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The Fun Machine

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is a reprint of an article that ran on our former website. We are in the process of moving everything to one place. We hope you enjoy reading the story again.

By ELIZABETH SCHAFER, Associate Editor

Monday nights are pretty low key in Mt. Pleasant, especially on the live music scene — except when Brian Koehler is jiving on the guitar and sounding off beats to the crowd.

Koehler plays at both Rubbles in downtown Mt. Pleasant and at the Mount Pleasant Brewing Company on Monday nights. It makes for good music and good people.

To his friends he’s known as “Kakes” or “Uncle Kakes,”  though there is never a good explanation as to why.  His hands are gigantic. He stands about 6-foot-5 and he gave his left kidney to his mother. The amount of musical knowledge this man has becomes obvious when you listen to whole sets.

“I find enjoyment in arranging music; even if it’s a cover song, you’re not going to play it by the book.”  This was Brian’s response when asked why he plays music.  I caught up with him at his apartment on a Wednesday afternoon in April.  When I knocked on his door all I could hear was an organ and what sounded like a drum machine.  I was surprised that he could even hear my knock.  Upon entering I discovered the music was coming from a “Fun Machine.” Yes, it’s really called a fun machine.  It’s an organ he got at the Salvation Army for $20.  It’s early ‘70s, and Mr. Koehler knows how to make it work.

When he plays at the local watering holes you can expect tons of crowd favorite covers and funky originals that let the listener into his eclectic personality.

“I suppose I would rather play covers than my own music, to keep people in the bars, so people just get a taste of my originals,” he said.

In the summer of 2010, Koehler wrote a song called, “Gravel Dust and Summer Lust.”  It’s catchy, and really says summer. It’s like drinking a cold beer on a hot summer day. Equally magical is the prequel, “Tangerine Daydream.”  It made the summer of 2010 highly enjoyable for his audiences.

Both Monday night offerings have an intimate acoustic setting.  At Rubbles, instead of performing on the stage, Koehler performs in the main bar area where booths are located.  It’s just a small space right in front of the jukebox.  All he needs is a stool and a guitar.

It’s the same deal at the Mount Pleasant Brewing Company, except “the tap room” is in what appears to be a garage in a complex by the railroad tracks on Pickard Street in Mount Pleasant.  In the summer time, they open the garage door.  Through the window behind the bar you can see the brewing room, with the massive brass kegs of IPA, and Steam Engine Stout.

In high school Koehler played the trumpet, and 10 years later he picked up the guitar.

“I just wanted to try and learn.  Some people make it, some people don’t; I wouldn’t say I’ve made it, but I make a living playing music,” he explained.  His day job is laying carpet for a local company in Mt. Pleasant.  In the summer, he plays shows in Cheboygan, Michigan at Mulligan’s and the Rusty Anchor.

The Fourth of July is one of the greatest times for Kakes. On Mullet Lake in Cheboygan he plays on a floating stage all day in the sunshine.  About a hundred boats come out and drop anchor, sitting in the mouth of where the river meets the lake, and listen to live music.  The whole shindig is put on by the Cheboygan Chamber of Commerce, and goes until dusk the entire weekend.

This is one of the biggest crowds he has ever played in front of.  He said it’s comparable to when he opened for Steppin’ In It at the Broadway Theatre in Mt. Pleasant in the summer of 2006.  Also, at Short’s Brewery in Bellaire, Michigan, he played to a crowd of hundreds and he counts it among his favorite shows.

On the occasional Saturday, Koehler plays at the Blue Gator, which also is located downtown.  This space is more abundant and more people can dance, and often Koehler brings along Dave Martin, who also plays acoustic guitar locally.  The music is louder and the college crowd brings odd requests and a young upbeat feel.  Not to say that catching a show at Rubbles or at Mount Pleasant Brewing Company is not upbeat. Either way, it’s quality entertainment.

As for future plans, Brian doesn’t really seem to be the kind of guy that worries about future plans.  He has a CD in the mix, which should be available in June.  But finding him at the Mount Pleasant bars will likely continue, along with the summer shows in northern Michigan.

Brian Koehler is real music for real people.  He brags, “I’m the five-pound burger champion, and can play you anything from Dylan to Warren G.”

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