When you’ve been a journalist in a town as long as I have (24 years … thanks for the grim reminder, LinkedIn) you tend to make a lot of acquaintances. Most of those relationships stay “surface level” because it’s the job of the journalist to just get the info from a source and run back to the newsroom to create a piece of writing that will relay that information to you, the readers.

I met Justin Fasnacht several years ago. The What’s Up? Lounge was about to shut down, and as journalists are wont to do, I tried to find sources who could sum up the angst being felt by the community at the thought of a storied live music venue closing up shop. A handful of people told me Justin would be that guy.

“Call me Fuzzy” he said when I met him. We sat in my car on a chilly day and he explained to me how devastating the loss of the What’s Up? would be. He also told me that it’s not the end of the world, that Mankato is a hotbed of live music and musical talent and that there’s nothing the closing of a venue can do to stop it. (The venue, by the way, reopened quickly, got a facelift and is today the same solid venue it always was.)

Over the years, whenever a writer here needed a source about local music, I sent to them to Fuzzy. And he never failed to cooperate. And while I’ve seen him around town occasionally, I personally hadn’t talked to him in years … until this week.

Our newish podcast called FreepCast is on its 12th episode. Actually, by the time you read this, we will probably have recorded our 13th, and it’s been a blast. But episode 12 featured Fuzzy, and it was one of the best episodes we’ve done.

Fuzzy talked about creating FuzzTalkRadio, the online radio station dedicated to local music he launched a decade ago. He talked about his health issues, how excessive alcohol consumption contributed to them, how he’s turning his life around, his days as a trumpet-playing Lancer and straight-A East High School student, and his favorite Mankato bands.

He also talked about a recent benefit held at Red Rocks in Mankato to help him with his medical bills. (A blood clot in his leg is causing him a lot of pain and making it difficult to walk or stand. He only recently returned to work after an extended absence.)

More than 350 people showed up to listen to music, donate money, bid on silent auction items, etc. An extraordinary show of support.

My reaction? Not surprised. Why? Because that is what this community does for the people who care about it. And few people care about this community more than Fuzzy, especially the local music and arts scene. He’s a proud “townie,” and says he has no interest in leaving.

Fuzzy’s story is another great example of what makes this community great. While no one wants to see anyone suffer, the way this community picks each other up is yet another reason, I think, why so many people settle here.

Have you ever noticed how many people came to Mankato for school or for a job and never left? I’m one of them. A handful of people in our newsroom, too.

There’s just something about this place that makes people want to stay and be a part of something special.

So give that podcast a listen, give Fuzzy a pat on the back when you see him and be happy you live in a community that rallies around people who need help.

Robb Murray is the Features Editor for The Free Press. He can be reached at 344-6386 or rmurray@mankatofreepress.com. Follow Robb on Twitter @FreePressRobb

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