August 29

What a chance to shoot a set of promo pix!

Raced back from Grand Forks where I’d just enjoyed Blues on the Red, to get the opportunity to hang with some of my favorite people in North Dakota: the musicians of the Sarah McMahon band.  Even if these were not some of  my favorite entertainers in the region, I’d still want to hang with these people. They’re not only talented but they are real, warm, down-to-earth intelligent folks who do not fit the stereotype of a typical North Dakota.

While the typical North Dakotan is personable, wise, steady and solid, they are also very pragmatic and not at all varied.  They are homogeneous.  People such as the musicians of the Sarah McMahon Band maintain the qualities of a typical North Dakotan, but add their own artistic variety to the cultural landscape.

Sarah, the lovable pixie who emotes vocally like Aretha or Norah is from Idaho. The others, home-grown North Dakotans. They’re awesome.

Shooting this promo shoot in the Blarney Stone in Bismarck was a delightful experience.  First of all, they’re not afraid of the camera as many North Dakotans tend to be — humble, shy and reserved.  So, with willing models we got to try several different approaches to the shoot, always working to keep Sarah front and center in her band.

I tried different lighting as well as different poses.  I wasn’t sure about the three overhead lights. I thought they might be distracting to the final image, but actually they add  interest to the photos

We worked up several poses and angles, but seemed to settle on this angle for the photo, mostly because of the direction of the pool table, with the corner pocket at the front.  It acts as a visual funnel directing your attention up in to the photo.

I like using props like that to direct the flow of the viewer’s eye in to and around the image.

In this case, it helped to have such a stunning centerpiece to the group — Sarah. She gets a lot of attention for not only her talent, but for here physical attractiveness, but she still keeps it real.  I look forward to doing more with these musicians in the Sarah McMahon band and in Black Cat Rumble (the two personnas of the same group).  If you scan through this blog you will see I’ve already posted several images of them.  They’re good people.


August 28


Big Walter Smith


Blues on the Red.  Grand Forks party on DeMers and Big Walter Smith was there to entertain. Grand Forks puts on the regular event each summer and it’s worth attending.  On this night the electrified Chicago/Delta/Mississippi blues of Big Walter Smith attracted the crowd on a perfect weather night. Motorcyclists joined the eclectic crowd of beer drinkers, bar-b-que eaters and blues lovers for a celebration of summer — one of those rare nights when the mojo is working and the black cat is strutting.

This time of year, the sun is still lingering as it descends in the west, and the crowd packs in to the park to enjoy a brief moment of  those lazy hazy days of summer.

After the Red River destroyed much of Grand Forks in the Big Flood/Fire/Blizzard of 1997,  the city was re-built with a flair and design that is perfect for good easy culture such as Blues on the Red.  A good ride to Grand Forks, a good night of entertainment, good food and good weather made this a memorable trip of 2010 for me.

The music as good as any I’ve heard all year. The photo ops were supreme.  The trumpeter in Big Walter Smith’s band was far more than an accompaniment. He was a show all to himself.

And when the show was over, there was still plenty of energy and opportunity to wander the streets along the Red River in Downtown Grand Forks.

And so wandering was on order for the rest of the night, visiting some of the more collegiate and more cosmopolitan establishments in the rebuilt section of town along DeMers Avenue.


DeMers Ave on a Sat night


August 26


Arnold Jordan

I just can’t help myself. I think some of the best and brightest talents of North Dakota need more exposure.   They all have day jobs which help pay for their love which in this case is music.  Arnold Jordan is one of those young artists who needs to be known nationally. He’s had the good fortune to play with some big regional acts and I hope his exposure continues.  In this case, I caught him in the lounge of the East 40 in Bismarck, a cozy chop house.


You’ve seen him here before on ND 365, and you probably will again. As much as I love shooting motorcycles and motorcycle events, I like shooting musicians as much and sometimes more.  Arnold is one of my favorite musicians to photograph.

July 25

Ben and Chuck Suchy

The father and son duo of Chuck and Ben Suchy says more about North Dakota than just a couple of music makers getting together on a Sunday afternoon.  As you may know if you’ve been reading North Dakota 365, the Suchys farm south of Mandan. They’re quiet, unassuming people who diligently go about their work.  Chuck has been at it long enough he is easing out of the farm, passing it on to the next generation, Ben’s siblings.

Chuck Suchy

Chuck is also known as the North Dakota troubadour. He writes his own music, lyrics and  melody.  His lyrics tell stories, perhaps of a 1928 Indian Chief Motorcycle, or of a family matriarch whom everyone can relate to.  If you listen to Garrison Keilor’s Prairie Home Companion, you’ve heard Chuck sing his stories.

On this Sunday afternoon, the father and son duo were on the patio of a local watering hole on the banks of the Missouri River in Mandan.  They played solo and they played as a duet. They played as a team as equals who share a common gift, the gift of song.

These are the kind of summer days that make memories in North Dakota. They’re the kind of days that get you through the long cold winters because you know in a few months, you’ll be back out on the patio, listening to Chuck and Ben sing the stories of life on the Northern Plains.  They carry their music all across the Midwest.  Have you had a chance to hear them?

July 19

Sushi, Sake and Suchy at the East 40

Monday nights means Ben Suchy night at the East 40 in Bismarck.  They call it Sushi, Sake and Suchy night.

Ben is a product of North Dakota’s bohemian culture, both in terms of society and in terms of ethnicity.  I’ve written about him before here on North Dakota 365, and probably will again.  He’s one of my favorite people and musicians. He’s a songwriter, balladeer of the folk/blues tradition who plays harmonica, banjo and guitar.

