When Port friends with a guitar and a singing voice put a band together, it was just for fun, but now it’s serious performing—headlining at the beer garden!
Dave Larson and Mike Haggenjos had talked about it for a year.
They had been friends for two decades, since their children were in preschool. They had coached basketball together at Port Catholic School.
They wanted to perform at open mike night at Newport Shores restaurant.
“I know I can sing, and Dave’s a good guitar player,” Haggenjos said.
Haggenjos had some experience singing for crowds. He sang in choir in high school and sang barbershop.
“I was the consummate wedding singer,” he said.
Larson had not played in front of anyone, but when he got a guitar as a young teen did plan on being the next Jon bon Jovi or Richie Sambora.
“It was just noodling in my living room,” he said. “It’s for me a complete release. When I start playing my guitar, I’m in another place. It’s very therapeutic.”
After kicking around the idea for months, they picked a date to play at open mike night. That’s when Larson really got serious about practicing.
“Dave was a decent guitar player when we started. Now, he’s probably double as good,” Haggenjos said.
Larson, who has a Gibson Les Paul Custom guitar, said he hopes his performances are worthy of the instrument and of Haggenjos’ singing.
“He pushed me to get better,” Larson said of Haggenjos.
The time came to perform together at open mike night and Larson said he was in “the nervous stage.”
During “Hotel California,” house drummer Paul Bretl joined in. Larson said he thought he might screw the band up.
“Usually, I’ll ask,” Bretl said. But this time he could tell. “This song needs drums.”
Bretl didn’t mess up the band. He actually added a missing element.
The whole idea, Bretl said, “is to make you guys feel like you have a band.”
Glenn Walters was added on bass and provides the band’s equipment, and the group was formed. Haggenjos came up with a name, Midlife Oasis.
“This is our oasis,” Larson said.
All members fit the bill except Bretl, who’s in his 20s.
“I bring the average age down,” he said.
While Bretl does studio work and plays in a local band called Mumblemouth — beyond his sales job for Fastenal in Port Washington— the others do not play professionally.
Larson works in sales at Franklin Energy in Port and is on the city’s Common Council, and Haggenjos is vice president and part owner of Voeller Mixers in Port. He also holds a law degree.
Haggenjos, who sings as a cantor at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Port Washington, said “This is another avenue. I really enjoy singing rock tunes.”
Haggenjos said he compares his band to golfers who practice at the driving range before playing on the weekend.
“It’s just pure fun,” he said.
The band’s first official gig was at Port Washington’s beer garden in August.
“We honestly never thought it would get past open mike,” Larson said.
A little more pressure was added.
“You’re getting your name out there and being promoted,” Larson said.
Lason was mostly self-taught on guitar. He said You-Tube videos are helpful.
Now, he also takes lessons from Mikehael Hecker, who runs open mike night. Hecker said he has seen “significant improvement” in both Larson and the band when it comes to confidence and stage presence.
Larson said he has learned to keep going if he makes a mistake. Most people, he said, don’t notice.
“Even when I practice, that’s what I try to do,” he said.
With Bretl on drums, one missed note isn’t as big of a deal.
“It’s a big help for us starting out. If I screw up, he keeps playing,” Larson said.
Midlife Oasis has been performing off and on at open mike all year.
“We bring in friends from out of town. This is the coolest thing ever. There’s a lot of really good talent that comes to open mike,” Larson said.
Will Pfrang, a former student of Hecker’s, started the weekly event on Thursdays a few years ago when he was a teenager. Pfrang is now an accomplished musician, and Hecker has taken over running open mike night with the full support of Newport Shores owner John Weinrich.
Hecker said he welcomes everyone, especially those practicing their craft.
“It’s part of the learning process for students,” he said. “Here’s an outlet, play in front of people.
“We really like that it is a non-threatening environment,” he said.
Larson and Haggenjos were drawn to that atmosphere.
“It’s a really relaxed recital,” Haggenjos said.
Performers can be in seventh grade to more than 70 years old.
“There’s a wide range,” said Buzz Knaub, bartender at Newport Shores who often works open mike night and has seen the development of many musicians, including Midlife Oasis.
The band will next perform 4:30 p.m. Saturday at Port’s beer garden.
“We’re headlining the beer garden,” Larson said with a laugh. “We don’t plan on being on Jimmy Fallon anytime soon.”
Midlife Oasis doesn’t charge for performing. It does not advertise or have a website or Facebook page.
“We’re not doing this for money. I just like that we’re helping causes,” Haggenjos said.
One measurement of success, he said, is “if we can get 10 more people who wouldn’t have been there otherwise for the cause.”
Image Information: Longtime friends Dave Larson (left) and Mike Haggenjos recently formed the band Midlife Oasis, which often performs at open mike night at Newport Shores restaurant in Port Washington. The band will be playing at the Port Washington beer garden Saturday at 2:30 p.m. Photo by Sam Arendt