Woodbury Days faves: The Dweebs
Editor's note: Woodbury Days festivities begin today at Ojibway Park, where returning favorites the Dweebs will perform Saturday before the fireworks show. The Woodbury Bulletin's sister paper, the New Richmond News, published the following profile of the band on Aug. 14:
In 1987, Michael Blue walked out of a concert by The Rockin’ Hollywoods with an idea in his head that would change the course of his rock ’n’ roll career. Twentyseven years later he was about to take the stage at Fun Fest in New Richmond on Friday, July 11, accompanied by six musicians a full generation younger than himself, including three of his own children, famously known, at least locally, as The Dweebs.
“The kids always had access to the studio growing up, so I watched them as they grew and matured and realized they were also growing and developing their talents as musicians,” Blue said.
After his revelation in 1987, Blue started the Nerds with some veteran musicians out of Hudson.
He started introducing the kids on stage for special events as the Nerd Babies. By the time the kids were in their teens, they’d become accomplished self-taught musicians in their own right, so Blue put them to work for four years as crew members helping to set up and tear down shows. In 1994, the Nerds were encouraged to became The Dweebs and Blue, now Papa Dweeb, made the kids an official offer.
“I had no idea at that time that it would morph into what it is today. They went from the Nerd Babies to becoming the crew to then becoming the band. They have been on stage with me ever since,” Blue said.
It is nearly 9 p.m. and for the last two hours, a growing Fun Fest crowd sporting nerd glasses and plaid clip-on ties has been warming up to the tunes of Tom Petty tribute band, Free Fallin, in eager anticipation of the performance by the hometown favorites.
Backstage roadies and band members from both bands are feverishly working to exchange Petty gear for Dweebs gear. The schedule called for a half hour to accomplish what looks like a chaotic mess, but in reality is a methodical makeover made possible by planning and preparation that started nearly seven hours earlier.
It is 2:30 p.m. when Michael Blue, Papa Dweeb, parks the 20-foot trailer stuffed with all the instruments, amplifiers, stands, props and electronics required to produce a threehour Dweebs concert.
“We had last night off. We got to sleep at home so this is an easy one. A lot of our shows, by the time we’ve gone there and back, we’ve put on 500 miles (overnight). We will be in Deer River, Minn., tomorrow for the Wild Rice Festival and then from there we go to Trempealeau, Wis., for Catfish Days. Right now, we are fully booked through September,” said Trevor Radtke, bass guitarist and marketing manager for the band.
It is 3 p.m. by the time drummer Michael “Mikey” Blue Jr. begins to set up his drum kit. No surprise, drums take the longest to set up, so his gear is some of the first out of the trailer. The crew is a man short tonight, so Mikey, and guitarist, musical director and brother, Benjamin Blue will handle additional responsibilities as the bands set up.
“Life on the road isn’t for everybody. We put in a lot of hours and it’s hard work. But for us, we love to do what we do, so there’s no question. We’re very blessed to be able to do this for a living,” said Blue Jr. as he tightened a cymbal in place.
By 4 p.m. the 400-squarefoot stage is starting to take shape as keyboards and guitars mix with monitors and microphones, creating a landscape of technology designed to convert electricity into a tidal wave of energy that is a Dweebs concert.
While Mikey puts the finishing touches on his massive drum set, Ben’s busy at the back of the stage labeling and connecting myriad electrical cords and boxes that power all of the instruments, amps and sound gear.
Each Dweeb is responsible for setting up his or her own instrument. It sounds cliched, but the band members and crew work together like a finely tuned machine. They go about their business the whole time smiling and laughing, obviously enjoying each other’s company.
The one obvious explanation for this harmony is that this band is composed of actual family members. Mike Jr., Claire and Benjamin are Michael Blue’s children, while Chris Berger is his nephew. Family friend Trevor Radtke grew up with the Blue children. Brianna Tagg made such a great impression filling in for Claire when she was having baby No. 2, that the family made her an offer she couldn’t refuse.
“I’m so glad I got that opportunity. It’s awesome. I do feel like the adopted sister. It feels like home when I’m with these guys. I can’t get over how well we fit together,” Tagg said.
Once they proved they had what it took as a band, Blue challenged his younger counterparts to learn the music business.
“I approached them and said ‘I want you to start thinking about the company in every aspect from marketing and booking to rehearsal and production, top to bottom.’ Since then, we have basically become self-contained. Now Mike, Ben, Trevor and Claire are at the studio or in the office four days a week, five to six hours a day working,” Blue said.
These days the kids have kids, ensuring the next generation of Dweebs are on the way. But that also presents a challenge: finding a way to balance being a Dweeb with being a parent.
