The ‘Canoe Dealers’ features two regional names in bluegrass
By Mira Brody EBS STAFF
BOZEMAN – “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere” was written by Bob Dylan when he was in recovery from a motorcycle accident that left him in a self-imposed exile. It was also the song that in August of 2020, Lena Marie Schiffer and Ryan Acker decided to cover in order to kick off their newest music project, the Canoe Dealers. At the time, we were all in the thick of the COVID-19 pandemic and musicians in particular, severed from their audiences and income entirely, were experiencing a torturous exile of their own.
“I kind of came to this realization that a ‘do it yourself’ musician—someone that is capable of doing things on their own—has a better chance of extending their career,” Acker said. “Being self-sufficient really goes a long way in this music industry.”
Acker, of the Minneapolis, Minnesota-based folk/bluegrass band, The Last Revel, and Schiffer, of the Bozeman-based folk/bluegrass band Laney Lou and the Bird Dogs, used the lockdown as an opportunity to build their home studio and dive headfirst into their new project, the Canoe Dealers.
The two met when the Bird Dogs were opening for the Last Revel at the 2016 Red Ants Pants Music Festival and kept in touch until Acker made the move to Montana in 2019. In addition to their new band, they also got engaged last year.
Acker is originally from New Glarus, Wisconsin, and moved to Minnesota for school. After The Last Revel formed, they quickly gained a solid audience, winning the Emerging Artist Contest at Red Ants Pants Music Festival in 2014. Right now, Acker and his band mates are taking a rest from touring after doing so vigorously for nearly a decade. Acker did release his first solo record in April 2020, titled “Winter Where You’re From” and is currently recording his second album, set to release this year.
Schiffer grew up in Santa Barbara, California and moved to Bozeman in 2011, having already known about the area through her mother, artist Pamela Kendall Schiffer. The Bird Dogs formed in 2013 after Schiffer met the band’s vocalist, banjo and dobro player, Matt Demarais, after posting a Craigslist ad looking for musicians to jam with. She’s also an accredited massage therapist who practices on and off at Enso Natural Medicine. The Bird Dogs just finished recording their fifth album, to be released in June, which follows their 2019 first full-length studio album, “Sweet Little Lies,” and three live albums.
The silver lining for them is that the Canoe Dealers probably wouldn’t exist if not for the pandemic—it provided space and time in which to create, because the truth is, artists don’t stop working when the paychecks stop coming. While unable to tour with their bands this year, they have found that it is much easier to perform for smaller, distanced and intimate crowds as opposed to their usual big bands.
“I feel more well rounded as a musician now,” Acker said. “It forces you to work on your craft more when you’re by yourself.”
“The break we took came at the right moment,” he added. “We were touring for so hard for so long, everyone needed to let life live.”
” … Both us of really believe that there’s going to be a really huge renaissance of art and music. We’ve all be prepping for the release, and fans are ready to hear it.”—Lena Marie Schiffer
Schiffer was fortunate to be a recipient of the Montana Arts Council Grant, and together, the Canoe Dealers have been fortunate enough to play a few shows during the pandemic and hone in on their musical style.
“I think we’ve really enjoyed connecting with Montanans,” Schiffer said of their smaller, pandemic-sized shows. She cites a particularly powerful show last summer at Pine Creek Lodge when Acker opened for Dave Simonett of Trampled By Turtles, which she described as “a beautiful experience.”
“The pandemic has created a larger appreciation for music,” Schiffer said. “Art has always persevered through tough times—artists are resilient people. I’m certain that there are thousands of other musicians and artists that are doing the same things. Both us of really believe that there’s going to be a really huge renaissance of art and music. We’ve all be prepping for the release, and fans are ready to hear it.”
Acker agrees—the nationally-touring musician says Montanans seems to have a larger appreciation for music than other audiences and are especially supportive of their local bands.
Renaissance or not, it seems artists and admirers of art are experiencing at the very least, a shift in perspective.
“I had a dream about that song in March 2020, but it was this dark mysterious version,” Acker said, speaking of the Bob Dylan song that started it all. “When I woke up … it was almost like a strike of lightning. I’ve always appreciated Bob Dylan, but I love how you can interpret [that song] in different ways. The story in the song changes completely, I felt like it was really easy to interpret the lyrics in a different way. It would be cool to reimagine songs that people are really familiar with.”