Onions grow Wild — Band planted in good music for good causes (video)

Onions grow Wild — Band planted in good music for good causes (video)
The Nodding Wild Onions perform July 21 at the Pridefest Picnic in Mayo Park.

If you go

Nodding Wild Onions play the second and fourth Sunday at Squash Blossom Farm in Oronoco.

The band will also play from 4:30 to 5:30 p.m. Aug. 23 at Thursdays on First and Third on the Rochester Direct Peace Plaza stage. Admission is free.

If Quarry Hill Nature Center had a house band, it would be the Nodding Wild Onions .

Not only because the Rochester-based folk and blues band regularly plays at the nature center and is named after an endangered plant species, but also because the Nodding Wild Onions is quirky like that.

Though it was started in 2008 by Phil Wheeler, who is probably best defined by his day job as Olmsted County planning director, the band is anything but formulaic.


From its roots as a trio, the Onions is now a variable group of up to eight musicians representing a variety of musical backgrounds and styles.

Wheeler has played finger-style guitar for much of his life, but never in public until he was 53 years old, he said. And although he and lead guitarist Roger Nelson both write songs for the band, Wheeler said he only sang for the first time in public three months ago.

Get him on a roll, though, and he'll unabashedly run through the lyrics to his song, "Micro-surgical Vasectomy Reversal."

Inspired by billboards on Interstate 90 advertising reverse vasectomies, Wheeler wrote a story set to music about how "Mayo Clinic will fix you up, but in Houston they do the best unfixing in the U.S.A."

So if it isn't obvious already, having fun with music is what the band does.

"This group is interested in playing the music we like, not necessarily what we think the audience will like," said Randy Crawford, who plays rhythm guitar and sings. "We're not in it for the money."

The majority of the gigs that the band plays are events or fundraisers for social causes that the band supports, such as the Green Fair, RNeighbors, Migrant Health Clinic and opposing the proposed constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.

"Not that we don't ever get paid, but the money we make, if we do not donate it back to the cause, we use it to buy equipment," Crawford said. "Up till now there hasn't been a lot of money, but you never know, we could go on tour and make it big. The bus is on order."


Actually the "not in it for the fame and fortune" attitude is freeing for the band, said Mike McMullin, who plays trumpet, rhythm guitar and harmonica. "It gives us all a chance to try things in a different way and expand musically."

The loosey-goosey approach, from the number of musicians playing at any given gig to the variable performance schedule, means that the band isn't as tight as it could be. But bass guitarist Marv Mitchell says he wouldn't have it any other way.

Mitchell grew up playing in rock 'n' roll bands and worked as a professional musician in college playing four nights a week in the Twin Cities. Those bands played a lot of the same stuff that was on the radio at the time, The Beatles and The Eagles, he said.

"This band plays everything from Patsy Cline to the Grateful Dead to standards and originals," he said. "It's a fun variety."

The variety stems in part from the mix of musicians in the band, which includes mother-daughter Laurel Podulke, on lead vocals, and the Olmsted County Commissioner Stephanie Podulke, on washboard and other percussion.

"We each contribute songs that we want to play and sing," Mitchell said. "We have a repertoire of over 100 songs that we choose from and mix and match to the personality of the gig."

It's all part of the band's quirky plan.


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