Strawberry Fest live music acts include Elvis, country, hard rock

Friday evening’s double-country music bill kicks off with Darlene and the Boys from 5-7 p.m.

The band is fronted by vocalist and fiddle player Darlene Nelson and her husband and lead guitarist Ken. The Cottage Grove couple stay busy performing as a duo and with their quintet. They knew each other as students at Park High School, but their respective musical careers go back aways, when they were honing their chops on the road in separate bands.

“Typically, we’re kind of unique from the standpoint that we perform a lot of classic country music but we do mix in some variety, some classic rock,” Ken Nelson said.

The set list is heavy on classics by Johnny Cash, Loretta Lynn, Patsy Cline and Merle Haggard.

Duane Nelson (no relation) will play pedal steel and guitar at the Strawberry Fest show.

Ken and Darlene Nelson have performed in Nashville, Tenn. Darlene sang on the Ernest Tubb Midnight Jamboree radio show, where she once shared the bill with Kitty Wells. Darlene and the Boys will also play at this year’s Minnesota State Fair.

Lost Highway, 8 p.m. to midnight

Lost Highway will take the audience in a more contemporary country direction, with songs that veer closer to the blues and rock side of the fence. They include “Song You Can Drink Beer To” and the lowdown “Till Your Boots are Dirty.”

Saturday, June 17

Elvis and the EP Boulevard Show Band, 4:30-6:30 p.m.

When he takes the stage at Strawberry Fest, Art Kistler will perform just down the road from where he started more than two decades ago.

Crossroads Church in Cottage Grove might seem like an odd place to find one’s calling as an interpreter of Elvis Presley songs, but Kistler insists the role was thrust upon him — sort of.

“I would sing solos in my church occasionally,” he said. “Afterward, people would come up to me and say, ‘My gosh do you know how much you sound like Elvis?’ I laughed it off.”

While he never broke into “Hound Dog” during services, he was eventually persuaded to impersonate Elvis at a Valentine’s Day dinner at Crossroads. He cobbled together a costume with the help of his wife.

“I was scared to death,” he said. “I was way out of my element. I had glue-on sideburns.”

Despite being all shook up, Kistler delivered the goods. He slowly gained confidence, expanded his repertoire of Elvis songs, and discovered that folks would pay good money to see him pay tribute to the King.

Today, he’s on the road much of the time, touring with his six-piece combo, the EP Boulevard Show Band. They play shows around the five-state area and on cruise ships.

While Kistler dresses the part of Vegas-era Elvis, he insists he’s not into parody. He’s a tribute artist, not an impersonator.

“An impersonator pretends to be Elvis,” Kistler said. “That’s the kiss of death because there was only one Elvis. You talk about Elvis the third person. For instance, ‘Elvis recorded this song in 1970,’ not ‘I recorded this song in 1970.'”

Rock Godz, 7 p.m. to midnight

The Rock Godz don’t take themselves too seriously, but they’re seasoned pros when it comes to playing headbanging, fist-pumping, ear-shredding hard rock covers of songs by Led Zeppelin, Guns N’ Roses, AC/DC and Van Halen. The quartet may dress like an ’80s hair metal band, with dyed blonde hair and Spandex trousers, but their set list spans multiple hard-rock eras.

They’ll stir up a heavy-metal hootenanny, with audiences encouraged to sing along to FM staples like “Rock and Roll All Night” by Kiss and “Pyromania” by Def Leppard.

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