. We’d do whatever possible to make it visible for any town to bring it in.

The performers miss it, Steve Stark especially. He’s a big part of the show and a joy to work with. People loved the show so much I have to keep it going. I’d like Fargo to be the permanent home locations for the show and do two or three outreach shows.

Do you miss “Hear it Now?”

No. I still do some work for North Dakota Public Radio. It’s not that I didn’t enjoy it, but I don’t miss it.

I enjoy my relationship with Prairie Public. It’s always good to leave a job on good terms. (The Radio Stars) played a series of barn dances and that is part of a Prairie Public Television movie about barns that will be out this fall.

How active are the Radio Stars outside of this weekend?

We’ll play 20 or 25 shows this year. We’re playing Watford City, Williston, Stanley and Stump Lake. They like our music in the western part of the state … I’m just trying not to get kicked out of the house by my wife.

If you go

What: Radio Stars acoustic

When: 7 to 9 p.m., Thursday

Where: Studio 222, 222 Broadway, Fargo

Info: $7 cover.

If you go

What: Country Gospel Concert and Chili Feed

When: Food starts at 5:30 p.m., music at 7 p.m., Friday

Where: Messiah Lutheran Church, 2010 Elm St., N., Fargo

Info: $5 for children, $10 for adults and $25 for family. (701) 237-6770

If you go

What: Radio Stars dance

When: 8 p.m., Saturday

Where: Ever-Green Events Center, 302 27th St. N., Fargo

Info: $5 cover

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