From Mitchell basements to the Palace stage, Jimmy River Band re-emerges after decade-long hiatus

Aug. 26—MITCHELL — A familiar face among local music fans will be rocking the drums Saturday night on the Corn Palace stage with a band that got its start in the newsroom of the Mitchell Daily Republic.

It's been over a decade since the Jimmy River Band performed at the Corn Palace, but Saturday's opener for Night Ranger will bring the band's drummer, Korrie Wenzel, back to a place he called home for more than three decades.

Only this time, he will be accompanied by a new bandmate strumming the bass guitar, his 24-year-old son.

"Playing the Corn Palace is really special. To be able to do that with your son and an old buddy in front of family and friends in a town we formed in is really special," Wenzel said of Saturday's show, which begins at 7:30 p.m.

While the three-piece band has been rocking stages around the Upper Midwest over the past year with their original classic rock-infused songs and '80s covers, there's been a lot of changes to the Jimmy River Band since its formation in the early 2000s.

When Wenzel left his role as publisher of the Mitchell Daily Republic in 2013 for an executive position at the Grand Forks Herald newspaper in North Dakota, the Jimmy River Band went on a near decade-long hiatus and said goodbye to some of the original members.

Then came the pandemic in 2020. As businesses shut down, schools closed and event venues went dark, it left Wenzel with plenty of time to kill inside the house. Turning to his passion for music and drumming, the itch to play alongside a band came back for Wenzel.

After a long break, the Jimmy River Band was reborn in 2021 with a new look. Al Aymar, one of the original members of the band, and Wenzel's son, Parker, joined forces to form the three-piece Jimmy River Band.

"Parker and I started messing around, and next thing you know we reached out to Al (Aymar). We thought, 'Why don't we just try seeing if we can put together a 45-minute show.' Through Al's connection in Sioux City, we got asked to open for a big Nashville-based band called Southern Accent," Wenzel said.

Considering Aymar, the lead guitarist, resides in Sergeant Bluff, Iowa, 400 miles away from the Wenzel duo, Wenzel had to get creative for the band to form. Thanks to evolving music technology, Wenzel and his son record songs they are working on and send them over to Aymar, who builds off it from there.

"Because of technology, you can make songs online and share them with each other, even if you're 400 miles away. Parker and I tape our practices up here in Grand Forks and send the recordings to Al, who then plays them through his system in his garage," Wenzel said of the band's practice process. "We don't see each other in person much until we get together to perform. It's been a fun twist."

When it's time for the trio to hit the stage, the unique virtual band practices have translated to successful on-stage performing. Getting the nod to open for legendary '80s band Night Ranger on Saturday let the Jimmy River Band know their sounds are resonating with music fans abound.

The origins of the Jimmy River Band — which is a story in itself — trace back to Mitchell in the early 2000s when a group of the night staff at The Daily Republic newspaper began talking about their shared love for playing music.

"People who were on the night staff got to talking one night, and someone said, 'I play bass,' our photographer played keyboard and so on. So we just got together once a week in the morning to play since we all worked nights. It was just something to do for fun. We didn't think it would turn into a band," Wenzel said of the origin of Jimmy River Band.

With an assembled lineup of coworkers, the band made its debut in a basement at a Daily Republic New Year's Eve party a little over two decades ago. Little did Wenzel know that would be the start of something bigger.

As word spread about Jimmy River Band, they quickly became a household name at local bars and music venues.

"We played the 10 songs we learned, and it just transformed from there. Bars started calling, and we suddenly turned into a band that played 40 to 50 times per year," he said.

Throughout the band's rise to local stardom, there were some loyal fans and supporters along the way. And Wenzel is now paying homage to some of those loyal Mitchell supporters, which can be seen in the Jimmy River Band's matching attire.

The trio dons matching Miller High Life collared shirts as a tribute to one of the first big supporters of the band, longtime Mitchell beer distributor Porter Distributing.

Although the Jimmy River Band will feature a new look on Saturday night at the place where it all began, Wenzel said the trio's mission is the same as it was 20 years ago when they played in basements for work parties: Having fun.

"We have fun, and we want the people who hear us to have fun," Wenzel said.