The Old-Time Herald Volume 9, Number 7

Feature
The Goose Island Ramblers:
A Midwestern Home Brew

by Brian O’Donnell

The Goose Island Ramblers play an Upper Midwestern blend of traditional Norwegian, polka, and early radio country and western music. With its easy grace and spontaneity, the Goose Island Ramblers’ music has always worked because they are skilled musicians who have never taken themselves too seriously. They have always served their musical brew with a large dose of humor. Instead of forging professional careers in music, the Goose Island Ramblers long ago opted to play for the sake of the sheer joy it gives them and their local audiences. Accordionist Bruce Bollerud, fiddler George Gilbertson, and the late guitarist Wendy Whitford came together in the mid -’60s after years of semi-professional playing. They played three to five nights a week at two Madison, Wisconsin taverns—Glen and Anne’s, and Johnny’s Packer Inn—all the while holding down full time jobs. Friends and neighbors fondly recall the Ramblers’ boisterous performances, their easy banter and their fondness for outrageous comedic props like ridiculous hats, whistles and goose calls. Sometimes singing in fake Norwegian accents, the Ramblers delighted their eclectic group of fans with a musical blend that ranged from lighthearted drinking songs, such as the Wisconsin dancehall standard, “In Heaven, There is No Beer,” to old-time Norwegian waltzes. Because it was never forced, the fusion always pleased their fans, whether they were older blue-collar workers or college age hippies. Each musician brought a different set of influences to the band, and when the musicians simply played what they felt, the different traditional and not-so-traditional styles blended together seamlessly.



"Smokey" George Gilbertson, Wendy "Windy" Whitford, and Bruce "The Loose Goose" Bollerud at WHH Television Studio, early 1970's
Photo courtesy of Bruce Bollerud

From The Best of the Goose Island Ramblers
CUCA/AMC Records
3830 Hwy 78
Mt. Horeb, WI 53572

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