By Wess McConville
Special to The Free Press
---- — Two years ago, April “Raven” Kepler spent her nights perusing Mankato karaoke bars. Even though she was a talented singer, Kepler never thought her voice would take her beyond that.
“No, I never thought I’d be in a band,” said Kepler, lead singer of the trio Raven Moon Rising, a Mankato-based cover band. “I was just a karaoke singer and it took a lot for me to get up and sing in front of people. With these two guys it makes it fun and easy.”
The two she mentioned are the other members of Raven Moon Rising, Chuck Remes and Matt Nieland. Raven Moon Rising began when Remes, who plays guitar, noticed Kepler singing karaoke at the Wine Cafe. Remes liked her voice and they began rehearsing together almost immediately. Two weeks later they had their first gig as a duo at Midtown Tavern.
Remes and Kepler continued to play together for another six months when they recruited Nieland after seeing him play an open-mic at the Wine Cafe. Nieland provides the rhythm guitar to Remes’ lead and back up vocals for Kepler.
“We weren’t as serious when we first started,” said Kepler. “Then when Matt joined, we were like ‘hey, we can be really good.’ We buckled down a little more.”
Since becoming a trio, Raven Moon Rising has played nearly 105 shows. And on Friday, they will celebrate their two-year anniversary at the Wine Cafe, where all three members met each other.
“We’ll be pulling out a bunch of old favorites from our catalog,” said Nieland. “We’re making T-shirts and stickers with our new logo that April drew herself, and we’ll be giving some of those out. The Wine Cafe isn’t a large place, but we’re hoping on packing it that night.”
Raven Moon Rising plays an eclectic mix of classic rock, country and blues cover songs on two acoustic guitars and Kepler on vocals.
“I haven’t touched an electric guitar in 20 years,” said Remes, who plays his licks on a Martin acoustic.
Kepler said the acoustic guitars are what give Raven Moon Rising its distinct sound.
“I don’t think I would ever want to go with the whole ‘plugged-in’ thing,” she said. "Because with us, it’s more about the voices and sound. I think Chuck is a talented guitar player and I think a lot would get lost with drums and loud electric guitars.”
Raven Moon Rising doesn’t need to plug in to play their catalog of 90-plus songs. Remes draws his influence from Neil Young, Bob Dylan and the Grateful Dead. Kepler is an admitted Stevie Nicks and Fleetwood Mac junkie and Nieland brings a variety of tastes to the table.
“He’s always coming up with these strange bands that no one’s heard of,” Remes said of Nieland’s listening habits.
Reflecting on the last two years as a group, Kepler has had a blast as a part of Raven Moon Rising.
“It’s the perfect marriage,” she said. “You’re out at a bar, having fun on the weekend, you’re getting paid for it, and you get to drink in the process.”
If You Go What Raven Moon Rising two-year anniversary concert When 8:30 p.m. today Where Wine Cafe, 301 N. Riverfront Drive