Ben Suchy at East 40

On this evening at the East 40, the late day sun streams through the stained glass windows behind Ben.  Overhead are actually blue lights, but the powerful yellow of the window sets the overall color of the photo.  If you look closely, you can see the blue cast around Ben from the overhead lights.

It’s some of the best times of the year, a late summer evening, still sunlit, good food, good friends and good music.  It’s no wonder that even grownup girls like to goof off.  When I asked permission to shoot their photo, they had to ham it up for the camera.  They’re pose is a good representation of play time on the Northern Plains.

girls goofing off

July 8

The street is his canvas

Spencer and his daughter

Thursdays in Downtown Bismarck is an eclectic mix of families and artistry.  Kids are encouraged to express their creativity whether it is with chalk on a normally busy street now closed, or with a hula hoop overhead, or with a band that is more often found in an adult-only venue.

Midnight Noise Orchestra

Urban harvest is a harvest of talent and expression.  Each Thursday in the summer,  vendors set up their booths of clothing and products that you will not find in the local Walmart or shopping mall.  A variety of food is available for lunch or later for supper.  Bands play to an appreciative crowd of youngsters, business people on break, shoppers and the band’s own faithful bunch of groupies.

It’s Bismarck’s attempt at offering a cultural mix that is normally reserved for larger cities or those cities further east in North Dakota such as Grand Forks and Fargo.  Bismarck’s hard-working homogenous German-Russian-Norwegian stock doesn’t have much time or interest in such summer time frivolity.  No, summer is for work in this part of the state.

Still, balance must be an essential part of a human’s health, as well as the health of a community’s humanity.  Work is good, but so is enjoying artistic expressions you might not otherwise see if it weren’t for the efforts of organizers such as those behind Urban harvest.

Urban Harvest

June 19

Sarah McMahon band

Another great reason to extol the musical talent of Central North Dakota is the combined and individual talent of the Sarah McMahon band.  A little bit of rock, a little bit of blues, a little bit of jazz and a lot of soul is the mix  of these talented musicians.

Richard, Brad, Sarah and Laura bring different talents from their history of making music in the Bismarck-Mandan area and beyond.  They’ve come together this year to find their own sound, their own niche as a group.  I know of no one more talented than these musicians. They’re no bar band or garage band.

Their only liability is they are in Bismarck where musical venues to match their talents are rare.  They have to work extra hard to promote themselves, while keeping their day jobs because there just isn’t enough opportunity for them to earn what they deserve in Bismarck.

In this case I caught them at the Ribfest in Bismarck, center stage.  Usually they are confined to smaller venues such as the patio at Fiesta Villa or some other claustrophobic venue.

I wonder what it would take for Bismarck-Mandan to create a venue to support the massive amount of musical talent that lives and plays here in Central North Dakota. Got any ideas?

June 13

Black Cat Rumble

It’s Friday night. Do you know where the good music is tonight?

Chances are, it’s where Black Cat Rumble is playing.  This is not your local garage band. You won’t find these guys doing all the cover songs that your local bar band

will be doing tonight. These are musicians who have soul.  Rockin’ blues, R&B, soul.

Sarah McMahon

Sarah McMahon on keyboard and vocals softens the edge of  Arnold’s gutsy guitar work.  But not much.  She’s got power and it is expressed in her fingers and her voice.

Arnold and Sarah

While Sarah has her own band and plays with others, she once was an integral part of the jam band FatDad.  Now she’s spreading around her talents and  on stage merges them well with Arnold Jordan.

He doesn’t play his guitar, he emotes through it.  His energy and  his vitality tear up the frets.  He’s not only a musician, but he’s an artist, and doggone it a good person whom I’ve had a beer with and have enjoyed getting to know better.


Catch them when you can. I know they play in Dickinson’s Brickhouse as well as various points in Bismarck and Mandan.  In this case, it was the Buggies and Blues bandshell performance where they held up that end of the billing — the blues.


May 20

summer strummer

It’s the kind of down home folksy evening entertainment you’re lucky to find when  wandering around the home town.  This is Bismarck not far from the Memorial Bridge, Save Project Noise is the name of the enterprise where these locals gather on the front porch.

front porch

I’m glad to see these are young folk who are expanding, investigating and networking on a healthy activity.  It’s something that will carry them on in to their adult years.

I know a couple of these folks are not local. As I recall, they’re from New Zealand or Tasmania or Australia. 

This was a previously announced event, but the marketing must have been weak because there were no spectators at all.  That’s too bad because these young artists cold grow with the right encouragement.

After I shot a few images here, I too moved on, but now that I look back, I wish I’d stuck around.  I wish there were off-beat venues like this in every community. I’ve heard of one that used to operate in Dickinson, but I don’t think it’s there any more.  Is there one near you?

April 30

Bob Tikeppe

Bismarck abounds with musical talent and at the head of the list is Bob Tikeppe

.  His musical talent spans country, outlaw country and delta blues.  Quite a range.  His work on the national guitar here at the Concert For Courage is what I know him for the best.  His attention to authenticity and his love of the blues is legendary in North Dakota.

Bob works by day in a music store in Bismarck, and at night engages in his love and talent.  I’ve seen Bob mostly in coffee shops and in intimate settings where his smart warm and personable charm is evident in conversation and in his performance.

Also at the Concert For Courage was the group called The Low Down Dirty Dogs.  Again, another highly talented set of musicians.  They are more of a network than a band, per se.  On any given night when they perform they are likely to have a new cast of characters, performers who join them in their brand of R&B,  soul,  folk, and country American sounds.

On this night, Bob and the Low Down Dirty Dogs were part of a community event raising both money and awareness to combat domestic violence.  The local domestic violence group performs a vital service in keeping families safe.  Their  work benefits the community in obvious fashion, but also in the way they can bring together good evenings such as this one.