First to Dance

Local musicians perform at Pearson Lakes Art Center

It may be their first time performing on stage together, but the members of First to Dance have been making music in the Iowa Great Lakes for quite some time.

At 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 24, Jennifer Johnson, Greg Forney, Tyler Pedersen, Karess Knudtson, Brian Moore, Jessica Schable, and Martin Mendez will take the stage in the Lauridsen Performing Arts Theatre at the Pearson Lakes Art Center in Okoboji.

Tickets to the performance are $20 for members and $30 for nonmembers.

The road to this point started several years ago when Jennifer Johnson was the musical director at St. Joseph Catholic Church in Milford.

“This particular group has had different members come and go, but we started playing together in the fall of 2011, around that time,” Johnson said. “The priest at St. Joseph at the time, Father Tom Flanagan, really wanted to have a church service with music that would speak to a younger generation maybe, something different.”

So Johnson was given the green light to put together a band and find some music to fit Father Flanagan’s vision.

“There is a lot of music out there that expresses the idea of loving your neighbor and that speaks to how we should treat one another, be good to each other. A lot of music by artists you might not assume would write a spiritual or love-centered song.” Johnson said. “And that’s how I’d describe this concert. We’re doing songs about life and about love. It’s a time to reflect on that and be inspired by that.”

This current iteration of First to Dance is first and foremost a group of friends who enjoy making music together.

“Basically when I started the band at St. Joseph I was bringing in musicians I had played with outside of church. Those musicians were friends of mine and we decided to continue playing music together,” said Johnson, who is now the musical director at First Lutheran Church in Milford.

Tyler Pedersen is the band director at Spirit Lake High School and has been in First to Dance from the beginning.

He often plays in another group with fellow band member Brian Moore.

Karess Knudtson, a singer, artist, and naturalist, has also been involved with the group since its earlier days.

Greg Forney was formerly the band director at Okoboji High School and plays in multiple groups in the area.

Jessica Schable graduated from Okoboji High School, has been a professional vocal teacher for several years and recently started JJ’s School of Music with Pedersen’s wife, Jenna.

The most recent addition to the ensemble has been Martin Mendez, who moved to the area within the past year.

“He dropped right into the middle of this group of musical friends,” Johnson said. “I honestly wanted to get a group of who I considered to be some of the best musicians in the area. The whole reason for all of getting together and doing this concert is that we all genuinely enjoy playing music together. This is a chance for us to spend some time putting together music and performing music that we like and makes us happy.”

They want to extend those feelings of happiness and togetherness to everyone in the audience as well.

A shared experience in the power of music where anyone who wants to can be the first to dance.