By Billy Tuite —

The past couple years have been fulfilling for Benny K, to say the least. He’s packed venues across the Midwest with his heartfelt folk sounds, and he has two successful CDs under his belt. Now, Benny K is bringing his music to Menomonie with an acoustic set at The Raw Deal on Nov. 1.

Benny Koehler, a Twin Cities-based singer/songwriter, started his solo career in early 2012 after leaving his high school pop-punk band and his job as a church youth director. His solo endeavors were initially daunting and filled with uncertainty.

“I’m remembering my first few months as an artist, and it’s like starting a new company,” Koehler said. “You’re projecting yourself out there as this unique thing and nobody even knows what that is yet, including you.”

Thankfully, through the help of friends, family and fans, Koehler has been able to establish a unique identity and sound. His music, influenced by The Clash and Woody Guthrie, has become an intriguing acoustic punk-folk blend.

“Somebody recently said that my music is a northern roots style of music,” Koehler said. “It has punk grit and folk story.”

After hitting his stride, Koehler has made an effort to diversify his music through more politically charged lyrics and sophisticated song structures.

“Once you’ve found your path, it gives you a little bit more incentive to walk off the path and come back when the time is right,” Koehler said. “I’m feeling I have a little more license to do that.”

As a believer in the “form follows function” philosophy, Koehler is demonstrating this refined songwriting with his upcoming extended play, “Driftless.” He describes the album’s sound as “rustic and rural,” featuring songs that he says tell stories “that you would only find in really close-knit communities.”

“It’s kind of like a finely-crafted meal in that it’s got an appetizer, it’s got a desert and it’s got some substantial stuff,” Koehler said.

Koehler’s musical evolution isn’t limited to recordings. He’s also been adding some diversity to his live performances through frequent requests and impromptu guest performances. At one gig, Koehler even had a cello player, whom he had never met before, join him on stage. He loves having guest performers because they “democratize” his music.

“There’s something about having somebody else up there that makes a huge difference,” Koehler said. “Having other performers come up adds this whole new element that gets people invested in the experience.”

Connecting with listeners and getting them interested is precisely what Koehler enjoys about touring. His travels throughout the Midwest—from Des Moines, Iowa to Ann Arbor, Mich.—have yielded plenty of enlightening stories and successes.

“That is the upside of being on the road, among all the negative aspects of losing sleep, driving a lot, spending tons of money on gas, you make these little connections that you find in unexpected places that become huge,” Koehler said.

Koehler has taken a particular interest in the people and the atmosphere of The Raw Deal, stating the establishment has “character” and makes for a great venue to come back to.

“Here [at The Raw Deal], they care about local resourcing and environmental impact,” Koehler said. “I think if all of our places that we got together at had this kind of intentional attitude about things, then our world would be so much more interesting.”

Koehler encourages University of Wisconsin–Stout students to take this opportunity to see his set while he’s on his stride of writing and performing his best music ever.

“It will be two hours of a quality performance that you would typically have to pay a lot to see,” Koehler claimed. “It’s free here, and it’s in your college town.”

Koehler will be performing at The Raw Deal on Nov. 1 at 6 p.m. Feel free to request songs and put Koehler’s musical repertoire to the test, or come with your own instrument and join him on stage!

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