Duo shares Minnesota lumberjack history in song

Brian Miller and Randy Gosa performed Irish folk tunes traditionally sang in lumberjack camps across Minnesota, the Midwest and Canada during the late 1800s and early 1900s at the Milaca Community Library this past Thursday afternoon.

Brian Miller and Randy Gosa performed Irish folk tunes traditionally sang in lumberjack camps across Minnesota, the Midwest and Canada during the late 1800s and early 1900s at the Milaca Community Library this past Thursday afternoon.

Neither Brian Miller nor Randy Gosa can claim any significant Irish heritage, and neither of them are lumberjacks by trade. But that hasn’t stopped them from performing across Minnesota equipped with a banjo and flannel shirts.

“We’re just in the Irish lumberjack songs business,” Miller said laughing shortly before their most recent performance at the Milaca Community Library last Thursday afternoon.

The duo has been on tour with the performance labeled “Minnesota Lumberjack Songs: Irish Music from the Lumber Camps” thanks, in part, to the Minnesota Historical Society and the Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund, and in most thanks to Miller’s insatiable curiosity of Irish lumberjacks of the turn of the century.

“I had heard that there used to be some Irish music going on in lumber camps in Northwestern Minnesota and Wisconsin,” Miller said of the inspiration for his decade-long quest to learn more. “We’re trying to tell the story of this music.”

Miller’s research has uncovered folk songs, traditions and stories from the lumberjack camps that once prominently dotted the lumber-rich countryside of the state. He has taken particular interest in Irish-American lumberjack Mike Dean, whose songs and stories are featured in many of their performances.

“When we do the program, we talk a lot about him,” Miller said.

Miller’s fascination with the son of Irish immigrants who made his way from New York to Minnesota in the early 1900s was fueled when he recently discovered some lost recordings in the Library of Congress. The static audio clips feature Dean singing some of the songs he and Gosa had been performing.

“That was really exciting to hear his voice — this guy I’ve been researching,” Miller said. “Before, we just had the words, but now I know how he sang it. I try to conjure up his own sound.”

For the full story, see the Thursday, Jan. 31 print edition of the Times.

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