Behind the Band: with a 600-song arsenal, Alexandria trio plays a little bit of everything
Kevin Klimek and the Sideliners perform most weekends year-round across central Minnesota and into parts of North and South Dakota.
Editor's note: The following story is part of an occasional series, Behind the Band, which spotlights musical acts that perform in the Douglas County area.
ALEXANDRIA — Music trio Kevin Klimek and the Sideliners perform across the midwest with over 600 songs in their arsenal. Everything from classic country rock, blues, pop, smooth jazz, and a dash of originals.
From learning a piano waltz from a grandfather, working out the tune of The Little Drummer Boy by ear to hearing the rustic sound of Minnesota native Bob Dylan for the first time, the members of the Sideliners were touched by the lure of music at early ages.
The group is led by lead guitarist Kevin Klimek, 70, of Alexandria, with Kevin Pearson, 66, of Alexandria on drums/guitar, and Barb Madison, of Alexandria on vocals/keyboard.
The three began their musical journey when Klimek and Pearson's previous group with Jim Faber, Enterprise, disbanded after their final show last New Year's Eve.
Since then, the group has been traveling across Minnesota and parts of North and South Dakota playing everything from original instrumentals written by Klimek to classic rock, blues, jazz, pop and country — except "today's fake country," as referenced on their Facebook page. They are more into the sound of Merle Haggard, Moe Bandy, Johnny Cash and Waylon Jennings than Luke Bryan or Florida Georgia Line.
With a collection of 600 songs across a variety of genres at their disposal, the group keeps each show fresh with a new set list for every performance.
"I'm most proud of this music variety that the Sideliners have...it has been a treat for me," said Madison.
Now retired, Pearson worked at Douglas Machine for 30 years and served 20 years with the Alex Fire Department.
He says he remembers growing up listening to 1950s music but it never piqued his interest. Then in 1965, he heard Bob Dylan's Bringing It All Back Home — or was it Highway Revisited? Either way, Dylan resonated with Pearson.
"Something about him (Dylan), his music, his lyrics, the melodies. It just changed my outlook on the way I looked at music," Pearson said. "It made a big impact on me anyway...He's probably my biggest inspiration."
He got his first guitar at 12 and a drum set not long after. By high school, he had joined his first band.
For the last 10 years, he has been playing on and off with Klimek and other local groups.
Music was always a part of Madison's household growing up. She remembers spending every morning with her sister listening to the top 40 with Casey Kasem. She liked everything from the Bee Gees, Donna Summers and Marie Osmond to The Mamas and the Papas and The Beach Boys.
"The only thing I could not handle was polka," she said.
When Madison was 4, she wanted to learn The Little Drummer Boy on piano. She didn't know how to read music, so she hummed the tune and tapped away on the keys until she found the right notes. Eventually, she took lessons and later became a piano instructor herself.
Today, outside of the band, she teaches laboratory medicine at Alexandria Technical and Community College. A position she has held for the last 20 years. Although, she has been dreaming of performing for the last 52 years.
Klimek, 70, of Alexandria has been playing in bands for about 57 years. And yes, according to him, he is related to "most of the Klimeks in the area."
His introduction to music began around 4 when his grandfather taught him how to play a waltz on the piano. By the time he entered school, his parents put him into piano lessons, which he took for 12 years. He said as far as reading music, however, he didn't retain much.
"Trying to learn how to read notes kind of just went in one ear and out the other," said Klimek. "It was easy for me to kind of cheat. When she'd play a part, I'd act like I was reading music. Not that the whole entire 12 years was wasted, but I really can't read (music). It's just easier to play by ear."
Around 1963 or 1964, Klimek joined his first band, the Rhythm Knights, led by his brother, after the previous guitarist was drafted during the Vietnam war.
He played his first gig at 13.
"I got hired and played my first gig at a ballroom in a small town out in South Dakota," Klimek said. "Full of kids, drinking beer and throwing bottles around and fighting. I just thought this, 'This is what I want to do.' I got paid 20 bucks. That was pretty good money back in 1965."
Klimek compared music to a "legal drug." When he is having a bad day, he'll grab his guitar and all his worries melt away.
Besides guitar, he plays a little bit of everything — bass, keyboards, pedal steel guitar.
"(And) accordion and banjo at gunpoint," he laughed.
An early highlight in Klimek's music career was when his band at the time opened for Buck Owens and the Buckaroos in Valley City, North Dakota around 1968.
A few years ago he became the last house musician for the Bar Harbor Supper Club on Gull Lake where he logged close to 600 shows in five years.
After leaving the supper club, Klimek reignited a band he had in the 1980s called Enterprise with Jim Faber on bass and Pearson on drums. Enterprise retired its name after Faber decided to step away from the music scene for a while.
However, Klimek was not ready to lay down his guitar. He needed another band. Pearson was on board. They just needed a singer. Enter Madison.
Madison had previously accompanied Enterprise on stage as a guest singer and expressed interest in joining a group.
"I was lucky enough to be invited up and join them on a song or two," Madison said. "You feel like a kid in a candy factory. It was incredible."
"When Jim told me he was retiring, and Barbara already sat down with us for a few gigs, that's kind of where the lightbulb went off," said Klimek. "I thought, 'Well, here we go.'"
With a seasoned lead guitarist, a familiar drummer, and a fresh singer, the trio was born.
"There are times where you kind of think, 'Well, I could be been doing something different... I wish I didn't have to play today," said Pearson. "But you get there and set up and you get going and go, 'Oh, this is good.'"
"It's a lot of fun," said Madison. "Especially when you see the smiles in the crowd and they're out there dancing and such. I mean, what better drug, if you will, than that."
Their plan for the future: Stay busy, keep playing music and add more songs to their arsenal.
"We really don't have a limit on where we go. It's just a matter of whether they are going to pay what we need to travel out there," said Klimek. "The playing part is free. We just charge for the setup and tear down."