by ADAM GRUENEWALD
Working at Unhinged Pizza and helping to homeschool his kids may not be the solo musician career Allen Carlson dreamed of as a kid, but it’s working out great.
Allen, a 1990 Waconia High School graduate, pursued his own musical career with trips to Nashville before settling down.
Now with the support of Allen’s wife Krysten and daughter, Melissa, 17, Allen is spreading messages of hope with his son, Matt, 15.
The father and son duo from Hamburg stay busy sharing their passion and encouragement to others, performing about 300 shows in 2013.
For Allen he finds himself in the opposite role he had a kid, when he performed with his dad, Dan, before pursuing a musical career.
Occasionally visiting Nashville when he could at the time, Allen reflects fondly on his experiences when he met music legends such as Ricky Skaggs, Marie Osmond, Alan Jackson and Bill Monroe.
“This was a different life for me practically,” said Allen. “This is when I was chasing a dream that didn’t come true. The way I look at it is God’s plan is always the best one. And He knew it wasn’t going to be one of these big stars right here, selling millions, it was going to be selling no records, making little money, but having an impact on other’s people’s lives.”
It is now Matt with the tremendous drive, as Allen credits him most of all for keeping them going because they have already booked 250 shows in 2014.
Allen, relearned to play the guitar left-handed who hurt his right hand in a lawn mower accident, provides the steady background sounds, leaving Matt to keep things lively on the music side.
Matt has the repertoire too, as he can play seven instruments. He first started playing piano in the second grade, got his first guitar when he was 11 and picked up the ukulele when he was 12.
“I just wanted to play it because no one else that I knew played it,” he said. “I just wanted to experience that.”
Allen said he never planned for him and Matt to perform together, but it became apparent when he saw his son’s abilities.
“He plays instruments with such ease and learns it so quickly,” said Allen.
Matt’s talents, combined with his dad’s singing, opened up the opportunity to perform, travel all across Minnesota and now into the Midwest with trips to Nebraska and a recent performance in Branson, Mo.
Their harmonies now are a far cry from their first performance three years in December 2010 at Haven Homes in Maple Plain when Allen encouraged Matt to bring his guitar along.
“We didn’t sound very good together,” admits Allen. “That was our first time playing, but I knew it was possibly the start of something.”
That first concert led to frequent practices and them gradually learning to play together.
“It’s really the passion that Matt has too that has brought us to a performing team,” said Allen. “If we both didn’t care enough about it and really want to invest time and energy, it wouldn’t happen.”
They primarily play at retirement communities, health care living centers, assisted and memory care and churches, frequently returning to familiar places, including Maple Plain.
“With our love for the elderly and that style of music, it’s kind of the perfect area,” said Allen.
Allen, who highlighted his time spent with grandparents, has always related well to the elderly and spent 12 years working in health care centers in Arlington, Waconia and Le Sueur.
“The big message for us is it’s definitely entertainment,” said Allen. “But it’s also ministry.”
As members of Living Rock Church in NYA, their message of hope, family and God’s faithfulness carries through all of their music, whether its folk songs, classic country, gospel and Hymns.
“A lot of the songs we sing are songs if commitment and sticking to it through the tough times,” said Carlson. “For the crowd that we sing for a lot of the time, they are at a state of being at the end of their lives in a lot of cases.”
While they considered going as “Thru Him,” the duo is now known as Allen and Matt Carlson.
Sometimes, given Matt’s busy school and basketball schedule, though it is just Allen Carlson as the solo performer.
It is when Melissa and Krysten are also able to come the performances are special like the Branson trip which the whole family took part in and they were able to see shows as well.
Thus far, Allen is the sole vocalist, but Matt said he will start singing as well in the next year, which will, as playing instruments, certainly become easier over time.
“The first program was really nerve wracking and I messed up a lot, but I learned from experience,” he said. “Now I’m now really nervous in front of other people.”
While they do well-known songs, they have also started to incorporate their own work, such as Matt original ukulele instrumentals or songs from about 20 years ago written down on dusty notebooks.
“I’m bringing back into the picture some of the songs my dad and I wrote,” said Allen, among them a patriotic song, “Something to live for,” written in 1991 at the start of the Persian Gulf War. “Those songs are good songs.”
The practice will certainly help Matt who is looking to pursue a music career, with classic country artists like Jim Reeves, Chet Atkins, Eddie Arnold, Alan Jackson and Willie Nelson serving as inspiration.
Meanwhile, Allen and Matt are savoring the time they spend together.
“It means a lot, just kind of that legacy continuing,” said Allen. “We’re so content with where we’re at right now. That’s the cool thing about it. If this is what we’re supposed to be for a long time, I’m just enjoying it right now… This is a pinnacle for me.”
Contact Adam Gruenewald at [email protected]