Hangin’ With the Grizzly Boys
Surprises in the fruit industry usually are along the lines of a new variety, new technology, a new type of crop protection, or even a new growing system.
But this surprise involves apples, guitars, and country music.
I’ll never forget one snowy February morning in 2016 during the International Fruit Tree Association’s annual conference in Grand Rapids, MI. Our tour bus pulls up to our first stop of the day: New Leaf Orchards in Kent City, MI, and I could tell this wasn’t going to be like other stops.
It was hard to miss the large Gunnar & The Grizzly Boys equipment trailer and professional PA system set up.
Gunnar Nyblad, whose brother Bill was away on a well-earned vacation with his family, spoke about the family’s experience growing multileader trees (to read more about that, check out this month’s cover story). Gunnar, of course, handled the crowd professionally, using his own PA to welcome the group. He also passed out live CDs of his band, which we listened to on our post-conference tour trip.
As much as I love hearing about orchard production systems — and I really do — what has hooked me on the business of fruit growing is the people, and their varied interests. A lot of you have hobbies (that you might get to in the off-season) or other interests outside of work, but an apple-growing country musician? That’s a first for me.
So, naturally, I had to find a way to catch a show and write about the experience. Last fall, I went to visit the Nyblad family and catch a Gunnar & The Grizzly Boys show at The Intersection in Grand Rapids, MI.
The sold-out hometown crowd was rowdy and singing along with the band and a lot of familiar faces from “The Ridge” — an area near Grand Rapids known for producing fine fruit — were in attendance. Gunnar says he enjoys seeing fans sing along at the shows.
Gunnar shared his family’s ‘Honeycrisps’ with the crowd and smashed a guitar during the show. I got a chance to catch the show from backstage.
Afterward, he took time to hang out at the band’s merchandise booth to pose for photos and sign autographs.
The band, which includes Gunnar as lead vocalist, bassist Rob Mason, lead guitarist Shane Grehan, guitarist/keyboardist Chris Newberg, and drummer Joe Connolly, met at Michigan State University, where Gunnar was studying horticulture. Gunnar says he’s known as “the apple farmer” as he travels around with the band.
Since my trip last fall, the band has released another album, titled “Good Rhythm,” and Gunnar got married, became a father — with another child on the way — and bought a house in Nashville.
While Gunnar lives in Tennessee, he says “the music brought me up to Michigan primarily this summer.”
Gunnar picked his family’s peach and young cherry trees while he was up for shows, and then take the fruit back to Nashville to sell at a farmers’ market. He says he enjoyed connecting with the locals and talking about his family’s farm.
“It was really good to get to know the community down here and people were super supportive of fresh fruit,” he says.
As for the band, they’ve opened for Big and Rich this summer and will be opening for Aaron Watson this fall in the Midwest. If you’d like to hang out with the Grizzly Boys yourself, check out GunnarTunes.com for tour dates.
“You raised us, you support us, you help us become better musicians,” Gunnar told his hometown crowd last fall in Grand Rapids, and it’s clear to see Gunnar’s passion is music, but his heart is still with the The Ridge.