O’Kraut itching to get back to live performances

It’s been a long time since local musical group O’Kraut last graced a Prince Albert stage, but that hasn’t damped their enthusiasm.

Band members Don Bendig, Mario Kaun, Jim McKillop and Ren Kreig will be on stage Saturday in Memorial Square when O’Kraut plays for the first time since the start of COVID-19. Bendig said the group is glad to be back playing, but it is going to take some getting used to.

“It’s hard on the fingers so far,” he said with a chuckle. “So far I haven’t played live—we’re just getting back in shape for it, practicing and so on—but I’m looking forward to it I’ll tell you.”

Like most groups, O’Kraut had few opportunities to play music during the outbreak, and no opportunities at all to play live. Bendig said the goal was never to make money, so it didn’t hurt them financially, but they missed the camaraderie of playing together.

“We’ve been virtually shut down for two years. There’s been nothing, really,” he explained.

“Monetarily it hasn’t really impacted me, but for those of us who love to play music, it’s been a little frustrating.”

O’Kraut makes their return on Saturday along with another local group, The Grassy Blues, in Memorial Square. The two bands plan to alternation one-hour sets from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

The original plan was to play two hours straight, but Bendig said they’re trying to ease back into it by switching every hour.

“Back in the old days before COVID, playing a two-hour block wouldn’t have been a big deal,” he explained. “Nowadays, the fingers are a bit tender.”

Known locally as the “German guys who play Irish music”, O’Kraut got their start as a two-member band playing at McKee’s Irish Pub in Prince Albert. At the time, Bendig and bandmate Mario Kaun had little ambition to play more music. It was pub owner Pat McKee who gave them the push they needed.

“Pat wanted to do some advertising to let people know what was going on, so he asked us what the band name was,” Bendig remembered. “At the time we didn’t even have a name. We didn’t even think of us as a band, but on the spot I came up with (a name). German guys playing Irish Music? Okay, (we’re) O’Kraut.

The band has added two new members since then, and expanded their set list beyond the Irish songs they love to sing. Bendig said audiences can hear plenty of those tunes in Memorial Square on Saturday.

“Our repertoire has spread out quite a bit,” he said. “We still do a fair bit of Irish, but certainly not entirely anymore, so don’t be scared to come see us if you’re looking for something other than Irish (music).”

O’Kraut and The Grassy Blues are performing as part of the downtown Spring Sidewalk Sale on Saturday. The event will include children’s activities, live art demonstrations, and a food and history tour.

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