“It’s so cool. I used to look at being a Dweeb as more my full-time job, but now because I’m a mother, that’s a 24/7 job. The good news is, I have a very good support system. I’ve got grandma who helps and I’ve got a great husband at home who helps. Together we just try to make it all happen as best we can. Road trips are hard,” said Claire Blue.
“Check, check, check.” From the soundboard some 50 feet in front of the stage, Mike Jr. and Ben methodically work their way through each instrument and mic to find the correct levels and make sure everyone’s ear piece and monitor is working properly. Ten minutes later spectators get their first taste of the Dweebs when Claire belts out a few lines from “Heartbreaker” followed soon after by the rest of the band enroute to completing their sound check.
By 5:45 p.m. Petty gear has been substituted for Dweeb gear and Tom Petty’s look alike is pacing the stage between lines from “Running Down a Dream.”
The Dweebs head home or join friends for a quick dinner before they have to be back at 8 p.m.
Claire and Chris are the first ones back emerging from the empty trailer, now serving as a dressing room, in their signature Dweebs wardrobe including oversized nerd glasses and possibly combustible brightly colored shoes, shirts and pants.
It is 8:30 p.m., Free Fallin is wrapping up with “American Girl,” while backstage Dweebs seem to be everywhere, glowing in the dark. Off to one side Trevor appears to be stretching while barefooted, Mike Jr. is doing jumping jacks and threatening Chris with a squirt gun. Claire flies by clutching rolls of white toilet paper and the converted leaf blower/toilet paper blower in her other hand. In front of the merchandise stand, assorted Dweebs take turns posing with fans for pictures.
It is 8:35 p.m., as crew members fly around moving Petty gear off stage and plugging in Dweeb guitars and keyboards. On stage Tagg tapes a playlist to her keyboard, as Claire unloads a pile of wigs and sunglasses on top of one of the amps. Papa Dweeb is in the middle of a sound check as Ben and Mike Jr. unplug and replug amps and monitors. In front of the stage the size of the crowd has doubled, growing steadily in anticipation of the party about to be delivered by their beloved Dweebs.
“I don’t necessarily get nervous because of the crowd. It’s more about making sure I do what I know I can do, making sure I give that 100 percent every time,” said Claire Blue.
“I legitimately never get nervous. I’m just so excited to get on stage. It’s truly an addictive thing. You’re out there and people are singing along and smiling, how can you not be happy when that’s happening,” added Tagg.
Dweebdemonium is at fever pitch as the Dweebs huddle in the darkness behind the stage.
“If you want something bad enough, you’ll work hard enough to get it, or you really never wanted it. Dweebs!,” yells Papa Dweeb.
It is 9:05 p.m. as colored lights flood the stage.
“Dweebs! Dweebs! Dweebs!” demands the crowd.
The amps quiver, “Here are the Dweebs!”
At that moment, everything appears in slow motion. There is a surreal silence as Papa Dweeb charges up the steps and out into the bright lights, guitar hanging at his side. One by one the band, his children, follow as Mikey sitting high above the stage pushes the crowd over the edge his bass drum pulsing, the heart of rock ‘n roll. A medley of party rock songs kicks off the first set as ribbons of toilet paper rain down on the frenzied crowd. This is what it’s like to be a rock star.
Over the next three hours, between appearances by Michael Jackson, Lady Gaga, Kid Rock and Ozzy Osbourne, The Dweebs will deliver a nonstop performance designed to please fans both young and old. A playlist that includes songs from AC/DC, The Village People, and Johnny Cash to the Beatles, Katy Perry, Fun and Pink exemplifies the versatility of the band. Throughout the performance, The Dweebs keep their fans engaged by inviting them on stage for guest gigs, and by turning the mike over to the audience for songs like “Hey Ricky.”
There’s no space and no security between the Dweebs and their crazed fans allowing Papa, Ben, Claire and Chris to get up close and personal, close enough for fans to reach out and touch or pluck a string or two. That physical connection combined with the many friendships band members have with fans make a Dweebs concert one-of-kind.
As the clock strikes midnight, turning Friday into Saturday, “We Will Rock You” brings to a close to the final encore sending home once delirious fans hoarse and satisfied.
It is 1 a.m.; over the next hour all of the instruments, amps, monitors, cables and props will find their way back into their appropriate cases. The dimly lit tent provides justenough light by which to load the trailer. Trevor directs as case after case makes it way up the ramp and into its designated spot. The tailgate is closed as the last of friends and crew head home leaving only Papa Dweeb.
“Ten years ago when the kids came on as full-time members, I was thinking about retiring. I thought maybe we could do something together, maybe set up their futures and I could walk away some day. Most parents don’t get this kind of opportunity to share with their sons and daughters at this time in their lives. To have this interaction with them is a blessing,” said Blue.